This unassuming corner is the former site of the Vincennes Streetcar Barns. For over fifty-five years this area was hustling and bustling with activity and played an important role in the evolution of transportation within the community. Streetcars were stored and serviced here, and the business activities associated with the streetcar company were performed here as well.
As far back as the mid 1800s there was talk of creating a streetcar system in Vincennes. However, in many instances throughout history “After all is said and done, a lot more is said than done.'' With great anticipation, after much planning, persistence, and industrious, hard work, Vincennes celebrated the first official streetcar trip through the city on May 1, 1883.
The streetcar line quickly proved to be an affordable convenience for many people in the community. It saved people a great deal of time, effort, and expense, and proved to be especially convenient during inclement weather. Many streets during this period were not yet paved and became virtually impassable when wet.
Like many other cities, the earliest streetcars in Vincennes were pulled by mules or other beasts of burden. In the early 1890s Vincennes’ streetcars were electrified. This improvement was a major upgrade over the animal-drawn units. There were many different styles of cars utilized throughout the streetcar era to increase safety, passenger comfort, and efficiency. There were summer cars, winter cars, and safety cars. Safety cars were designed to greatly reduce accidents with door switches that would not allow the car to move if the doors were not completely shut and a deadman switch that applied the brakes if the person controlling the car let go of the lever for any reason.
The streetcar line was undoubtedly a major improvement over walking, riding a horse, or riding in some form of carriage, hack, or buggy that citizens had grown accustomed to. The streetcar routes changed from time to time. Single lines, double lines, and turnarounds to help with the efficiency of the lines were utilized.
Streetcars were a blessing in the eyes of some but were a curse to others. They collided with buggies, horses, and pedestrians. They made a lot of noise and contributed to commotion in the city. Some complained about the unsightly poles that were necessary for the line to operate in the early days. They would sometimes derail, at times causing property damage and sometimes personal injuries.
Lakewood Park was created on the east end of the line to help generate fares and income for the company. It operated from 1907 until the late 1920s and offered a great deal of entertainment in the form of fishing, boating, swimming, ice skating, roller-skating, concerts, fireworks, rides, games, refreshments, promenading, special performances, as well as motion pictures.
As automobiles became more affordable for the common person, the demand for streetcars lessened. This coupled with the limited routes of the line, and various other reasons led to the eventual demise of streetcars in Vincennes. “Trolley Day” was celebrated in October of 1938. That day marked the end of streetcars in Vincennes. The day included free streetcar rides and fireworks. It was a celebration of the history of the streetcars and the introduction of the city bus service.
After sitting vacant for many years, the car barns were razed in May of 1962 to facilitate the construction of a modern grocery store. Today there is no trace of the streetcar barns in this location.