Thursday, April 1, 2010

This Month in Rochester History

April is the month in which we mark the anniversary of the passing of a mass transit system that served Rochester for more than a generation - the Detroit United Railway.
The D.U.R. was organized in 1900 from a collection of smaller street railway lines operating in the city of Detroit. In 1901, the D.U.R. acquired a number of suburban lines, including the Detroit, Rochester, Romeo & Lake Orion Railway, or D.R.R. & L.O, which had laid track into Rochester in 1899. The D.R.R. & L.O. had been responsible for the first bridge from South Hill to the foot of Main Street, in the form of a wooden trestle built to carry the streetcars into town.

The D.R.R. & L.O. had also established a car barn and powerhouse in Rochester and was one of the principal employers in the village. When the D.U.R. took over, the company extended its line to Flint and beyond, and the Rochester powerhouse produced electricity for the entire Flint Division.

The D.U.R. was well-used and provided cheap and convenient mass transportation, but it fell victim to the rise of the automobile within a generation. As more people began to enjoy the freedom of driving their own cars, ridership on the interurban line decreased accordingly. At the same time, trucks were beginning to offer more flexible, cheaper freight service. The D.U.R. also had considerable legal trouble with its franchises within the city of Detroit, and by the mid-1920s, all of these factors had converged to bring the line to its knees financially. The stock market crash and resulting Great Depression dealt the final blow.

As far as Rochester was concerned, the end of the streetcar line came on April 25, 1931, the last day on which regular scheduled service was offered. Soon thereafter, the remaining rolling stock on the line clattered its way out of town. The trestle was dismantled and salvaged, the tall chimney at the former powerhouse was dynamited, and the streetcar era in Rochester closed for good, 79 years ago this month.

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