Streetcars in San Antonio

1922 San AntonioStreetcar Map
San Antonio Streetcar System Map
Hand Drawn San Antonio streetcar system map
Original San Antonio mule drawn streetcar. Now owned by the Witte Museum.
Streetcars on Houston Street, San Antonio, in 1910.
San Antonio streetcar service began on June 22, 1878, just over one year after the first railroad, the Galveston Harrisburg & San Antonio, reached the city. For the first few years the cars were pulled by horses or mules. The very first line created ran from Alamo Plaza to San Pedro Park. Soon an addition was added to the GH & SA depot located at North Austin and what is now known as Jones Street but was then called Grand Avenue. Real estate values soared along the line which traversed land which was essentially prairie up until this time.
Very early streetcar shed in front of the Alamo in San Antonio
The first street car in San Antonio ran from Alamo Plaza to San Pedro Springs.
San Antonio's first streetcars were pulled by mules.
Early scene showing horse drawn streetcars in San Antonio
Mule drawn San Antonio streetcar
A line was immediately built to the original International & Great Northern depot when it was opened in 1881. A line down South Flores Street to the San Antonio & Aransas Pass depot soon followed in 1884. The service was electrified in 1890, following the completion of San Antonio's first large power generating station. Service to the Missouri Kansas & Texas station was easy to provide as it faced onto Flores at the corner of Durango.
Early scene showing streetcar at the Bexar County court house in San Antonio
Commerce Street in San Antonio
Street cars on Houston Street in San Antonio
Street cars on Houston Street in San Antonio
Streetcar on Houston Street around 1914 from tourism brochure
Houston Street in San Antonio.
Alamo Plaza, as yet unpaved, around 1890
Alamo Plaza, as yet unpaved, around 1890
Postcard od Alamo Plaza showing automobiles and a streetcar.
San Antonio streetcar on Alamo Plaza, 4th of July, 1898
SSan Antonio streetcar at the corner of Houston Street and Broadway around 1904
Houston Street around 1914 from tourism brochure
Alamo Plaza in San Antonio at the beginning of the 20th century.
San Antonio streetcar on Alamo Plaza, 1918
Houston Street in San Antonio around 1914
Alamo Plaza around 1922
Streetcar on Houston Street in San Antonio, 1923
San Antonio streetcar on South Presa, heading towards the Hot Wells spa
San Antonio streetcar heading towards the Hot Wells spa. Note ad for boxing event.
Initially the cars were open to the elements but were later enclosed. To begin with each line was run by a separate company but by 1891 these had been consolidated into just four organizations, The Bellknap, The McCrillis, the West End and the Alamo Heights. The latter built a large maintenance facility near what is now San Antonio College on Broadway.
Streetcars ran in San Antonio for around 40 years.
Street cars helped San Antonio to expand. River Avenue was later widened and renamed Broadway.
Going to North Flores in San Antonio on the streetcar
San Antonio streetcar employees.
In 1901 the four remaining companies consolidated into the San Antonio Traction Company. By 1905 the increase in automobile ownership led to the paving of down town streets and the gradual disappearance of horse drawn wagons and carriages. Houston Street became the city's main shopping area following a decision by Commerce Street store owners to deny the use of the narrow thoroughfare to streetcars. By the time the street was widened and streetcars allowed to pass through, Houston Street had already gained the dominant position.
San Antonio Traction Co. streetcar 266.
Streetcar #74 in San Antonio
#364 going to San Pedro park in San Antonio
Going to Westend Lake, now called Woodlawn Lake, via the International and Great Northern railroad station in San Antonio
In 1933, San Antonio became the first major US city to get rid of its street cars.
In 1917 the San Antonio Traction Company and the San Antonio Gas & Electric company were merged into the San Antonio Public Service Company. In the same year the new company literally builds the city's first bus and uses it to take service men to Fort Sam. The company acquired it first factory built bus in 1923.
San Antonio streetcar at concrete "wood" effect shelter on Broadway which still exists. Car is destined for the MK&T depot on South Flores.
San Antonio streetcar shops on San Pedro.
San Antonio's streetcar yard and shops located where SAC now stands on San Pedro.
San Antonio's streetcar system reached its peak at ninety miles of track in 1926. But soon new communities, such as Terrel Hills and Olmos Park, were developed further and further away from the city center, in hilly areas unsuitable for streetcars. As the Great Depression hit, the declining amount of people still living in the downtown areas, where the bulk of the system's ridership always occurred, were less and less able to afford to buy tickets, and ridership declined. By this time the streetcars, which had no air-conditioning, had gained a reputation for being both slow and filled with unsavory passengers. SAPSCO's own buses were adding to the competition for longer range service. Buses were far cheaper to buy, operate and maintain, and far more flexible. Speed had become a crucial factor. In 1933, as land values in the city center fell as wealthier people moved away, often to unincorporated areas on the then outskirts of the city, tax revenue fell so badly that the city faced bankruptcy. SAPSCO offered $250,000 to the city for permission to abandon streetcars seven or eight years before its contract expired, allowing it focus exclusively on its more profitable bus service, and the offer was accepted.
San Antonio Traction Co. streetcar 207.
Rare open air street car in San Antonio
San Antonio sprinkler streetcar.
San Antonio Traction Co. streetcar 116. A summer car with shades.
#300 crossing trestle bridge in San Antonio
San Antonio became the first major US city to abandon streetcar service. The last car ran on April 29, 1933. 55 years of service came to an inglorious end. A mule drawn car was brought out on the final day. Pretty soon the tracks were either ripped up or paved over. Running as they did on four foot gauge track, SAPSCO was only able to sell a small fraction of its streetcar fleet. Most were sold for scrap or simply abandoned. One or two remained in storage and when old #300 was restored in the late 1980s a plan was floated to recreate part of the lines down town but they never came to fruition and the car has been permanently loaned to various cities in the Pacific Northwest where it remains today. A pale shadow of streetcar service remains in the form of buses built to resemble streetcars which are operated for tourists down town by VIA Trans, the successor to CPS in the bus business.
For the last run of San Antonio's streetcar system in 1933, an old horse drawn car was brought out of retirement. This car was later donated to the Witte Museum
San Antonio streetcar #300 on its last journey, 1933
Fully restored #300 in front of San Antonio Art Museum. The car can was loaned to various cities in the Pacific Northwest, including Portland and Astoria.
Reproduction 1933 token, the last year for streetcars in San Antonio.
One of the original mule drawn streetcars was used on the final day of service and then donated to the Witte museum which had it on display for many years. It is currently in storage.
San Antonio Streetcar 205 in 2012
San Antonio streetcar 205 under restoration near Boerne in 2012
San Antonio streetcar 205 under restoration near Boerne in 2012
San Antonio streetcar 205 under restoration near Boerne in 2012
San Antonio streetcar 205 under restoration near Boerne in 2012
In 2012, almost by accident, some Texas Transportation Museum volunteers stumbled onto this amazing barn find: old San Antonio streetcar 205 partially restored in a shed near Boerne. It was know a few old streetcars were rotting away in a field on the outskirts of the city but someone has taken it upon himself to try to save one of them. It is a tall order, to say the least. Basically made of wood every piece is either rotten or eaten away by wood worm. What little metal is there is almost completely rusted away. The fate of the car at this point is in the air as the purchaser recently died, leaving a significant question mark as to what happens next.


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San Antonio Streetcar Timeline
The "San Antonio Street Railroad Company" is established.
Work to build San Antonio's first streetcar line begins.
In the planning stage for several years, mule drawn streetcars begin service from Alamo Plaza to San Pedro park and the new Southern Pacific railroad station.
A line is laid to the new Missouri Pacific rail station at Commerce and Medina. Extensions further west follow as development of the area picks up around the depot.
Denied access to Commerce Street because it was too narrow and crowded, all streetcars in the expanding system are routed along Houston Street which rapidly overtakes Commerce as the commercial and business hub of San Antonio.
Streetcar service down South Flores to the San Antonio & Aransas Pass RR depot at the corner of what is now South Alamo begins. Work to lay tracks along E. Commerce Street begins.
The West End Streetcar Co. was built to serve the newly developed areas surrounding the newly created West End Lake, now known as Woodlawn Lake.
Following the electrification of the still growing system, streetcars become bigger and faster, allowing them to carry more people longer distances allowing even more expansion. Away from the city center the electric days were allowed to go at 20 MPH, twice that of the mule drawn cars. Some of the newer lines had to be reduced from 4 feet 8 ½ inches, what is known as standard width to the narrower four feet of the older tracks.
Fully enclosed cars are introduced to protect passengers from dust and adverse weather. Some open cars are used only during the summer months for tourist lines.
The streetcar network which had already evolved from one company per line radiating from the city center to four larger companies is consolidated into just one organization, the San Antonio Traction Company.
A case involving the mandated obligation upon streetcars to offer half priced tickets to school children during terms was taken all the way to the Supreme Court. SAPSCO lost.
Streetcar companies become responsible for one third of the cost of improving the streets it runs along. Improvements included widening, which might mean relocating the tracks to stay in the center.
SAPSCO, the San Antonio Public Service Company is formed with the unification of the San Antonio Traction Company and the San Antonio Gas and Electric Company, which is part of the nationwide Edison group of companies.
SAPSCO begins limited bus service, with vehicles built in its own shops based on rudimentary truck chassis, to and from Fort Sam Houston, which has never allowed streetcars onto the vast military facility.
A court case resulting from the denial by the City of San Antonio of a SAPSCO fare hike of just one cent to six cents went all the way to the Supreme Court. This time SAPSCO won.
SAPSCO acquires its first factory built buses. At first it uses them to serve outlying areas and areas that were not served by streetcars but passenger demand soon leads them to be used along the same streets and roads.
The streetcar system in San Antonio reaches its peak of 90 miles of tracks.
SAPSCO is operating 135 streetcars and 74 buses.
Having found streetcars, with their tracks and overhead power lines to expensive to operate in comparison with cheaper and more flexible buses, SAPSCO pays the city $250,000.00 to be able to quit using them seven years before their contract expires, becoming the first major city in the USA to go over buses completely. As such contracts expired in Austin, Houston, Fort Worth and Dallas, and other cities, they were withdrawn there in due course.