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By 1900’s the city of Sheffield’s growth was exceeding her available public services. What would be the catapult that vaulted Sheffield into the 20th century came when Colonel John Warren Worthington formed The Sheffield Company. Its purpose, to expand and provide the necessary services to take the Tri-Cities from antiquity into the progressive era. J.W. Worthington, a 1882 graduate of the University of Alabama, with a degree in engineering, came to Sheffield in 1889 and developed the city’s first water supply system. In 1891 he developed their first light and power system and by 1898 he was the supervisor of operations for the Sloss-Sheffield Steel and Iron Company, a utility company to supply water and electric power to the city. Out of this vision of the future came the electric street-car system, a rarity seen only in larger cities. These yellow and tan cars were built for comfort and longevity. The regular street-cars were enclosed with windows along each side. Street-cars for summer travelers were open on the sides and had open areas in the floor between the seats, allowing their occupants to observe the ground or surface of the river, forty to fifty feet below, as they crossed the trestle to the Florence area.
A Street-car barn was built at Little Rock Avenue and Sixth Street in Sheffield, to provide parking for street-cars not in use, and to house the maintenance shop and warehouse for all Sheffield Company’s operations. Office accommodation for the Operations Superintendent was also at the Street-car barn but the business office for the Sheffield Company was located in the Sheffield Hotel. The street-car barn served as a base for all operations. From the yard, the track to Florence went east on 6th street to Montgomery Avenue in front of the Sheffield Hotel. From there it ran along Montgomery to 1st street and across to Atlanta Avenue. It proceeded up Atlanta to 12th Street, turned east and moved into the open country side, where Sheffield High School stands today.
In the one mile stretch, between where the Street-car track switched onto the Southern Railway track to cross the Tennessee River bridge, lay meadow land and pine forest. Two trolley parks built as entertainment centers for the traveling public were set against a picturesque backdrop.
The line to Florence crossed the Tennessee River Bridge, proceeded on a circular route up the hill along what is now Crest Street. It entered town on Reeder Street, turned up Court Street, passed the college and turned east on Nellie Avenue. The tracks then proceeded south on Poplar Street to Tennessee Street, where the lane ran east along Tennessee to Royal Avenue and into East Florence. It made the loop near the railroad station and returned to Sheffield.
The track from Sheffield to Tuscumbia left the Street-car barn and traveled along Little Rock Avenue southward, through the Furnace Hill section on 20th Avenue. It crossed over a long trestle, passing over the railroad tracks and entered the blast furnace area of Sheffield. The concrete piers that supported the main span of this trestle remains today, near the concrete block plant on 20th Avenue. The street-car track continued southward from Furnace Hill around the Nitrate Plant No. 1 area and turned onto what is now Blackwell Road. It ran about one mile, approached Spring Creek on the west side of Tuscumbia and ran along the creek, passed under the Southern Railway trestle across Spring Creek and entered the city on South Jefferson Street. From this point the street-car tracks went north on Jefferson to 5th Street, turned east and proceeded to Main Street. Traveling south one block to 6th Street and circling by way of Water Street the street-car line made it’s way back to Sheffield.
At several points along the track, between the three towns, side tracks were provided, where the street-cars passed going in opposite directions. The total length of street-car track between the three towns was approximately twelve miles. No one welcomed the street-cars more than the workers at the furnaces and Southern Railway Shops, unless it was the students in Sheffield and Tuscumbia attending Florence Normal School, now UNA. When the rumors started circulating on the morning of May 14, 1904 that the street-cars would run about 4:00 in the afternoon, crowds started flocking to the street-car barn and power plant. The street-car was crowded with excited citizens, and the front seats had been reserved for special guests, among them Mr. Henry and Mr. W.N. Parsons and their mother Mrs. Parsons. Suddenly the electric lights in the top of the street-car lit up. A cheer went up from the onlookers. The switch was tuned and a sound never before heard in Colbert County greeted the enthusiastic crowd. The sound of electric street-cars gliding smoothly and quietly, as it switched onto the mail line and traveled gracefully toward the center of Sheffield.
As the travelers passed the public school, screams of excitement from the children brought hundreds of neighbors pouring out of their homes and onto their lawns. Approaching the business area along Montgomery Avenue, the sight of the first street-car emptied every building along the route. Next, the street-car with it’s one hundred passengers made it’s way toward Tuscumbia. As it appeared on the 900 foot trestle, across the railroad tracks every steam whistle within hearing distance saluted with a continuous blast. The sounds brought Tuscumbian’s out of their homes in masses, to find out what was happening. By the time the travelers reached town an enormous reception party had gathered and virtually tried to carry the street-car away. The procession made it’s way back to the Sheffield street-car barn, to prepare for the official trip the following day.
On Wednesday, both Tuscumbia and Sheffield spent the morning decorating their storefronts and offices with red, white and blue bunting. A holiday spirit engulfed the towns, as they prepared to celebrate the efforts of the Sheffield Company in selecting their district for the new electric street-car systems. The offices in the Sheffield Hotel block outdid themselves with their decorating, strung across the street from the First National Bank was a huge banner, welcoming the Sheffield Company to the area. Store fronts on both sides of Montgomery were dressed in butting. Flowers were everywhere. Sheffield Mayor Harris, and a committee of citizens, had issued a proclamation for all citizens to assemble in front of the bank building at 4:30, for the official ceremonies. At 3:30 two open summer street-cars were brought to a stop in front of the Sheffield Hotel, where the passengers boarded for the trip. A special invitation had been issued to representative citizens to avoid overcrowding the street-cars. Members of the Sheffield Company along with the municipal leaders of the three towns boarded first. Also on board was the press, pastors, representatives from lodges and the Sheffield Brass Band.
The crowds cheering, the Band blaring, the street-cars started for Tuscumbia, passing the Sheffield Stove Works, a deafening roar went up from the plant’s employees. Proceeding along the big trestle, whistles commenced their salute all over again. Along the route pandemonium set in, cheers mingled with horns blowing from cars passing by. The Southern Shops surpassed everyone and everything with their exhibition. Torpedoes exploding, whistles blowing, and everyone yelling to a thunderous pitch.
Cheers and screams greeted them as they entered the central part of Tuscumbia. Every building w as decorated with bunting, flowers and placards. Tuscumbia’s Mayor Simpson expounded on the importance of the street-car system and it’ connection to the future growth and development of the entire area. As he spoke, citizens passed banquets of roses through the crowd to the occupants of the street-cars. The return trip to Sheffield w as met with the same salutes and cheers as before. The street-cars left Tuscumbia and made their way into the surrounding countryside, along the outskirts of Sheffield, in the direction of the Southern Railway Bridge. Many of the travelers that day had never even see that part of the area and were in awe of its beauty. The trip ended in front of the First National Bank building on Montgomery, where seemingly everyone in Sheffield had gathered.
Mayor Harris was the first of several speakers on this historical occasion. His speech as follow (Taken directly as written from the 1904 Sheffield Standard newspaper)
“Ladies and Gentlemen – As the chief executive of our little city, it is my duty, as I deem it, a privilege, to make some introductory remark s on this important occasion. Today marks an era in the growth and development of Sheffield. It is therefore that we gather here to celebrate and to congratulate ourselves in the achievement of this great enterprise, in the completion and inauguration of these much needed public utilities. Although Sheffield cannot lay just claim to more than six thousand people, she can justly claim, to have the most complete and up-to date power plant and water works system of any city in the South of five times our population. Thus has another great distinctive been added to our growth as a city. These beautiful street-cars before us symbolize the meaning of the great Car of Progress which is just beginning to roll with accelerated motion and which needs but the wheel and the victory is ours. The kickers and knockers, obstructionist and drones who would retard and obstruct this car of progress are no more. Let us have none of them. Let us measure up to the emergency and strike the pace set by these stranger friends form the far North, who, confide in our integrity and our ability to protect them, have come with their brains and their money, and are doing for us what we could not do for ourselves. There was once a day in the history of our land when we looked with suspicion and resentment at their coming and treated them as trespassers and aliens; but in the providence of God those days have long since passed , and we can not only welcome their money, be we can extend the glad hand and with hearty good will invite them to become one of us in the work of of building our great common community. We know that so far as the great social problem which so much divided us, it is solved so soon as he becomes one of us; he is then able to appreciate our position and condition. How fortunate, indeed, are we today, not only in the enterprise set in motion but ion the personnel and power of those who have interested themselves in our up building, and I but voice the sentiment of this people when I utter the words everywhere heard – these people are gentlemen in every sense of the word, people of conscience and of principal, fair and just and capable of doing still greater things for our city and with a mind to do it, if we as a city and people but show ourselves worthy of their trust and act wisely and fairly our part. Let me congratulate you again, my fellow citizens, one and all, on this auspicious occasion and in the happy consummation.
Henry Parson, President of the Sheffield Company, spoke of the cooperation and dedication of the community toward the project and his unwavering faith in the future of Sheffield, Florence and Tuscumbia. Parson talked of looking to the future to grow the prosperity and the happiness of the community. Former Governor Chamberlain spoke of the high regard he had for the members of the Sheffield Company and now Alabama’s natural resources were unsurpassed by any in the union. He concluded by stressing the importance of Alabama holding its proper place in the nation. A brief oratory from attorney J. L. Andres, sent the crowd in chaos as he called for three Cheers for the Sheffield Company.
Street-car Fares; Leaving every hour
5 cents – Between points in the City of Sheffield
10 cents – Sheffield to Tuscumbia
15 cents – Sheffield to Florence
(Sources: The Sheffield Standard Newspaper, May 19, 1904. “Sheffield, City on the Bluff”, pub by Friends of the Sheffield Library, 1985)
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