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History of Clayton Streetcars

Source: 'Streets and Streetcars of St. Louis' (book);
Mark D. Goldfeder's permission; Internet search; Personal stories
TIP: To view in full screen, click on interactive image below.

ARTICLE: 'Clayton Trolley Line Revived in Book by Washington University Graduate' (published on Clayton-Richmond Heights Patch on 3/2/2012)

Washington University graduate Walter Eschbach donated a copy of his new book to the Clayton History Society on Thursday.

Washington University graduate Walter Eschbach remembers riding the trolley that traveled through Clayton as a student in the late 1940s. The subject of streetcars so intrigued him that he turned a first-year paper into a decades-long research project, published as a book earlier this year.

"My first year at Washington University was 1946," said Eschbach, 85, a Sunset Hills resident. "I (had come) home from the war. And the English professor said, 'Well, I want a 500-word English theme about what interests you the most�women, street cars, anything.'"

He turned in the paper at the end of the semester and spend the following years adding interviews he conducted with people who had connections to the Clayton line.

On Thursday, Eschbach visited the carriage house at Oak Knoll Park to present a copy of his book�Clayton 04: A Kaleidoscope of Streetcar Memories�to Sarah Umlauf of the Clayton History Society. The book will be one of the prizes at Saturday's Clayton Century Foundation fundraiser benefiting efforts to chronicle the city's past.

Clayton celebrates its centennial next year.

Eschbach's book explores the 42 stops made by the Clayton Car Line on Route No. 4 from 1921 to 1949, when the line operated. The trolley stopped in front of Washington University before traveling down Skinker Boulevard and then west on Wydown Boulevard, whose stone shelters served as stops along the way. Its route extended 5 1/2 miles west to Ladue.

The enclosed trolley held about 25 people. Commuters included the elderly, black residents, students and house workers, Eschbach said. The trolley had rattan seats, which often snagged women's silk stockings. It also featured glass windows, a stove and a sandbox whose contents were spread over icy and leaf-covered rails to ensure safe travel.

A replica of the trolley is stationed at the Museum of Transportation in Kirkwood. A similar car operated in St. Louis city at The Chase Park Plaza and at Jefferson Barracks, he said.

How would St. Louis look if trolleys had never operated?

"I don't think Clayton would be here," Eschbach said. The trolley line brought people to the city for its courthouse, where they got married and filed death certificates. Development grew from there.

His daughter, Carolyn Bottila, also visited Oak Knoll Park on Thursday. In an interview earlier this week, Bottila described the efforts of she and other family members to encourage the book's progress.

"Finally we said, 'Dad, get this book published,'" Bottila said. Her mother, Nancy (Davidson) Eschbach, graduated in 1945 from Clayton High School and also rode the trolley.

Eschbach responded that he needed to proofread the book, which he did before moving ahead with publication.

"People that have lived in Clayton all their life will recognize a lot of the names that have contributed (information) over the years," Bottila said.

ARTICLE LINK: Clayton Trolley Line Revived in Book by Washington University Graduate (3/2/12)

Email From Wayne Brasler, University of Chicago (published with permission on 4/9/2011)

I loved your contributions on the Clayton streetcar line! My father was a streetcar motorman (not a common profession for a nice Jewish boy, but he loved it) and the streetcar company was not only his employer, but provided an extended family and our medical services through its clinic on 39th and Park. On my dad's one day off he would take me streetcar riding to Ferguson, to Maplewood, to Kirkwood. Those county lines ran not on streets but on private rights-of-way in the woods and most of the lines still can easily be traced; in fact, I've done several articles on them in various places. Two little corrections. The DeMun line was the City Limits line and it did not wind around the hospital; it headed straight south from DeMun and Clayton on right-of-way and then in the middle of Yale Avenue to Manchester, where it looped. The line which wound around the hospital was a predecessor. The streetcar barn was located not near Skinker but on Delmar between DeBalivere and Laurel. The Lindell Railways powerhouse at Delmar and DeBalivere still stands; originally streetcars looped through its shed and inside the building was a gigantic office for motormen and conductors and upstairs lockerrooms and dorms where motormen could take naps between split shifts. The whole streetcar enterprise was enormous. Disposing of the streetcar operation and its priceless private rights-of-way (particularly the Hodiamont line) was insane, as it predated by barely 10 years the explosion of housing in the suburbs. Had it all been retained St. Louis would now have economically-constructed light rail to Ferguson, Florissant, Maryland Heights, Overland, Brentwood, Kirkwood, Webster Groves, Sunset Hills, the whole Normandy area and of course Clayton. Having grown up in the 1940s I vividly remember Clayton at that time, particularly Pevely Dairy at the later location of Famous-Barr and its splashing fountain in front lit at night by changing colored lamps. As a kid I was on radio on KXLW in the Forsyth Plaza Building. Last I saw the studios were a resale shop but the old metal door from the hallway to the control room was still in place. Wydown Boulevard has barely changed since the 1940s. It originally was the location of the Clayton streetcar streetcar tracks. Eventually a road grew along the south side of the tracks and then a road on the north side. The line originally was single track with passing tracks but a double-tracked route was planned; the streetcars were eliminated before that happened but two tracks, one of them a dummy, crossed Hanley Road.

The 04...By Ed Murphy, Clayton High School Class of 1943. (This article appeared in the Winter 2002 issue of the [now defunct] CHS alumni bulletin. Ed passed away 8/19/2004 at age 78.)

"March 12, 1949 was a sad day for Clayton old-timers. This was the last day the 04 ran. For over 50 years, the 04 trolley (aka streetcar) had been an exciting means of local travel for many St. Louis and Clayton citizens. But, buses were faster, and the two-car family, spawned by the post-WWII prosperity, lessened the need for affluent Claytonians to depend upon public transportation. Since trolleys ran on tracks that often resided in the middle of a busy street, they were also a source of traffic tie ups. While there were divided factions on whether to continue the �04,� It was reported to have been losing over $70,000 per year and would require a $500,000 facelift.

It was time.

Trolleys were powered by electricity. They obtained electricity via an arm that extended from the top of the trolley to rest on a bare overhead wire that was strung above the track. These wires on occasion came down during storms. It was also scary to see the arm connection spark during the rain. The 04 was a bit shorter and not as tall as today�s bus. A ten cent ride could take you a long way: The west bound route of the Clayton 04 started at the intersection of Skinker and what is now Millbrook, the northeast corner of the Washington University campus. At that point it could accept transferring passengers from the University streetcar line which ran along what is now Millbrook and along the northern boundary of Washington U. From that point, the Clayton 04 went south along Skinker to the intersection with Wydown. There were two tracks in the middle of Skinker, and at that point the Clayton 04 shared the tracks with the Demun streetcar line. Both tracks turned west at Wydown and headed west in the parkway now in the middle of Wydown.

At Demun Avenue, the Demun line parted company with the Clayton 04 and headed south in a parkway in the middle of Demun Avenue to Clayton Road, where it wound around the east and south side of St. Mary's hospital and on south into Maplewood. The Clayton 04 continued west and had Wydown all to itself from then on.

It passed Wydown School, Fontbonne, the entrances to all the fancy subdivisions, and eventually arrived at Hanley Road. Glaser Drugs was on the northeast corner, a Standard Oil gas station on the northwest corner, a Socony (later Mobil) station on the southeast corner and a residence fronting Polo Drive on the Southwest corner (Starbucks is now in the Glaser location, a hair salon is in the Standard location, and a parking lot is in the Socony location.)

The Clayton 04 tracks then proceeded west on a private right of way along the northern boundary of the Polo Drive subdivision just to the south of the Standard Station in sort of an "S" curve layout bending to the north and crossed what was a southern extension of Bemiston Avenue that ran into an entrance to Polo Drive. This southern extension of Bemiston was where there is now an access bridge to Millbrook going east. The way from Bemiston into Shirley and Polo drives is now blocked to automobile traffic but open to pedestrians.

The Clayton 04 continued one block west (on the south side of what is now the westward extension of Millbrook, which itself is built on the old right of way of the Rock Island railroad) to a point which would been a southward extension of Central Avenue and near the northeast corner of the Meramec School property. At that point, the 04 met a double set of north-south tracks on which the Kirkwood streetcar ran. Shortly to the north, there was a steel streetcar bridge carrying the two street car tracks over the Rock Island railroad tracks. (Now at that place there is an exit ramp and highway bridge for eastbound traffic on the Inner Belt into the Clayton business district.)

The 04 turned right, or north, crossed the old bridge and headed north down the middle of Central Avenue until it reached Forsyth. It then turned left or west, went in front of the old county courthouse, crossed Meramec and what is now Brentwood, and then headed in a southwesterly direction on its own right of way along the west side of what is now Shaw Park. At this juncture, it became a one track route. The right of way essentially went behind Shaw Park on what is now call Parkside Drive which is just before the Bank of America satellite. From here on out, it drove through wooded and essentially undeveloped areas.

It continued just to the east of what was later the old Clayton Community Center, crossed over what was then the Rock Island Railroad Line track on a short timber bridge, came within a stones throw of the old County Hospital (where Enterprise Leasing headquarters now resides on Brentwood), and then headed west on a line that would take it across McKnight Road at the southern boundary of the Dromera Road subdivision. At this point it was following a small creek (called Black Creek) at the bottom of a valley which runs east and west parallel to and a short distance north of Clayton Road.

The 04 continued west through the woods to Price Road, passing the campus of Community School and John Burroughs School on the south side. It continued west and eventually reached the end of the line with a return-loop just east of where the Ladue City Hall is now located on the north side of Clayton Road. It then retraced its way back to Skinker. How did it turn around and go south at Skinker after completing its northerly route? It didn�t! At the end of the line at Skinker, the 04 conductor would take his change maker to the other end, flip all the seats to face the other direction, get out of the 04 and disengage the electric contact arm, and in lieu, engage the an arm at the other end of the trolley. The trolley was bi-directional. It then went the other direction and crossed over to the southbound track through a track connection. I would have forgotten the 04 long ago, but every once in awhile, a hard winter will chew up Clayton downtown streets, and a track will peak out of the asphalt to remind me of its splendor and slower and simpler times."

By J. Charles Binder (posted online 12/28/2005 on usgennet.org website)

"I too have fond memories of streetcars in St. Louis. By the time most of the lines were retired in the sixties they were running sleek modern cars. But, as a toddler in the forties I remember the older cars too that still ran at the same time as the modern cars. Along side a pre-school I attended in Clayton, somewhere between Hanley and Brentwood and south of Forsyth (it was called Mrs. Goldstein�s Nursery School), the old boxy car reached the end of its line (might have been the University-Clayton line). The operator would get out and lower the trolley boom in the back and raise the one in the front and get back on and operate the car from the other end, thereby making the front the back and the back the front. No turn-around loop was required but he might have had to use a crowbar to move the track slightly to redirect the car to the parallel track on the other side of the street. Even in the sixties streetcars at the Delmar loop had to have the operator get out and use a crowbar to select one or the other of the two parallel westbound tracks on Enright. There was enough streetcar traffic at the loop that two tracks were required for all the arriving cars to lay over and queue up for their return trips to wherever they came from, downtown or to Creve Coeur. I remember where the cars went to bed, the big old car barn near the intersection of Hodiamont and Skinker. Going to Wellston on the Hodiamont line was always an adventure. My father had a business in Wellston and my mother took me as far as the Wellston loop, a very busy place. In those days Wellston was full of beggars. I suppose today they would be called street musicians. The sidewalks were crammed with shoppers and with the street people it was even harder to get around. Most of them played country music on their guitars or accordions."