Tampa & Ybor City Street Railway Society
“Friends of the Streetcar”

Streetcars returned to Tampa’s streets in 2002 in large part to the vision, dedication and perseverance of the Tampa & Ybor City Street Railway Society.

Almost from the day Tampa’s streetcar system rolled to a stop in 1946, there was an interest in its resurgence. But it wasn’t until 1984, when Tom Ruddell and a number of local, prominent citizens formed the Tampa & Ybor City Street Railway Society that real consideration was given to bringing the once-popular mode of transportation back.

By the time the Society incorporated as a non-profit organization and published its first brochure in 1989, it had already become a powerful catalyst, creating interst in the streetcar’s return and raising money to fund feasibility and master plans.

1990 brought the expansion of the Downtown Transportation Study to include a streetcar system, the election of Joan Jennewein as the Society’s 2nd President, the beginning of its critical, ongoing relationship with the Merchant’s Association of Florida and the first issue of the Society’s newsletter, “Tampa Trolley Times,” as development in Tampa’s Channelside district, especially the Florida Aquarium, made a route along Ybor Channel viable.

In 1991, the IRS certified the Society as a 501(c) 3 organization after its mission was amended to include the collection of Tampa Trolley memorabilia for public exhibition and a trolley museum.

1992 brought the decision to restore a 1923 Tampa single-truck Birney found by Ted Richman in Sulfur Springs. It was being used as a storage shed. Tampa Tank’s Steve McGee became Restoration Chairman and the first of many Tuesday nights were spent at Tampa Tank’s carbarn to restore the Birney.

In 1993, Michael English became the Society’s 3rd President as significant progress was being made in restoring the Birney and in fundraising, thanks to the Society’s first foundation grant from The James and Amy Shimberg Charitable Trust and a “dedicate-a-seat on the Birney” campaign.

Fundraising increased significantly in 1994 and the political climate changed for the better in 1995 when Tampa Mayor Dick Greco, County Commissioner and HART Chair Ed Turanchik and HART Executive Director Sharon Dent proposed an electric streetcar linking Ybor City and downtown Tampa

 via Channelside. A streetcar task force was appointed and Michael English was named chair.

1996 saw the Society keep streetcars in the public eye as the Birney, now officially called, “#163,” was displayed at the Florida State Fair, a new promotional display toured meetings and special events, and a reception was held at the new Tampa Bay History Center’s “Streetcar Corner.” That same year, the Federal Transit Authority awarded a grant to HART and the MPO promised funding, bringing the electric streetcar closer to reality.

Jan Smith became the Society’s 4th President in 1997 and a slew of new Conductors officially received their hats at a “Mad Hatter” party at the carbarn showcasing the gorgeous restoration work being done on Birney #163. The Society’s mission was changed that year to supporting electric streetcar transportation in Tampa and promoting its colorful history.

1998 saw the kick off campaign to raise $250,000 over three years to complete restoration of Birney #163 and the announcement of a $25,000 challenge grant from the rank E. Duckwall Foundation. The Society raised the $75,000 needed to meet the challenge and the Tampa City Council approved the streetcar plan first proposed in 1995.

In 1999, the City Council approved a bond issue to fund streetcar system construction and HART approved the purchase of eight air-conditioned replicas of the original Tampa Birney’s. Also that year, loyal volunteers saw the lights on Birney #163 go on for the first time and helped construct a one-quarter size model of an 1890s TECO streetcar for the company’s centennial exhibit.

The first replica car arrived in Tampa in 2000 and was immediately shown off at a press conference and staged at the Gasparilla Festival of the Arts.

2000 also saw Birney #163 rolled out of the carbarn on its own wheels for the first time, the capital campaign achieved its phase one goal of $150,000 and the award of another $25,000 challenge grant from the Frank E. Duckwall Foundation to help the Society raise $100,000 for a streetcar museum and restoration carbarn at Ybor Station.

2001 saw Birney #163 showcased during the Super Bowl “Bud Bowl” and in March the construction of the line began at a highly publicized welding of the first section of track in Ybor City and by the fall, thanks to a fundraiser sponsored by the Swope Law Group at the old Florida Brewery, Guavaween beer sales and memberships, the Society had raised $100,000, meeting the 2nd Duckwall challenge.

On October 19, 2002, the TECO Line Streetcar System opened for service. Today the mission of the Society remains the same – to support the TECO Line Streetcar System. In 2005 the Tampa Ybor City Street Railway Society separated their preservation of Birney #163 with the restoration and preservation of yet another historic streetcar #402 – see Preservation. Future goals include the implementation of a volunteer & docent program and creating a streetcar museum. Birney #163 is available for private rentals – see streetcar rental area on this website. For membership or additional information please contact Joan Jennewein at joanwj@earthlink.net.

 
     
 


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