Michigan’s Interurban Railways – A Photo Essay Of A Great Transport System That Was Ahead of Its Time

Ann Arbor Ypsilanti Interurban

It seems we have rediscovered what electric service can do. Yet, some make remarks about the hybrid and electric vehicles like somehow they were just invented and that there is no way we will be able to accommodate all the electric vehicles due to hit our highways in a few short years. 

Guess what? 

Many of our Great-Great Grandparents envisioned and used an advanced transportation system using electric interurban railways. These small city-to-city or city-to-beach routes will mirror the services that autonomous vehicles are anticipated to do. However, this system ran into the economic buzzsaw of the inexpensive personal automobile and incredibly cheap gas. 

This article will take us back to the turn of the century between 1890 and 1910, when an extensive interurban system of electric trains crisscrossed southern and mid – Michigan and extended to the Atlantic coast. It’s a glimpse of what was and spotlights an opportunity that may come again. 

Michigan’s System of Interurban Railways

By 1902 the growth of electric railways in the southern part of the state of Michigan is illustrated in the accompanying map, which shows the lines already in operation, under construction, and for new franchises. The various roads on the map may be identified by their respective numbers and the populations of the cities through which they pass. The towns are shown by circles, which are proportionate to the population.

Southern Michigan Electric Railway Map

Internet Archive Book Images, No restrictions, via Wikimedia Commons

Interurban Roads Operational (1902)

  • 1. Owosso & Corunna Electric Railway. (proposed to Flint via Vernon and Durand.)
  • 2. Detroit, Rochester, Romeo, and Lake Orion (Detroit United Railway)
  • 3.  Rapid Railway Co. ( Detroit United Railway.)
  • 4. Toledo, Adrian & Jackson Railway
  • 5. Detroit and Toledo Shore Line Railway
  • 6. Grand Rapids. Holland & Lake Michigan Electric Railway
  • 7. Michigan Traction Co. (From Kalamazoo to Battle Creek.) 
  • 8. Saginaw and Bay City Interurban. (Saginaw Valley Traction Co.)
  • 10. Detroit. Ypsilanti, Ann Arbor & Jackson Railway
  • 11. Detroit. Mt. Clemens & Marine City (Detroit United Railway)
  • 12. Grand Rapids. Grand Haven & Muskegon Railway
  • 13. Detroit. Plymouth & Northville Railway (Detroit United Railway.)
  • 14. Port Huron. Gratiot Beach & Electric Railway. (Detroit United Railway)
  • 15. St. Joseph & Benton Harbor Electric Street Railway.

Interurban Roads Under Construction (1902)

  • 16. Indiana Railway Co., South Bend, Indiana, (From South Bend to St. Joseph, Mich.)
  • 17. Calhoun County Ry. (From Battle Creek to Jackson)
  • 18. Battle Creek & Coldwater
  • 19. Grand Rapids. Kalamazoo & South Haven Traction Co.
  • 20. Lansing. St. John & St. Louis Electric Railway This road is operated by steam power temporarily between Lansing and St. Johns.
  • 21. Detroit, Howell, and Lansing Railway
  • 22. Saginaw Suburbian Railway (To rub between Saginaw and Flint)
  • 23. Michigan West Shore Traction Company (This road extends from Benton Harbor to South Haven)

Proposed Suburban Roads (1902)

  • 24. Kalamazoo Traction Company. (To run from St. Joseph, Benton Harbor to Kalamazoo)
  • 25. Central Michigan Traction Company ( To run from Vermontville to Charlotte and Eaton Rapids)
  • 26. Corunna & Durand (This is an extension of the present line between Owasso and Durand)
  • 27. Detroit, Pontiac, and Lapeer Northern Railway
  • 28. Adrian and Coldwater Railway
  • 29. Lansing and Grand Rapids Railway
  • 30, Grand Rapids to Belding, Lowell, and Ionia
  • 31. Detroit, Ann Arbor, and Adrian
  • 32. Jackson & Lansing
  • 33. Jackson to Coldwater
  • 34. Dexter to Lansing
  • 35. Caro to Lake Huron
  • 36. Detroit, Lenox & Sanilac Center

Owosso & Corunna Electric Railway

In 1893, the first streetcar line was built between Owosso and Corunna. It was steam operated for two years and then converted to electricity. The interurban station was in downtown Owosso, at 113 S. Washington St. The electric-powered passenger car went south from Owosso, thru Perry, Lansing, then Jackson. In town, it was powered by overhead lines, but it used an electrified third rail in rural areas. (Source: https://www.shiawasseehistory.com/)

Michigan Central Railway Between Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti 

interurban cars near Ann Arbor Michigan
Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti Cars 1890 – Internet Archive Book Images, No restrictions, via Wikimedia Commons

“In the summer of 1890, one of those useful but unpopular promoters dropped off the train at Ypsilanti and began to get a franchise for a street railroad between Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti. He got some people of those towns interested after a lot of urging and what seemed big traffic stories to be developed. For instance, he claimed that five hundred people a day would want to ride between the towns.

It seemed impossible after we had ascertained that the Michigan Central was only carrying forty people a day between Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti. However, word came in from other towns with the service that ridership was in the hundreds. This was mainly because the service was every hour and a half, while the fare one way was ten instead of twenty-five cents on the steam railroad.

The business plan for the new railway was greatly helped by the simple fact that that college in Ann Arbor had three thousand boys and not enough girls. While the college in Ypsilanti had a thousand girls at the teacher’s college and not enough boys. The street railway helped restore equilibrium, especially on Friday evenings, Saturdays and Sundays”. (Source Michigan Pioneer and Historical Society Vol. XXXV 1907)

Detroit, Almont, and Northern Railroad Company

The Detroit, Almont, and Northern Railroad Company extended its line from Romeo to Almont.
Wystan from Ann Arbor, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The Detroit, Almont, and Northern Railroad Company extended its line from Romeo to Almont. This company is a subsidiary of the Detroit United Railway, and that company operates its property. Schedules for its operation went into effect July 1, 1914. The D. A. & N. Co. was proceeding with extending its road northerly to Imlay City at the close of the year.

Orchard Beach, Manistee, Michigan

The loop at Orchard Beach, Manistee, Michigan -- electric trolley interurban.
Wystan from Ann Arbor, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The loop at Orchard Beach, Manistee, Michigan — electric trolley interurban.

Detroit United Lines

Former Roller Skating Rink (at left) and the Waiting Room of Detroit United Lines (Interurban trolley station). 100 block of West Huron Street, Ann Arbor, Michigan.
Wystan from Ann Arbor, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Former Roller Skating Rink (at left) and the Waiting Room of Detroit United Lines (Interurban trolley station). 100 block of West Huron Street, Ann Arbor, Michigan.

Michigan Central Railroad 

Detroit, Ypsilanti, and Ann Arbor Interurban car
Wystan, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Detroit, Ypsilanti, and Ann Arbor Interurban car on the bridge over the Michigan Central Railroad just east of Michigan Center (near Jackson).

Pontiac & Sylvan Lake Railway Company

Internet Archive Book Images, No restrictions, via Wikimedia Commons

On October 1, 1895, the first interurban railroad service in Oakland County began service between Pontiac and Sylvan Lake. The popularity of streetcar ridership peaked in 1912. When everyone wanted to go to the beach in July, 200 people cycled together to Sylvan Lake. Between two and nine p.m., a half-hour service was scheduled. The cost from Pontiac to Sylvan Lake was increased to 10 cents or 12 tickets for one dollar in August 1930. Service terminated in 1932, and during World War II, the rails along Garland were dismantled for scrap metal.

St. Joseph & Benton Harbor Electric Light & Railway Co.

Internet Archive Book Images, No restrictions, via Wikimedia Commons

At Berrien Springs, there are eight 15-foot through trusses on concrete piers that span the St. Joseph River. The cities of South Bend, the southern terminus, St. Joseph, the northern terminus, Niles, approximately a quarter of the route’s length north of South Bend, and BerrienSprings, roughly the same distance south of St. Joseph, will provide the majority of passenger traffic. The interurban carriages will have good terminal amenities thanks to trackage rights gained in the two terminus cities. The interurban vehicles run for roughly 4.000 feet across the lines of St. Joseph & Benton Harbor Electric Light & Railway Co. in St. Joseph. The road is double-tracked in this section. The interurban line’s private right of way reaches within one-half mile.

The Detroit United Railway and Rapid Railway Route Map

Internet Archive Book Images, No restrictions, via Wikimedia Commons

Toledo and Monroe Railway Interurban

To escape the summer heat, Monroe residents looked forward to day visits to the Lake Erie coastline and the banks of the River Raisin in the late 1800s. During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, this train trolley was a popular and convenient method to get to what was then known as the Monroe Piers neighborhood of Monroe, showcasing trips to the Monroe Lighthouse Hotel Lotus and other attractions in the Monroe Piers region.

Toledo-Lucas County Public Library, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The Toledo and Monroe Railway interurban street railroad powerhouse at the intersection of Elm Avenues and Monroe Street in Monroe, Michigan, in 1901.

Toledo-Lucas County Public Library, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Interurban streetcars # 501 and 509 of the Toledo and Monroe Railways on Elm Avenue at the Monroe Street junction in Monroe, Michigan, in 1906.

Toledo and Monroe (interurban) Railway
Toledo-Lucas County Public Library , Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

This black and white photograph shows a Toledo and Monroe (interurban) Railway vehicle with personnel. It was shot about 1900 in Monroe, Michigan, in front of the Toledo and Monroe Railway Powerhouse on Elm Avenue and Monroe Street.

Toledo and Western Railway Company – Adrian, Michigan

Passengers board Toledo and Western Railway Company interurban streetcar No.2
Toledo-Lucas County Public Library, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Passengers board Toledo and Western Railway Company interurban streetcar No.2 at the underpass in Adrian, Michigan, in 1903.

Lansing & Suburban Traction Company

Lansing & Suburban Traction Company
Internet Archive Book Images, No restrictions, via Wikimedia Commons

Turning into the city tracks to enter Lansing stock equipment of the city operating company for use on the city lines, one of the regular double-truck cars in use on the interurban division. Several Jewett open automobiles are included, one of which is seen in an accompanying illustration. Single-truck cars are often utilized on municipal lines, while double-truck cars are used on the 3-mile route to Michigan Agricultural College. The company’s regular city car is a single-track vehicle 22 to 26 feet long, whereas the Agricultural College line uses 42-foot double-truck cars. The majority of the older autos were previously utilized in the city on February 25, 1905.)

Lansing, St. Johns, & St. Louis Railway

This is still being researched

Primary Source

The Street Railway Review 1902, Chicago, Windsor & Kenfield Publishing Company

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