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Arts & Culture

OREGON EXPERIENCE: Streetcar City

OPB | Feb. 15, 2011 2:05 a.m. | Updated: Dec. 5, 2013 11:15 a.m.

More than a century ago, Oregon boasted an extensive network of streetcars. There were trolley cars in towns like Eugene, Salem, Astoria and Klamath Falls. Horsecars traveled over tracks in Corvallis and Baker City. Cable cars traveled up to Portland Heights and steam dummies reached out to Mt Tabor.

Portland had the third largest streetcar system of its kind in the United States. Its cable car line was steeper than anything in San Francisco. And the nation’s first interurban electric rail service stretched from Portland to Oregon City.

The next episode of OREGON EXPERIENCE: STREETCAR CITY, takes us back to the late 19th and early 20th centuries when streetcars provided a system of mass transportation that was cheap and readily available. For the first time, people could live further away from their jobs and travel for fun. Tune in to the stations of Oregon Public Broadcasting on Monday, February 28 at 9pm to see how a growing network of streetcar lines helped shape our cities.

In Portland, outlying neighborhoods formed around lines, changing the layout of the city and spurring the development of nearby towns and tourist attractions.

Most of the streetcar companies were privately run operations that were also involved in real estate and electrical power. Some even built amusement parks, known as “Trolley Parks” to attract riders on weekends and off hours. Oaks Park in Portland remains one of the nation’s last trolley parks.

Streetcars disappeared in favor of the car, but today, nearly 50 years after the last lines closed, streetcars are enjoying a resurgence.

In 2001, Portland introduced the first modern streetcar in North America, becoming a model for cities all over the nation.

Go to opb.org/oregonexperience to see vintage film from the Oregon Historical Society archives, historic streetcar photos from Portland’s neighborhoods and around the state, and more.

Watch OREGON EXPERIENCE: STREETCAR CITY online anytime after the broadcast at watch.opb.org.

About OREGON EXPERIENCE

OREGON EXPERIENCE is an exciting history series on OPB TV that brings to life fascinating stories that help us understand who we are and that reinforce our shared identity as Oregonians. The series, co-produced by the Oregon Historical Society and Oregon Public Broadcasting (OPB), takes advantage of the extensive film, video and stills from the archives of OHS and OPB, and draws upon the expertise of OHS researchers and historians. Each half-hour show features captivating characters — both familiar and forgotten — who have played key roles in building our state into the unique place we call home. Funding for OREGON EXPERIENCE is provided in part by the James F. and Marion L. Miller Foundation and Oregon Cultural Trust.

About OPB

OPB is the largest cultural and education institution in the region, delivering excellence in public broadcasting to 1.5 million people each week through television, radio and the Internet. Widely recognized as a national leader in the public broadcasting arena, OPB is a major contributor to the program schedule that serves the entire country. OPB is one of the most-used and most-supported public broadcasting services in the country and is generously supported by 120,000 contributors.

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