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.