By Joan Baxter
Last week I shared information about the Springfield-Xenia traction line. Before reliable roads and automobiles, the traction line was a wonderful means of travel between cities particularly in southwestern Ohio. By means of transferring, one could travel with some ease to nearby towns and cities at a minimum expense. This was especially helpful for those with jobs which were some distance from home as well as for students desiring to attend area universities.
Actually there was considerable competition for the Xenia to Dayton route. Two transit line companies began operation at nearly the same time with slightly different routes. It was a race to see which privately owned franchise could get there first.
Rapid Transit company constructed the tracks along Linden Avenue in Dayton, which, when entering Beavercreek becomes Dayton-Xenia Road. The transit car crossed the Little Miami River on its own bridge, passed by Lucas Grove (now Kil Kare) on the north side of the railroad tracks then to Fairground Road and finally onto North Detroit Street and on downtown. The first run of the Rapid Transit Company was on Dec. 9, 1899.
Cars departed from the court house in Xenia at 7 a.m. and thereafter on every hour for Smithville Road. The last car of the day left the court house at 9 p.m. Upon arriving in Dayton, ample and comfortable transfer was available at no charge to the Fifth Street line. For the reverse trip, the first car would leave Smithville Road at 8 a.m. heading for Xenia, while the last left at 10 p.m.
The Gazette reported on Dec. 11, 1899 “The Rapid Transit Co. had cars running on schedule since yesterday and carried a large number of passengers to Dayton and return. Since the large traction cars have been put in operation it livens up Detroit Street wonderfully and gives us quite a citified air and when the other traction line is put in operation on Main Street there will be cars coming and going about all times in the day.” Obviously this was a most welcome means of transportation for Xenia residents.
The Dayton-Xenia traction which became operational on Dec. 15, 1899, was located a little further south. Leaving from Watervliet Ave, in Dayton, the track turned onto Patterson Road, then at North Fairfield Road in Beavercreek. From there the train veered east to run along the south side of the railroad tracks. The tracks passed Lucas Grove, then onto Lucas Hill near the intersection of Hawkins Road, continuing into Xenia on Dayton Ave. and West Main St. Both companies enjoyed faithful passengers for a few years, but in time, the need for two transit lines between the cities seemed unnecessary.
In an article in the Dayton Journal dated March 25, 1901, “The Dayton & Xenia Traction Company and the Rapid Transit Company, both of which have operated electric lines between this city and Xenia, have passed into the control of the Dayton & Xenia Transit Company.” It was anticipated that few changes would be made with the new company.
The line was not without problems such as the accident on Feb. 4, 1901. The motorman and conductor were the only passengers when the motorman left the traction car to be sure there was clear passage for crossing the railroad track. Seeing no train, he proceeded across the track, but a malfunction caused the trolley to be stuck on the track when the train came around the bend. No one was seriously injured.
All good things must come to an end it is said, and so it was with the traction line. An ad In the newspaper read “IMPORTANT NOTICE: Electric railway services between Dayton and Xenia will be permanently abandoned and the last cars will operate on Saturday Sept. 25, 1937.”
Mr. Fitzwater had the honor of piloting the last car after 54 years of unbroken service as a motorman. The last car left Xenia at 7 p.m. It was a fitting honor for him because he was also the first motorman to operate a car on a regular schedule between Dayton and Xenia when the company introduced traction services on Feb. 3, 1900.
Affectionately known to his friends as “Fitz,” he stated that he had to “exaggerate” his age when he applied for his first railroad job. He applied in 1883 as a “teen aged youth” for a job as a “horse” car driver for a company in Springfield. He was not quite 20, but got the job because he said he was 21.
In his long career, he piloted traction cars more than two million miles without a single serious accident and without a day off for illness. He wistfully remembered Sunday trips when the cars were loaded to capacity and patrons clung to the steps and even overflowed onto the platform. When the traction linewas no longer in use, the company did not neglect its former passengers.
The traction car made its last run on Sept. 25, 1937, and the following Monday it was announced that “hourly bus service will be maintained daily between Dayton and Xenia except Sunday. Sunday bus service ran every two hours. The name of the new company was similar to the old. It was known as the Dayton-Xenia Motor Bus Company.
Thus ended an era of transportation which has mostly been forgotten, but those who enjoyed reliable and inexpensive transportation in the early portion of the 20th Century will recall the transit with great pleasure.
Joan Baxter is a local resident and long-time weekly historical columnist.