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This article is from the Encyclopedia of North Carolina edited by William S. Powell. Copyright © 2006 by the University of North Carolina Press. Used by permission of the publisher. For personal use and not for further distribution. Please submit permission requests for other use directly to the publisher.

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by Wiley J. Williams, 2006

Streetcars, also known as street railways or trolley cars, began operating in Wilmington and Raleigh in 1887. Initially drawn by horses, they were soon powered by electricity, first in Asheville in 1889 and the next year in Winston and Salem; Wilmington made the conversion to electric streetcars in 1892. Charlotte's trolley cars appeared in 1891, and those in Durham and Greensboro began operating in 1902. Concord, Gastonia, Goldsboro, High Point, Salisbury, Spencer, Southern Pines, and Pinehurst also featured streetcars.A crowded streetcar in Concord, ca. 1910. North Carolina Collection, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Library.

To satisfy riders, some streetcar companies had two sets of cars-closed ones for winter weather and breezy, open ones for the summer. Many companies developed outlying amusement parks (sometimes called "electric parks"), picnic areas, or similar attractions to draw prospective riders. Wrightsville Beach's interurban line from Wilmington included the well-known Lumina dance pavilion, and the Charlotte street railway's Lakewood Park even provided a small lake for sailboating. With some exceptions, most of North Carolina's streetcars were replaced by motor buses by the 1930s.


Michael J. Dunn, "Age of the Trolley Cars," The State (1 July 1969).

William S. Powell, North Carolina through Four Centuries (1989).

Additional Resources:

"Electric streetcars" North Carolina in the early 20th century. (accessed June 14, 2012).

Turner, Walter R. "Development of Streetcar Systems in North Carolina" N.C. Transportation Museum Foundation. November 12, 2002. (accessed June 14, 2012).

The North Carolina Transportation Museum official website:

Whisenant, David. "Streetcar history rolling into the NC Transportation Museum" wbtv Salisbury. September 4th, 2011 (accessed June 14, 2012).

Coleman, Alan, and Humphreys, Ken. "Guide to Past & Present Traction Systems in North Carolina."  Piedmont and Western Model Railroad Club. 2010. (accessed June 14, 2012).

Image Credits:

A crowded streetcar in Concord, ca. 1910. North Carolina Collection, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Library.

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