The fascinating photo above shows a streetcar in the town where I grew up (Excelsior, Minnesota). Close examination of this photo [click for superhuge size] from the early 1900s reveals horse-drawn vehicles and a gloriously muddy street, crossed by boardwalks (note the sidewalks are also built of boards*).
A hundred years ago, you could get from Minneapolis to Excelsior as quickly as that 18-mile trip takes today at rush hour — about 45 minutes — but instead of fuming in gridlock, you'd breeze along, gazing at fields and trees from a streetcar.From the late 1800s to the 1930s, streetcars were the primary mode of travel within Minneapolis and St. Paul, but also east to Stillwater, Bayport and White Bear Lake and west to Lake Minnetonka.In the late 19th century, Thomas Lowry, owner of Twin City Rapid Transit, began laying tracks for electric streetcars to replace steam-powered commuter trains. At its peak, the company had 524 miles of track and carried 200 million riders each year — more than twice Metro Transit's total ridership in 2019.Streetcars brought together people of all socioeconomic classes, said John Diers, co-author with Aaron Isaacs of Twin Cities by Trolley: The Streetcar Era in Minneapolis and St. Paul. "Everyone rode the streetcar — from millionaires to hobos," said Diers, a retired transit employee...Streetcar speeds could top 60 mph, about 20 mph faster than a Ford Model T.As automobile mass production grew in the 1920s and '30s, streetcar ridership dwindled. The Lake Minnetonka line closed in 1932. Car sales boomed after World War II, suburbs developed, and the last streetcar in the metro area ran in 1954.
Here is a lengthy video of these streetcars (I'm not sure why it autostarts in the middle - you'll need to back up using the video progress bar):
Readers living in or visiting Minnesota who are interested in this subject should consider visiting the Minnesota Streetcar Museum.
*Unrelated to the streetcar, but I'll mention that I used to subscribe to coinshooting and metal-detecting magazines and read that when boardwalk sidewalks were replaced with concrete ones in the 1950s-60s, those doing so found lots of old coins on the ground below the boards.