Exploring Omaha's History on a Trolley Ride

It's been 68 years since Omaha's last streetcar reached the end of the line, but the park resurrected its past with the opening of the Lakeside streetcar in 1997. This traditional short line continues to operate today, with eight trams ranging in size from 32 to 47 passengers. These trams, named Ollie, Polly, LuLu, Guacamollie, Porkchop, Buttercup and Trolley Brown, are a great way to explore Omaha's history. The Omaha-Council Bluffs streetcar era began in 1868 with wagon-type streetcars that ran on rails and were pulled by horses. The Lake Compounce amusement park established a streetcar service to its rural Connecticut location in 1895. A chaotic network of private streetcar lines led to the creation in 1903 of the company Omaha & Council Bluffs Street Railway Co. From Florence to South Omaha, from Dundee to the Missouri River, streetcars roamed the streets of a young Omaha city at its peak in the early 20th century. Before 2001, the new streetcar systems that opened in North America had been traditional lines, also known as old streetcar lines or “historic” streetcar lines.

In Canada, most cities once had a streetcar system, but today the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) is the only traditional streetcar operator and maintains the most extensive system in the Western Hemisphere in terms of track length, number of cars, and number of passengers. In the days when it was common to listen to radio programs and in towns or neighborhoods too small to house a viable amusement park, streetcar lines could help finance the performance of a touring musical group at the local music kiosk to increase the number of passengers on weekends in the afternoon. Workers piled up on the streetcars that ran along 24th Street and headed to the packing houses of South Omaha, night spectators were putting on their best clothes and heading to the Orpheus, and young baseball players were eagerly awaiting the arrival of a streetcar in the middle of summer. He announced an increase in fares, citing to The World-Herald a decline in passenger numbers, an increase in workers' salaries, and a rapid expansion of the bus system. Proposals to build a modern streetcar system in Omaha date back a quarter of a century ago, when Mayor Hal Daub was in office. So how long do trolley rides typically last? It depends on your route and destination. Most rides are around 30 minutes long but can be longer depending on where you're going. I wouldn't take my children on a tour for educational purposes, but I can imagine how teenagers could benefit from taking a trolley ride if they're learning about some of Omaha's history.

Instead of expanding outward, Omaha will have to expand upward with denser development and population in the urban core. If the Omaha streetcar follows the positive trends of other cities such as Kansas City, there will be an increase in development along its route. I was hoping to find something really unique about Omaha's past during my trolley ride, and maybe some things related to some of the crimes that occurred in some of its restaurants as mentioned in my book Lost Restaurants of Omaha. But no matter what your reason for taking a trolley ride is, you can be sure that it will be an enjoyable experience that will give you an insight into Omaha's history.

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