Like Clockwork

In this view down 11th Street, the cable cars that once climbed the hill from the Morgan Bridge echo in the shade of a summer day a century ago. The soundtrack for everyone on the street was the constant metallic bass tone rumble of an endless hemp rope wrapped in steel wire traveling in a channel and on pulleys just under the street. It was Tacoma’s hidden clock, running in a loop up 11th from A to K Street and then over to 13th and down again. The electrically powered system began in 1892 and just after midnight on April 7, 1938 Tacoma’s last cable car completed its final circumnavigation leaving the street strangely silent. When the Tacoma Railway and Power Company’s cable system was powered off for good, it was the second to the last operating metropolitan cable car system in America. The last was in San Francisco and it is running still.

s. 11th st

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This site is about the way history, in this case of a city and it's surrounds, is remembered or recorded in stories and small bits of memory. It's also about the way images and stories go together, how they inform and enrich each other and how we as thinking people fill in the content between a narrative and a visual document. So here is my city in time past, the way it looked and the people and events that create its character. For more than 20 years I have taught a 5 credit course on the History of Tacoma at the University of Washington Tacoma. With an average of 30 or 40 students a year, each doing a research paper as their primary focus for the course, I have benefited from many paths of inquiry and many researched and assembled stories. Here are some of them in the retelling along with the treasures of photographs and images in the collections of the Washington State Historical Society, Tacoma Public Library, University of Washington Digital Archives, Washington State Archives at the Office of the Secretary of State, Library of Congress, Washington State University, Alaska State Library, and many other archives, libraries and private collections.

1 comment

  1. Great post & image. The documentary “Fuel” covers the intentional demise of electric streetcars all over the nation.


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