In the muddy streets of San Luis Obispo, the horse-drawn streetcar seemed like a good idea in 1887.
The Pacific Coast Railway depot was a long way from downtown, near the corner of today’s Higuera Street and Madonna Road.
Travelers to Port San Luis could avoid the dust via a horse-drawn rail car that had a hitch on both ends for easy reversal at the end of the line.
Elliot Curry wrote about San Luis Obispo’s first mass transit system Oct. 5, 1967:
Street car era ends
Sometime in the late summer or fall of 1901 the last horse-drawn streetcar made its final run through the streets of San Luis Obispo. The last passenger had paid his dime, and the era of the streetcar was ended.
Somehow it didn’t seem very important at the time. Mrs. Margaret Price, city reference librarian, has searched every newspaper file and every official record she could find in an effort to fix the exact date at which the little cars were retired. She has narrowed it down to between July 9 and Dec. 2, 1901.
The search began when Mrs. Price received a letter from Don Haeussermann of St. Charles, Mo., asking when the streetcars went out of business here.
It was a simple enough request, but trying to find the answer was something else. Mrs. Price has read newspaper files, gone through city council minutes, interviewed people who had some family connections with the owners, and written many letters — all without finding the exact information she wanted.
The research, however, has not been a total loss. The library now has the most complete record ever gathered on the street railway, which operated for about 13 years.
The last newspaper reference indicating that it was still in operation was found in the San Luis Obispo Breeze of July 9, 1901: “We are pleased to announce, also ‘sling a little ink,’ on the fact that Will B. Keeney, recently of Guadalupe and known to us in various walks of life, but more particularly as editor of the Moon, is now manager and driver of the famous horse car lines of San Luis Obispo.”
Next reference is a brief one in the Breeze for Dec. 2, 1901: “The street railways are gone…”
Proposals were made to the City Council for construction of an electric street railroad, but the horse-drawn cars had never been successful financially, and the electric proposal did not materialize.
The route of the little 3-foot gauge line as mapped in 1894 ran along Higuera Street from the Pacific Coast Railway depot to Chorro Street, up Chorro to Monterey, along Monterey to Essex (now Johnson), along Essex almost to Pismo, with a line on Marsh street to the Ramona Hotel and up and down Osos Street from Palm to the Southern Pacific depot.
One of the five little cars remains, owned by George P. Bell and displayed at the Dallidet Adobe grounds.