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Mansfield and its electric trolley system was on the cutting edge of public transit in 1887

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Mansfield and its electric trolley system was on the cutting edge of public transit in 1887

EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the second day in a series of stories that examine issues surrounding public transportation in Richland County.

MANSFIELD -- Mansfield was once on the cutting edge of public transportation in the United States, sporting in 1887 only the fourth electric trolley system in the country.

Any examination of local public transit successes and challenges today must include a look back at the history of the service.

From a slow start, it was just a few years until tracks were laid all around the city. For a nickel, if you knew the correct sequence of transfers, you could spend the whole day riding around in the breezy open cars.

The best routes ran from Park Avenue West as far as South Park, then down Linden Road to Casino Park, and the back downtown via Fourth Street, according to local historian Tim McKee.

1st trolley in mansfield

This photo of Mansfield's first trolley, taken on Aug. 8, 1887, is superimposed over a comparable view down Main Street in 1894, and a Google view of the same site in 2016.

It wasn't long before "interurban" street cars connected Mansfield to Shelby, allowing access to shopping and recreation, but also access to railroad depots to major trunk lines that bypassed the county seat.

There were 22 stops between Mansfield and Shelby, starting in 1901, and a round trip cost 45 cents.

It certainly helped the local Ohio Brass Company manufactured all of the components -- insulators, bolts, brackets, wires and clamps -- that were into electric streetcar lines around the country.

The streetcar era lasted half a century with the final run out of Park Avenue West in 1937, giving way to a city bus system, the roots of what today is known as Richland County Transit.

It has not been an easy route. Mansfield Bus Lines, despite a reduction in service and price increases, could not make it last, ending its operations in 1972.

There was no public transit locally from 1972 to 1977. That's when the Richland County Regional Planning Commission hired a consulting firm to study the need for renewed local services.

The study found a strong need, but also that a firm financial commitment was needed to make it work. The consultant recommended an existing operator be subsidized on a short-term basis to start, but eventually move the system into the public sphere.

Things then moved quickly. In December 1977, a private operator, Mansfield Area Transit System, provided a fixed-route service.

In 1978, the Richland County Board of Commissioners appointed the Richland County Transit Board to help oversee the transit efforts, though no local public money went into the system.

In August 1979, MATS announced it could no longer operate under those circumstances. That led to the City of Mansfield and the villages of Lexington and Ontario agreeing to pay the local share of the operation.

For its first 12 years, RCT operated from an aging facility provided by the private contractor. That changed in when the RCT bus garage, administration and maintenance facility was built and opened in 1990 at the intersection of North Main and Sixth streets.

An intermodal passenger terminal, the Stanton Transit Center, was constructed and opened in 1995 at 74 S. Diamond St. It was named for David R. Stanton, who served on the RCT board from 1983 until his death in 1995, the last decade as chairman.

During his tenure on the board, Stanton oversaw the building of the bus garage, the acquisition of a new bus fleet in 1993 and the launch of the transit center passenger terminal.

(Coming Wednesday: RCT envisions a major strategic planning effort in 2022. We also look at nearby Licking County, which underwent a similar planning effort in recent years. And we will visit Iowa City, Iowa, a city that recently revitalized its own public transit system.)

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City editor. 30-year plus journalist. Husband. Father of 3 grown sons and also a proud grandpa. Prior military journalist in U.S. Navy, Ohio Air National Guard. -- Favorite quote: "Where were you when the page was blank?"