Introduction

As was discussed in earlier sections regarding the “Frontier Highway,” access to transportation was essential for the North End’s growth. As technologies developed, the neighborhood kept pace, offering connectivity with the rest of Lexington and the region. This allowed neighbors to easily access goods and services across the city, and industries to be able to affordably bring in materials from throughout Central Kentucky.  

In 1882, Kentucky’s General Assembly authorized the incorporation of the Lexington City Railway Company so that horse-drawn streetcars could operate in Lexington. A month later, the city approved the company’s operation and set forth restrictions for where and how the streetcars were to operate. On authorized roads, including Mulberry (Limestone) to the city limits, the company could erect single tracks whereupon it could operate registered and numbered cars with customer fares fixed at five cents. These lines were extended and improved throughout the 1880s providing mule-drawn access for Lexingtonians to the cemetery, the fairgrounds, the university, Woodland Park and destinations in between.

Electric Streetcars

A Streetcar in Downtown Lexington

In 1890, those seeking to take advantage of the technological advances achieved during the previous decade acquired the old mule-drawn railway company. The group of investors included, among others, William Loughridge. The same men also formed another company that would be critical to the neighborhood’s development and future: the Belt Line Company. 

Pullman cars, purchased for $1,350 apiece, were ordered by the new company and they arrived during the summer of 1890. The cars’ arrival in Lexington was front page news: “The new electric street cars, shrouded with canvas, are today being unloaded from trucks on which they made their journey to Lexington, at the plant on North Limestone.” On September 1, 1890, these streetcars began traveling a loop from Main Street to Loudon Avenue utilizing both North Broadway and North Limestone. To enable the operation of these electric streetcars, electricity was needed, so a three-story powerhouse was erected to the west of North Limestone Street on Loudon Street’s south side. 

The division of the streetcar company designated to electric power for the streetcars would eventually be divested into a new entity, the Lexington Utilities Company (later known as Kentucky Utilities).

An Interurban, a Streetcar, and an Era

Lexington Interurban Line

The Belt Line Railway Company was organized in the 1880s for the purpose of “connecting all of the railway entering Lexington thus affording facilities for transfer of freight cars from one railroad to another.” It, and many of the companies referenced in this section, were interrelated or at various times under common ownership.

In 1902, the first interurban constructed in central Kentucky came to fruition with a connection between the communities of Lexington and Georgetown. The organizing company was the Blue Grass Traction Company which also began plans for an interurban connecting Lexington with the communities of Bourbon County.     

Initially, plans called for connections to Millersburg, Kentucky, but the political power of the Bourbon County Judge Executive thwarted this route as he did not want the tracks to be run through his own property. The shortened line would end in the county seat of Paris, Kentucky. 

Finally, at 7:00 a.m. on October 31, 1903, the company’s first run of the Lexington-Paris Interurban departed from Lexington. Each one-way trip took about an hour and service continued each way every other hour. This interurban, too, passed along Limestone Street through the North End.    

The racist Jim Crow segregation laws applied to Kentucky railroads and were also imposed on the interurban lines. In February 1904, the Lexington-Paris County interurban, which traveled through the North End, was the scene of an example of the Jim Crow laws. Returning from Lexington to Paris, a group of white men left their car for the segregated section whereupon Martha Scroggins complained to the conductor of their presence. As reported in the February 12, 1904, edition of The Bourbon News:

On Tuesday evening, quite a crowd of Parisians were returning from the Cohans’ matinee, at Lexington, on the interurban, when it was exemplified to the discomfort of eight or ten of our most gallant gentlemen that a good rule does work both ways. It all came about this way: The white compartment of the car was crowded, every seat being filled and quite a crowd of gentlemen standing. In the colored compartment there was only one passenger, Miss Martha Scroggins, of color, (alias “Sweet”) and eight or ten of the gentlemen walked in the colored ward and found very comfortable seats. The conductor soon came along, and when collecting the fare of Miss Scroggins, she arose from her seat and said: “Mr. Conductor, it’s a poor rule that won’t work both ways, the white folks won’t let niggers ride in their car, and I don’t want the white folks to ride in my car, so you can just put them out of here, or stop the car and I will get off.” The rule worked, for the Conductor said: “Gentlemen, you will have to go back in the white compartment.” And with a few threats about throwing Miss “Sweet” over the fence into a cornfield for the hogs and crows to feed on, they marched out of the “Jim Crow” compartment.

In 1905, the Blue Grass Traction Company became a subsidiary of the Lexington & Interurban Railway Company along with two other entities. It would continue to grow and improve both interurban and streetcar services, with its operations centered just west of Limestone Street, north of the Beltline Railway on both sides of Loudon Avenue.  On the north side of Loudon was the entity’s car barn where streetcars were housed and maintained, and on the south side of Loudon were facilities for the production of electricity necessary for operation. In a 1906 booklet on leading community businesses, the local chamber of commerce wrote about the Lexington Railway Company that “the men in authority are among the best in our state. They believe in Lexington – they believe in the splendid towns and cities all around us, and have done much to develop the great possibility of this section.” 

Despite the early success and rapid growth of these services, the business eventually suffered from economic woes as automobiles became increasingly popular. The Lexington & Interurban Railway Company was liquidated in 1911 and its assets were acquired by the Kentucky Traction & Terminal Company. For some time, their streetcar services remained popular and the company was profitable, but the ubiquity of the automobile spelled eventual ruin for the enterprises. Five years into the Great Depression, the Kentucky Traction & Terminal Company was forced to file for bankruptcy. On April 21, 1938, Lexington’s last streetcar travelled from the Loudon Avenue car barn to the old courthouse on Main Street.     

The Loudon Avenue car barn became a “boneyard” littered with old streetcars that were eventually scrapped for metal during World War II. It would later be utilized as part of the Lexington Railway System’s motorbus service.  In 1956, this entity became the Lexington Transit Corporation and was itself acquired by the City of Lexington in 1972 whereupon it became The Transit Authority of Lexington Fayette County (LexTran). On the site of the old Loudon car barn, the city built a garage for its LexTran buses.

Improving the Roadway, Increasing Residential Opportunity for Some

The transition from streetcar and interurban to automobile was accompanied by continued improvement of the roadbed itself. In 1909, the Joint Improvement Committee of Lexington and Fayette County to recommended that “pavements on North Limestone from Third Street to the city limits” be laid. (Lexington Leader: May 21, 1909). To accomplish this, the committee would order some 800,000 brick from the Peebles Brick Company of Portsmouth, Ohio. The work was carried on block-by-block, accompanied with the removal of the track of the Lexington Street Railway Company. The job was completed within a year.

As a result of these infrastructure improvements, residential development followed close behind. Suburban lots in Highlawn, a neighborhood on North Limestone beyond the city limits, were in great demand in the early 1910s. Churches, schools, and commerce followed the new residents. In the 1930s, Avondale’s “beautiful new homes” became available in “one of Lexington’s newest and most promising additions” which was located “on North Limestone street near Loudon Avenue [and] runs through” to Bryan Station.

Greyhound Building

SE Greyhound Line Building

On the northwestern corner of the intersection of Loudon Avenue and North Limestone stands 101 West Loudon, a structure added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2014. It was originally constructed in 1928.

In the 1920s, the North End witnessed a decline in its passenger rail traffic, and was able to capitalize on the increasing popularity of automobile motorbus traffic. The Consolidated Coach Corporation, an entity incorporated in Lexington in 1926,  quickly became a leader in the industry with lines running as far north as Minnesota (the birthplace of Greyhound) and throughout the southeast, all the way to Florida. In 1936, the entity renamed itself the Southeast Greyhound Line. Although the local depot was located on East Short Street just past Walnut Street (now, Martin Luther King Blvd.), the company’s administrative offices and maintenance facilities were located at 101 West Loudon. 

In fact, during the 1940s, Southeast Greyhound was Lexington’s single largest private employer. Beginning in 1951, the Southeast Greyhound was, as an entity, absorbed into the Greyhound company, but the company would remain the subsidiary’s headquarters throughout the decade. It would be abandoned, however, in 1960, during a corporate reorganization. As discussed above, the city of Lexington assumed control of local bus transit in 1972. That year, the city acquired the old Southeast Greyhound property for its use, and the property went to Lexington’s transit authority, now known as Lextran. 

The building itself is, per its National Register application, in the “muted Art Deco” style “with few overt decorative features,” its most prominent being “a large diamond-shaped panel” which serves as “the building’s visual climax atop the central bay of the front façade.” (Williams).