Trolley Tracks

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The old Schnitzelburg trolley loop. (Courtesy G-town/S-burg Blog)
The old Schnitzelburg trolley loop. (Courtesy G-town/S-burg Blog)

Schnitzelburg was once defined by a trolley loop connecting it with Downtown and beyond. The one-way tracks followed the route described in the amazing graphic above from Shelby Street onto Burnett Avenue to Texas Avenue, rounding on to Goss Avenue before heading North again on Shelby. In her 2011-book Louisville’s Germantown & Schnitzelburg, Lisa Pisterman noted that while Germantown’s borders have moved over time, “the boundaries of Schnitzelburg have always been defined by the trolley loop that circled the community,” demonstrating how important the trolley once was for the community.

Snow and slush in 1945 on Shelby Street, showing trolley tracks. (Courtesy UL Photographic Archives)
Snow and slush in 1945 on Shelby Street, showing trolley tracks. (Courtesy UL Photographic Archives)

In fact, the trolley loop is in many ways the reason Schnitzelburg exists. The neighborhood grew rapidly as a streetcar suburb of Louisville after the loop opened in 1891, but the route was closed sometime after World War II and the tracks and cobblestones were torn out or paved over. The loop route was generally preserved in the 1961 route 11 of the Louisville Transit Company, but the loop doesn’t exactly exist as a modern TARC route. Bus service to the area is largely defined by route 43, which passes through the area on its way to the farther suburbs.

Today Germantown and Schnitzelburg are as lively as ever, but imagine life along the Schnitzelburg Loop if it existed today. Could some modern version of the loop connecting to the Medical Center, Nulu, Downtown, and beyond via the Logan and Shelby street corridor help create a better city?

More information on Germantown & Schnitzelburg on Facebook and on this blog.

Trolley tracks on a cobblestone Burnett Avenue. (Courtesy UL Photographic Archives)
Trolley tracks on a cobblestone Burnett Avenue in 1937. (Courtesy UL Photographic Archives)
A group from St. Elizabeth's Church stands in front of a trolley on Burnett Street. (Courtesy G-town/S-burg Facebook)
A group from St. Elizabeth’s Church stands in front of a trolley on Burnett Street. (Courtesy G-town/S-burg Facebook)

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Streetcar tracks on Shelby Street
Streetcar tracks on Shelby Street. (Branden Klayko / Broken Sidewalk)

While we were visiting the 810 East Broadway development yesterday, we noticed a stretch of metal streetcar track that had been exposed during construction. Louisville once had an extensive streetcar system connecting all of the historic city and many of the tracks are still in place under many streets, although now unusable. They surface from time to time with utility work or construction, like these tracks we found on Preston Street last year. You can sometimes find hints of the tracks beneath asphalt: here, parallel cracks about 4-inches wide are a clue at the top of the photo.

Trolley Tracks Beneath Preston Street
Trolley Tracks Beneath Preston Street
Trolley Tracks Beneath Preston Street. (Branden Klayko / Broken Sidewalk)

Utility work on Preston Street between Main Street and Market Street this week revealed original train tracks beneath the asphalt road’s surface. Louisville had quite an extensive transit system, including subways, back before WWII. Much of the old infrastructure lies just under an inch or two of asphalt, surfacing from time to time reminding us of what we lost.