As A New Streetcar Debuts in Charlotte, A Look Back at the Mode’s Tar Heel History

Earlier today, Charlotte inaugurated the CityLYNX Gold Line, its first streetcar service in 77 years.

Though the service is being heralded as a new innovation for transportation and economic development, it’s not the first time the vehicles have been seen on North Carolina streets.

The Tar Heel State’s first streetcars were horse-drawn and began operating in Wilmington and Raleigh in the mid to late 1880s. The first electrified system made its debut in Asheville in 1889, and similar networks quickly cropped up in Durham, Greensboro, High Point, Raleigh, Salisbury, Wilmington and Winston-Salem.

Charlotte’s system got its start in January 1887 as a horse-drawn operation, and was electrified in 1981 after prominent businessman Edward Latta collaborated with other entrepreneurs to make the leap. At its peak the system carried 2 million passengers annually on 29 miles of track and 50 passenger cars.

The Charlotte Trolley on loan to the N.C. Transportation Museum.
Image from Trains Magazine.

A historic trolley car that was built in World War I, originally used in Athens, Greece’s system and then imported for use on Charlotte’s heritage trolley line is now on loan to the N.C. Transportation Museum where it is being repaired. You can get a peek of it just about any day in the Back Shop, but the best time to see it is when it’s brought out for view during the museum’s special events.

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Streetcars on Fayetteville Street in downtown Raleigh, crica May 1909. Image PhC.68.1.98 from Carolina Power & Light Collection of the State Archives.

Visit the N.C. Transportation Museum’s website for a more detailed history of the vehicle’s connections to the Old North State.