Middletown, Ohio, is known for many things: famous sons and daughters, military heroes, steel and aerospace industries, cultural festivities and…
When it made its final run in May 1918, the city’s equine passenger service was “the last horse-car line in the U.S.,” reported Middletown Historian, the late George Crout. (*)
Then motor buses took the reins.
According to a detailed history of the horsecar written by an unknown author (**), the line was known as the Middletown & Madison Passenger Street Railway Co. when it was established by C.F. Gunkel in 1879.
Its route “ran east and west” on Third Street (now Central Avenue) with connections to “the Cincinnati, Hamilton & Dayton steam railroad depot on the west, with the Big Four line to the east of town.” The western “turnaround point” was Madison” (West Middletown)...Fare was five cents.” (**)
Bad weather didn’t prevent the horsecar from transporting its customers. Today images exist of patrons flocking to a horsecar on snowy days.
Change was inevitable in the horsecar industry. Upon learning that mules “were capable of doing a superior job...ate less…” and “did not need excess strength to handle Middletown’s small cars,” the company became the Rapid Mule Transit Traction Company. A “few faithful horses” did remain, however, the article noted. (**)
As time and transportation progressed, the equine-led business attracted the ire and ridicule of the public.
By 1918 “the line was still rolling among hordes of automobiles -- a strange contrast,” the writer continued. “New residents and visitors hee-hawed at the antiquated transportation. The mules clomped along on a half-hour schedule.” (**)
The end of the line -- literally -- came in May 1918. Middletown Historian George Crout is reported to have determined the “abandonment date as May 4…,” the article continued, adding “This very well could have been the last horse car in the United States, a line in New York having folded on July 26, 1917….”
The horsecar’s final trip was poignantly described by an anonymous patron in a Middletown Journal article (date unknown) :
“...We caught the last trip, which we call the ‘Owl Trip,’ at 10 p.m. As we jolted down Third Street many memories came to mind of the many Middletonians who had ridden the horse car.
“That little, quaint, dingy car was filled with the ghosts of the past,” the passenger wrote. “This was Saturday night and the last trip. As the car stopped, our driver, Tom, turned to unhitch the faithful team. As we said goodbye, there were tears in Tom’s eyes, and we knew this marked the parting of the ways for dear friends and the end of an epoch in Middletown history.” (**)
(*) From George Crout’s “Middletown Diary” column titled “2 mules and a special rail car,” published in the Middletown Journal July 27, 1986.
(**) “Middletown’s Mule Transit.” Author/source of article unknown. Publisher unknown.
Both articles are available for reading in the Ohio Room at MidPointe Library-Middletown. They can be found under the category “Middletown Transportation” in the “Vertical File” located along the Ohio Room’s north wall.
The color self-portrait of local artist Herbert Fall hangs in the Ohio Room at MidPointe Library-Middletown.