Eighty-four years after the Declaration of Independence was, er, declared on July 4, 1776, the first street railway on the Pacific Coast opened. It was an odd-looking railroad-type coach, powered by steam, running from Third and Market (pictured below) to 16th and Valencia. By 1867, the noisy steam engine aroused enough neighbors’ ire to be replaced by horsecars. (Guess they preferred the manure.) Cable cars took over as the predominant Market Street transit in 1883, succeeded by electric streetcars in 1906, which endure today as the F-line.
Based on input from MSR member and historian Emiliano Echevveria, the Chronicle’s Carl Nolte paints a fascinating picture of this steam operation. It was called the Market Street Rail Road, first of at least five organizaitons (including ours) to bear a similar name. The picture is the only one we’ve seen of this particular operation. It was taken around 1862. Note the cool open seating on the upper deck. The back-to-back seating looking out the sides of the car was the common arrangement of the time for the top deck of transit vehicles in Britain, so perhaps that was the inspiration. Or not. As we say, this was a reasonably obscure operation, but we do know it was the first street railway on the Pacific Coast, and it opened July 4, 1860.
We’re mounting a new exhibit at our San Francisco Railway Museum near the Ferry Building, matching historic photos of various transit modes and locations on Market (most provided by Emiliano) with shots of the same places today taken by our member Kevin Sheridan, a great photographer. It will open in mid-July; watch this space for details. We’ll also feature extensive coverage of the history of Market Street transit in the next issue of our member newsletter, Inside Track, due out at the end of July. Join Market Street Railway now, and be sure to get it.