Streetcars in San Antonio

1922 Streetcar Map
Hand Drawn 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
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
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
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 Public Transportation Timeline
Mule drawn omnibus service begins in San Antonio. It takes two hours to get from downtown to San Pedro park
Mule drawn street cars are introduced cutting the travel time to San Pedro park in half, to one hour
The streetcar system is electrified
Streetcar companies are consolidated into four companies rather than by individual route. The companies are called Belkanp, McCrillis, West End and Alamo Heights
The four streetcar companies are consolidated into the San Antonio Traction Company
Crude early buses - using unsprung truck chassis and solid tires - begin operating in downtown San Antonio for tourists to see the sights
First intercity bus service is created between Luling and San Marcos
Rogue jitney service, using stretched sedans, often uninsured and unlicensed, pops up in competition with streetcars but is soon squelched
The streetcar company merges with the electric company into the privately owned San Antonio Public Service Company
SAPSCO introduces its first bus service, using a vehicle it builds on a truck chassis in its own shops
First communities, such as Olmos Park, are built without streetcar service
Long distance bus service from San Antonio to the oil fields in east Texas introduced
SAPSCO acquires its first factory built bus
Peterson bus company formed in Kerrville
San Antonio's streetcar system reaches its peak of 90 miles
Texas introduces its first intercity bus regulations, mandating insurance and regular maintenance checks among other things, such as state issued route permits
SAPSCO introduces A/C into its streetcar fleet of 160. It is also operating 74 buses
Alamo Heights streetcar line is removed
Intercity bus station opened at corner of Martin and Navarro
SAPSCO pays $250,000 to the almost bankrupt city to be allowed to abandon streetcar service in favor of an all bus service seven years ahead of the specified time in its contract with the city, becoming the first major city to do so. 63 new buses are acquired.
SAPSCO moves 22 million passengers, buys 60 new buses
SAPSCO buys 40 more buses
Due to war time expansion and fuel shortages, SAPCO moves 36 million passengers. SAPSCO is split into two companies due to federal mandate. The still privately owned bus service is renamed "San Antonio Transit Company"
SATCO moves 71 million passengers
SATCO introduces buses with A/C
Despite dramatic citywide population increases, SATCO ridership declines to 36 million
SATCO is purchased by the city and renamed "San Antonio Transit System"
SA Transit System carries 20 million passengers
VIA Metropolitan Transit Authority is formed. VIA covers a much larger area - 1,200 square miles - than the San Antonio owned service, including all the small townships in the county.
VIA carries 34.5 million passengers
VIA introduces streetcar style buses for downtown tourist service
VIA named best transit system in north America
VIA named second most cost effective transit system in the USA
VIA named safest transit system in the USA
VIA introduces propane powered buses that are cleaner, quieter, cost less to operate and are more efficient
VIA replaces its original streetcar buses with newer, propane powered vehicles in the same style
VIA introduces natural gas buses and diesel-electric hybrid buses
VIA carries approximately 47 million passengers on regular, VIA Trans (disabled services), downtown streetcar and special event buses. It owns 418 regular forty foot buses and 104 modified smaller vehicles for VIA Trans services
VIA's regular bus services alone carry an all time high 46.1 million riders
VIA introduces "Primo," a new high speed service using articulated buses with limited control over traffic lights, to run between downtown and the main UTSA campus at IH 10 and Loop 1604 via the medical center
VIA's "Primo" service transports an average of 6,000 riders a day in its first year.