Electric Car

This was one of the electric cable cars that ran to Hiawatha Park.

MOUNT VERNON -- When one thinks of electric-powered trolley cars, the place most likely to come to mind is San Francisco, California. But these peculiar conveyances once had widespread use across the U.S., including locally in Mount Vernon. Mount Vernon's era of cable cars lasted just under a quarter of a century, from 1892 to 1916.

We've talked before about Plimpton B. Chase, the developer of Hiawatha Park, today the Knox County Fairgrounds. He developed the park and then ran trolley lines to it, because he was also the owner of the Mount Vernon Street Railway Corporation.

Plimpton B. Chase

Plimpton Beverly Chase was the entrepreneur and developer who created the Mount Vernon trolley system to make use of his company's electricity.

Crowds of people going to the park would buy tickets on his trollies, which were supplied, incidentally, by the electricity company he also owned.

The trolley line seen in this vintage postcard image was the first and busiest line. It started on the east side of Public Square, ran down High Street, then turned on Catherine and Pleasant Streets and finally onto Sychar Road, ending at the main gate of Hiawatha Park (now a side entrance). Other lines were extended around the city.

But Plimpton Chase had his sights set on wider horizons than Ohio, and he eventually moved on to Washington, D.C., where he was the operator of a chain of family-friendly vaudeville theaters.

East High Street

This vintage postcard image shows a trolley proceeding down East High Street in Mount Vernon. The precise date of the image is unknown, though it must have been during the years trollies were in operation in Mount Vernon, 1892 to 1916.

Without his marketing leadership, Hiawatha Park slowly dwindled down, and usage of the trolley cars fell as automobiles became more affordable. The trolley company went into receivership, then finally went out of business entirely in September of 1916.

When the Great War — what we now call World War I — hit in 1917, the trolley lines were torn out of the ground and recycled to aid in the war effort, and an era of transportation passed into memory.

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