A Sioux City Streetcar

One might not expect that a community in Iowa was the first in the world to have an electric-powered elevated streetcar system, but in the early 1890s, Sioux City blazed that trail.1 It was already the third city in the United States—after New York and Kansas City—to host a non-electric elevated streetcar system, and for years to come, streetcars served to connect its far-flung neighborhoods, offering a convenient and affordable transportation option to its citizens.2


Henry Joseph Adam, center, Sioux City, Iowa, circa 1903-07; digital image 2010, privately held by Melanie Frick, 2016.

As a newlywed in his mid-twenties, Henry Joseph Adam of Sioux City, Woodbury County, Iowa worked as a conductor for the Sioux City Rapid Transit Company, also known as the Sioux City Service Company.3 This photograph, dated circa 1903-07, shows him in uniform, his suit rather baggy on his slight frame and a cap atop his head. Half a dozen men and women pictured behind him are in the process of boarding the streetcar, while three men at the front seem to be investigating an issue with either the tracks or the car itself. As this seems an unlikely place for passengers to board the car, suspended as they were over the Floyd River, I suspect there was a problem with the streetcar and the passengers had temporarily disembarked, an inconvenience on such a chilly day. That might also explain the occasion for the photograph; the original, mounted on a large piece of cardboard, looks as though it could be a copy of a local press photograph.

Just a few years before, Henry’s parents had had an unfortunate encounter with Sioux City’s elevated streetcars. In the summer of 1896, the Sioux City Journal reported:

Yesterday afternoon Timothy Adams and wife, of Moville, were about to cross the track of the elevated railway at Hedges station, Morning Side, when they met with a severe accident. They were driving a team to a light wagon, and as the electric car approached the horses became frightened. The tongue of the wagon broke and stuck into the ground, throwing Mrs. Adams violently over the dash board. The wheels passed over her, but when Dr. Brown was called it was found she was not much hurt and that no bones were broken.4

Seriously injured or not, Henry’s mother filed a suit against the Sioux City Rapid Transit Company and received one hundred and twenty-five dollars.5 Little could she have known that her son would soon become their employee, and, fortunately for Henry, if this incident was recalled, it must not have been held against him! He was employed there for only a few years, between approximately 1903-07, and spent the rest of his life as a carpenter. In the above photograph, he is working the route from East 4th and College to Greenville, which necessitated crossing the Floyd River on an elevated track.6

As for the streetcars of Sioux City, they peaked in 1933 with around forty-five miles of track that traversed multiple neighborhoods and even crossed the state line into South Sioux City, Nebraska.7 By the 1940s, however, with the introduction of a more-flexible bus system, streetcars quickly became obsolete, and after sixty years of service to the community, operations ceased in 1948.8

Copyright © 2016 Melanie Frick. All Rights Reserved.

1 “Elevated Railway,” Sioux City History (http://www.siouxcityhistory.org/transportation/114-elevated-railway : accessed 27 January 2016).
2 “Faded Tracks: Long Gone, Streetcars Once Were Main Mode of Travel in Sioux City,” Sioux City Journal (http://siouxcityjournal.com/news/local/long-gone-streetcars-once-were-main-mode-of-travel-in/article_4e4f2808-7dd2-584d-aeee-788f17d2d903.html : accessed 27 January 2016), 22 January 2015.
3 “U.S, City Directories, 1821-1989,” database, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 27 January 2016), entry for Henry J. Adam; citing “R. L. Polk and Co.’s Sioux City Directory, 1903-1904 (R.L. Polk & Co., 1903),” 92, and “U.S, City Directories, 1821-1989,” database, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 27 January 2016), entry for Henry J. Adam; citing “R. L. Polk and Co.’s Sioux City Directory, 1907 (R.L. Polk & Co., 1906),” 92.
4 “Jottings About Town,” Sioux City Journal, 23 August 1896; digital image, GenealogyBank (http://www.genealogybank.com : accessed 8 September 2015).
5 “State Breveties,” Evening Gazette [Cedar Rapids, Iowa], 24 February 1897; digital image, GenealogyBank (http://www.genealogybank.com : accessed 8 September 2015).
6 100 Years Ago: Greenville Residents Push for Street Car Line, Sioux City Journal (http://siouxcityjournal.com/news/local/columnists/peterson/years-ago-greenville-residents-push-for-street-car-line/article_be386fc5-c1b6-5ae7-8b9d-cf18df29f9d6.html : accessed 27 January 2016), 16 June 2013.
7 “Faded Tracks,” Sioux City Journal, 2015.
8 “Faded Tracks,” Sioux City Journal, 2015.

4 thoughts on “A Sioux City Streetcar

  1. lkmcglynn@cox.net

    Hey Melanie! Good to hear from you. How is Henry Joseph Adam related to you?

    Dan and I are in Ft. Collins for the week helping Sir William turn 10 years old today! I love hearing from you. Blue sky and sunshine here as it is almost always. What a gorgeous climate.

    Hope all is going well for you.

    Sent from Windows Mail

  2. Thom Rubel

    And in the Small World category, my Great-Great Grandfather Thomas Rubel and my Great-Grandfather Ray Rubel worked for the Leeds Streetcar Company, which later became part of the Sioux City Service Company, as mechanics. I have a photo of Ray with a crew at the car barn. And so our families have another common thread.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s