Traveling by Trolley in Mississippi
Postcards from the Paul Jermyn Collection
Gulfport and Mississippi Coast Traction Company
Having lived in Gulfport during the early 1960′s, I used to imagine what fun it must have been to ride one of the big trolleys along the Gulf shoreline at sunset! However, I came along too late in history to enjoy that pleasure. In fact, I never even saw the cars except in a few pictures. My corresponding friend, the late Steve Maguire, one of America’s foremost authorities on this country’s trolleys, considered the Gulf Coast cars to be real interurban cars. He identified them as being exactly like the cars used on the International Railway’s Buffalo-Lockport (N.Y.) line. Steve wrote me that he once saw two identical cars running in Buenos Aires and this made him wonder if the Gulfport-Biloxi passenger cars finally ended their days in that South American setting! He never found for sure.
Unfortunately, the period of passenger service on the Gulf Coast interurban facility spanned but two decades–1905 through 1926. History reveals that on January 1, 1926, but service was substituted for the trolleys between Gulfport and Pass Christian. Local streetcar service within the city of Gulfport ended also at that time. However, trolleys continued to connect Gulfport with Biloxi, and they also served local routes in the city of Biloxi for a few more years. Segment by segment the remaining lines were dismantled between 1930 and 1932. The local cars still operating in Biloxi ran out their last miles in 1932. Thus ended the too-short life of the Gulfport and Mississippi Coast Traction Company with the exception of a local “juice” freight operation in Biloxi which lasted until 1949. During the G. & M.C.’s most extensive period of operations, its 30 miles of track saw 27 passenger cars and 2 freight motors at work.
The Gulfport and Mississippi Coast Traction Company surely had its share of problems with those awful Gulf of Mexico hurricanes which have blown ashore from time to time. Frequently they washed out whole sections of the roadbed, and after the 1915 hurricane, the entire line had to be rebuilt! However, the storms weren’t the only problems besetting the company. Some of its worst problems developed at the very beginning of its history and were related to the line’s construction. Ray M. Thompson, writing in Down South magazine in 1963, described some of these problems. He wrote that between Biloxi and Gulfport the track laying crews working from the east and from the west met at what is now the beautiful Edgewater Mall. However, the person who owned that particular property had said he would not permit the track to be connected across his land. So it was that the foreman called the track laying crews at midnight and they laid the necessary track in unbelievable silence shrouded in the darkness of blackest night! The next morning the clever railway company officials rather calmly turned over to lawyers the resultant problem of justifying the clandestine maneuver as a “pro bono publico” action! One of the many interesting deeds related to securing the right of way in this same area is signed by Mrs. Jefferson Davis and her daughter. Evidently they were happy to have the trolley line run near the back of their lovely beachfront mansion “Beauvoir.”
The city of Biloxi has recently resurrected from a junk dealer a mule-drawn streetcar which ran in that city for several years beginning in 1890. During 1982, this old car is being restored for public display in the Vieux Marche area of the city. The early mule-drawn transportation system grew eventually into the Biloxi Electric Railway and Power Company, which, in 1905, was absorbed into the proposed Gulfport and Mississippi Coast Traction Company. The Biloxi utility was sold for $200,000 in 1905 to the new company, with Gulfport’s primary leader and benefactor, J.T. Jones, assuming the outstanding bonded indebtedness.
On the opposite end of the line, trouble was also experienced as the company sought to lay tracks into Pass Christian. Mr. E. Davis McCutchon, presently of Pass Christian, quoted several old-time “Pass” residents as saying collectively. “No, we will not have streetcars passing directly in front of our beautiful beachfront homes!” So it was that at the east of Pass Christian, the cars swung away from the beach, traveled about 1/6 mile inland, and then continued on Second Street to the end of the line a little west of the downtown area of Pass Christian. Mayor John H. Lang and a few other forward-looking Pass citizens proved successful in reaching this concession largely because Mr. Lang gave the line the right of way through his own property between the beachfront and Second Street. In his “Historical Sketches of Harrison County.” Mr. Lang wrote these words shortly after that portion of the trolley line commenced (1907): “To illustrate the good that has been done by building the trolley line, we have only to look at the prices of beachfront lands in 1902 and at present in 1907. I tried to sell beachfront lots in 1902 at $2.50 per front foot. In 1907 these lots are bringing $30.00 and $35.00 per front foot!” The Pass Christian-Gulfport tracks were relocated inland adjacent to the L&N Railroad in 1925 due to recurring washouts of beachfront trackage.
Like Biloxi, Gulfport also had an antecedent trolley operation. In 1904, a line 1-1/2 miles in length was built from Union Station to the end of the once-famous pier of which the present East Pier is a surviving remnant. This short line was quite successful in transporting people from downtown to the pavilion at the end of the pier, and it was eventually absorbed into the Gulfport and Mississippi Coast Traction Company. Again, Captain Joseph T. Jones was the principal investor in this line as well as in the 1,000 square foot entertainment, dancing and refreshment center. According to an old newspaper article I read, there were 44 sailing schooners from all over the world waiting in Gulfport to take on their cargoes of lumber the first day the “pier” trolley line operated!
An interesting article shared with me by Gulf Coast historian James Stevens, was published in the Daily Herald on September 26, 1912. This delightful piece of writing is a travelogue describing the trolley ride from Pass Christian through Gulfport and on to Biloxi. To read the article makes one feel regretful, indeed, that the old G. & M.C. was forced into premature oblivion by the encroachment of the automobile and bus. One wishes the efficient, economical electric car could be returned to our streets and countryside!
Frank Brooks’ “Travelling by Trolley in Mississippi: Stories about Streetcars.”