Sunnyside Streetcars

Richard Thompson

Streetcars played a key role in the frenzy of development that followed completion of the first bridges across the Willamette River in Portland in 1887. As carlines radiated eastward, a revolutionary shift in population saw suburban neighborhoods like Sunnyside spring up overnight. In 1888, the first steam streetcars expanded the city of East Portland beyond the limits imposed by horse-drawn transportation.

Within a year, "motor" lines were running north and south of Mount Tabor and local entrepreneurs, prompted by opposition to locomotives rumbling over city streets, were experimenting with new-fangled battery, gasoline and electric-powered streetcars. In 1889, Southeast Portland residents raised their own money to fund one of the first electric street railways in the country. By 1891, rival companies had merged to form the largest streetcar system in the West. The process would continue into the early twentieth century, as Portland built the third largest system of its type in the United States. Most of its carlines would serve Southeast Portland, operating from the city's largest carbarn complex. This is the colorful story of those sixteen lines, from the first steam dummy to Sunnyside in 1888 to the last trolleys to Mount Tabor and Montavilla sixty years later.