Dakota Datebook

Fargo’s Electric Streetcars

Monday, November 24, 2008


Whether it be oxcarts, steamboats, railroads, automobiles or airplanes, transportation has played a key role in North Dakota’s development. Often overlooked in a rural state, the electric streetcar has played its own important role; especially in the growth and expansion of Fargo-Moorhead.

Fargo’s first horse-drawn streetcar system was established in 1879, running south on Broadway to Front Street. But the line was quickly abandoned after the tracks settled into the muddy, unpaved streets, making repairs difficult. Another attempt was made four years later when a new streetcar company opened service in spring of 1882 with two horse-drawn cars. The city council even moved to support the nascent service asking the city attorney to draw up ordinances regarding ridership as well as the prohibition of streetcar track obstruction. But three months later, the horse car barn and all the equipment were destroyed in a fire. The tracks were abandoned and removed two years later. Proposals for street railway systems were again considered throughout the 1880’s and 90’s, but none ever materialized.

Finally in 1902, several businessmen from Scranton, Pennsylvania made real progress on a Fargo streetcar system with their incorporation of the Fargo & Moorhead Street Railway Company. The company’s plans indicated the new line would be completed by November of 1903. However, within a year the original promoters ran into financial trouble and sold their shares to a group of Fargo businessmen. Construction finally began in May of 1904 and the first seven miles were completed six months later.

After nearly 25 years of delays and setbacks, Fargo’s first electrical streetcar line accepted its first passengers on November 24, Thanksgiving Day of 1904. Thanksgiving Day operations were limited and full service did not begin until the next day. Ten thousand people rode the streetcars the first full day of operations paying a fare of 5¢ per person. Service was available from early morning to midnight six days a week, with shorter hours on Sundays. Each of the initial seven cars had rattan seats, electric lighting, and hot water heaters.

The streetcar system initially proved a success. In 1906, several open cars were purchased for summer use, and by the mid-1920’s the system consisted of nearly 16 miles of track, employed 29 motor cars, 16 trailers, 4 service motor cars and 2 service trailers.

The electric streetcars played an important role in the development of Fargo-Moorhead. Downtown parking could more easily be reserved for customers rather than employees. For many, the streetcars also eliminated the need for horses and buggies in town. This freed up land, sparking a housing boom in the area west of Moorhead State University and north of Concordia College. But its success wasn’t to last. As automobiles increased in popularity, streetcars declined in use. By summer of 1937, electric streetcar service to Moorhead and Fargo came to an end.

American Street Railway Investments. New York: Street Railway Journal, 1903.
Caron, John, “Fargo, North Dakota: Its History and Images”, Institute for Regional Studies, NDSU http://www.fargo-history.com/index.htm.
Coomber, Sarah. “Railroads Carved Path to Prosperity.” The Forum, http://www.in-forum.com/specials/century/jan3/week7.htm.
“Fargo & Moorhead Street Railway Company’s Streetcar No. 28”, Minnesota Streetcar Museum http://www.trolleyride.org/CHSL_Main/roster/fargo28.html.
“Index to the Fargo City Council Meeting Minutes, 1875-1910 “, Institute for Regional Studies, NDSU http://www.lib.ndsu.nodak.edu/ndirs/collections/manuscripts/cityoffargo/citycommish/MeetingMinutes.html.

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Dakota Datebook is a project of Prairie Public, in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota, with funding from the North Dakota Humanities Council.

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