Mayor Bill de Blasio recently proposed a streetcar service that would connect Queens and Brooklyn. It’s been over 60 years since Brooklyn had a streetcar service; the last streetcar line discontinued in 1956. Brooklyn operated its first light rail line in 1854. Before there was an electric-powered streetcar, there were horsecars, which were horse-drawn cars pulled over embedded tracks. Pulling cars over rails was more efficient than horse-drawn carriages because the rails eliminated friction and allowed horses to pull more weight.
The late 1880s brought automobiles and electric technology which shifted light rail from horse-drawn and cable cars to electric streetcars. In 1890, the Coney Island Avenue line was the first to become fully electric, and the remaining lines followed shortly after. This eliminated the need for horsecars, and that service completely ended by 1917. The popularity of the automobile led to discontinuing streetcar lines to make room for car and bus transportation. To learn more about the history of streetcars in Brooklyn, check out the Brooklyn Historic Railway Association website and museum, as well as the book How we got to Coney Island: the development of mass transportation in Brooklyn and Kings County, available at the Othmer Library.
With that in mind, the photo of the week depicts a horsecar near the Fulton Ferry neighborhood of Brooklyn, around 1890. This photograph comes from the Ralph Irving Lloyd lantern slides collection which comprises roughly 400 black-and-white lantern slides depicting street scenes and buildings in Brooklyn from 1890 to 1920. To view more photographs from this collection, check out this gallery.
Interested in seeing more photos from BHS’s collection? Visit our online image gallery, which includes a selection of our images. Interested in seeing even more historic Brooklyn images? Visit our Brooklyn Visual Heritage website here. To search BHS’s entire collection of images, archives, maps, and special collections visit BHS’s Othmer Library Wed-Sat, 1:00-5:00 p.m. firstname.lastname@example.org