Henderson County, Kentucky Businesses


Loud gongs sounded as horse-drawn cars neared intersections

There may not have been gold in Henderson, but this community nevertheless had a gold mine - and didn't know it.

For 34 years, the town had a system of quaint streetcars, complete with loud gongs that sounded at each intersection to warn pedestrians, motorists and those in horse-drawn vehicles that the cars were coming.

Had city officials been able to peer into the future and see the riches to be mined from the tourism industry, they might have opted to keep and maintain the street cars. After all, look at the role similar conveyances have played in luring camera-toting, money-spending tourists to San Francisco.

But local government didn't have a crystal ball. The city council, instead, was looking at the deteriorating condition of much of the system and the financial woes of its founder, the Henderson Traction Company.

In the summer of 1923, the lawmakers directed that the rails be taken up. First to go was the section on Green Street, between First and Clay Streets, and the section on Second Street between Ingram and Clark Streets.

In August, the city passed an ordinance to remove the tracks from Main Street, and streetcars became a thing of the past. Editions of the Henderson Daily Gleaner indicate the process was fairly swift, as the city concurrently took bids for the repaving of 56,000 square yards of city streets.

The low bid for that work came from ANDREWS Company of Hamilton, Ohio, whose fee was $2.94 per square yard. Officials no doubt were delighted with that price, as bids taken only three months earlier had seen $3.15 as the lowest submitted charge.

Streetcars had been part of the local scene since 1889, when they took on their first passengers. At that time, and for the first five years of operation, the cars were pulled by teams of mules that wore jangling bells.

In 1894, the Henderson Traction Company asked the city for permission to use municipal electricity to run the cars and authorization was given. With electricity, the cars had a maximum speed of 12 mph, which was considered rather hazardous. For that reason, the operators not only had to sound gongs to alert the public of the car's approach but also had to regularly demonstrate that they were able to quickly and safely come to a halt.

Local historian Maralea ARNETT wrote that there were two occasions when the streetcar system shut down. The first was caused by the sleet storm of 1901, when conditions kept the cars from running for two weeks. The second occurrence was in 1918, when a dispute with the city over taxes sidetracked the cars for three days.

It's apparent streetcar engineers had to be constantly vigilant, as young pranksters thought it highly amusing to grease the tracks on hills. It was because of those rascals that the cars always carried buckets of sand.

Reprinted with permission
Progress Edition, The Gleaner, Saturday, March 30, 1996
Written by Judy Jenkins

Contributed by Netta Mullin, HCH&GS
Copyright 2002 HCH&GS