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Fort Smith, Arkansas

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The Fort Smith Trolley Museum's Birney car 224 turns on Garrison Avenue, November 2004. Photo by Peter Ehrlich.

Contents

Overview

Fort Smith, located in northwestern Arkansas at the base of the Ozarks, was an important outpost in this region. At least two major railroads and river traffic on the Arkansas River served the city and its neighbor, Van Buren.

By 1893, Fort Smith had electric trolleys, operated by the Fort Smith Railway Company and the Fort Smith Traction Light & Power Company, which then merged to become Fort Smith Light & Traction Company. Although the original electric cars were open, closed cars became the norm. Ultimately, 8 routes, including one which crossed the Arkansas River into Van Buren, were constructed. By 1920, single-truck Birney Safety cars had been purchased, rendering most older stock obsolete.

The ravages of the Depression and the onset of the private auto put FSL&T into decline, and in 1933, it was taken over by the Oklahoma Gas & Electric Company. Streetcars ran their last on November 15, 1933.

The Fort Smith Trolley Museum came about as a result of an article on Fort Smith's public transport in the magazine published by the Fort Smith Historical Society in 1979. Soon after, carbodies of Fort Smith Birneys 224, 205 and 221 were discovered used as homes in a number of Arkansas locales. 205 and 224 were brought home and were displayed to the public as they rolled through Fort Smith streets. Then work began on restoring the two cars, with the help of the newly-chartered Fort Smith Trolley Museum's new carbarn on South 4th Street. Finally, 224 made its first trip on its own wheels and under wire on Christmas Day 1990, but the museum officially opened on May 19, 1991, running up to Rogers Avenue and the Old Fort Museum (now the Fort Smith Museum of History).

Further track extensions occurred in 1993, when the trolley's south end came to the Fort Smith National Cemetery entrance, and in 1997, when the line reached Garrison Avenue, Fort Smith's main street. Finally, with the help of the city of Fort Smith, trolleys once again operated on Garrison, extending two blocks to the new Ross Pendergraft Park.

Ultimately, the Fort Smith trolley will duck under the Garrison Avenue Bridge and to the Miss Laura's Visitor Center near the Arkansas River. And on the other end, tracks will be extended from the Fort Smith National Cemetery entrance up 7th Street to the Fort Smith Convention Center and Holiday Inn, and ultimately up to Garrison and 7th. In fact, the city had just installed some of this track in October 2004. These track extensions will bring total track mileage to 1.5 miles.

At present, the only operational streetcar is #224, a 1926 single-truck Birney built by American Car Co. Cars under restoration include sister Birney 205, a 1919 Cincinnati Car Co. product, Hot Springs 50, a double-truck closed car built 1904 by St. Louis Car Co. (Ft. Smith had similar trolleys), and Fort Smith 10, a single-truck closed car built by American Car Co. in 1902. Also on the property and scheduled for renovation is ex-Veracruz 6, a single-truck open car similar to ones that ran in Fort Smith. Hot Springs 50 is expected to be the next operational trolley. The Society also owns a number of historic Fort Smith and Little Rock buses, one of which was used in several recently-made historic motion pictures such as "Tuskegee Airmen".

The future is bright for trolleys in Fort Smith, thanks to an energetic city preservation movement and the city itself!

Photo Gallery


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Photo by: Peter Ehrlich
Location: Ft. Smith National Cemetery

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Photo by: Peter Ehrlich
Location: Ross Pendergraft Park

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Photo by: Peter Ehrlich
Location: Ross Pendergraft Park

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Photo by: Peter Ehrlich
Location: Ross Pendergraft Park

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Photo by: Peter Ehrlich
Location: Garrison Avenue

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Photo by: Peter Ehrlich
Location: Garrison Avenue

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Location: Garrison Avenue

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Photo by: Peter Ehrlich

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Location: Ft. Smith Trolley Museum

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Location: Ft. Smith Trolley Museum

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Photo by: Peter Ehrlich
Location: PRW b/w 2nd & 3rd

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Photo by: Peter Ehrlich
Location: Fort Smith Museum of History / Rogers Ave.

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Photo by: Peter Ehrlich
Location: Ft. Smith Trolley Museum

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Photo by: Peter Ehrlich
Location: Ft. Smith Trolley Museum



Links

Official Site - Fort Smith Trolley Museum. The official site of the Fort Smith Trolley Museum, including schedules, fares, and more.

Page Credits

By Peter Ehrlich.









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