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Austin's first mass transit: When streetcars criss-crossed the city

The city’s first streetcars during the 1870s were mule-powered. Rides cost a nickel.

AUSTIN, Texas — As Austin grew during the late 19th century, the desire for a streetcar network captured the attention of investors who saw the potential to make money by hauling people around town.

Austin was something of a pioneer as streetcar lines grew across America. The city’s first streetcars during the 1870s were mule-powered. Rides cost a nickel.

The building of a dam on Lake Austin in the 1890s led to the generating of electric power that provided the energy to drive the streetcars.

The center of the action was Congress Avenue as tracks ran north as far as Hyde Park and south across the river.

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But in the early 20th century, Austin’s streetcars would fight a losing battle against automobiles and buses.

The last run of a streetcar occurred in 1940 as city officials threw a big party to mark the passing of an era. Almost immediately the tracks were torn up and much of the steel was recycled to help the war effort in the early 1940s.

If you’re looking for remnants of streetcar tracks around the city today, it’s best to not waste your time. According to a transportation historian at The Austin History Center, none are left.

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