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The Blair Horse Car Network

The Blair Horse Car Network, 1881

History of Alameda County, California
by Merritt, Frank Clinton, 1928:

In 1880 the Blairs deemed that it would be profitable to construct a railroad into the Piedmont district. In that year they built a private road through the Blair Ranch to the Piedmont Springs Hotel- the road was owned exclusively by the Blair family.

Oakland Tribune - Sat - May 23, 1903:

Walter Blair has placed a new car on the Piedmont railroad. It is elegantly upholstered and finished with curtains of orange and crimson, with tassels.

Key System Streetcars: Transit, Real Estate and the Growth of the East Bay, Book by Vernon J. Sappers, 1990

Fourteenth Street Railroad

Broadway & Piedmont Railroad

The Piedmont Railroad (also called the Piedmont Springs Line, 1878/1879)

The Market Street Railroad

These four roads all were promoted by Walter Blair, a wealthy landowner interested in promoting his property in the Piedmont area. Blair also was involved to a lesser degree with the Alameda, Oakland & Piedmont Railroad.


The Fourteenth Street Railroad resulted from a petition seeking a franchise that was presented by organizers of the company to the Oakland City Council on October 23, 1877. The company was headed by Blair, whose associates included James de Fremery, Samuel Howe, Montgomery Howe and C.M. Burleson. The franchise was granted on November 16, 1877, and construction began in June 1878. The stables and car house were built at 14th and Peralta Streets.


Service began in 1878 from Seventh and Washington Streets north on Washington to 14th Street, then into West Oakland on 14th Street, Peralta Street, Eighth Street, Wood Street, Goss Street and Pine Street to Seventh Street. The fare was five cents. At the time, West Oakland was the city's major residential section. The line had six cars built in San Francisco by Kimball. The West Oakland route was altered in 1881, with the cars shifted to Eighth Street from Goss Street, between Pine and Wood Streets. On November 17, 1879, construction began on a branch over Peralta Street to 16th Street, then west on 16th Street to the Southern Pacific depot at 16th and Wood Streets. Service began on January 6, 1886.


The original stables were destroyed by fire with a loss of 32 horses and one car. The replacement was a brick building, which lasted many more years than streetcars did in Oakland, as it was converted later to industrial use.


The section to Seventh and Pine was abandoned in 1895, and the line serving the SP station was electrified in 1893. The conversion to electric was a last-minute decision because the company had planned to replace horse cars with cable operation. Construction of the cable track was partly completed on 16th Street, between Wood and Peralta Streets, when management decided electric operation was more promising.


The Broadway & Piedmont was built between downtown Oakland and Piedmont to promote Blair's real estate interests there. Construction began on April 13, 1875, but rail did not arrive by ship from New York until November 9, 1875.


Despite heavy rains, tracklaying commenced the following month and the line opened in 1876. The road began at Seventh and Washington Streets and ran on Washington to 14th Street, operated one block on 14th to Broadway, then turned north on Broadway. The line left Broadway at Piedmont Avenue and ran on Piedmont Avenue to the gate of Mountain View Cemetery. Service was hourly and cars connected with steam trains at Seventh Street. Three cars built by Kimball and numbered 1, 2 and 3 were stored at the 14th and Peralta Streets barn of the Fourteenth Street line.

In 1890, a branch line was built from Broadway and Piedmont Avenue out Broadway to 45th Street. Sources are vague, but the line may have run as far as College Avenue and Broadway or from 45th Street to Manila Avenue and along Manila to Claremont Avenue. There is no evidence, however, that the line ever operated beyond 45th Street and Broadway.


The horse cars were replaced in September 1890 by cable operation. Because this undertaking was so large and included significant changes in routes, the cable operation is treated separately under Consolidated Piedmont Cable Company.


The Piedmont Railroad was another line built by Walter Blair and it ran from the Mountain View Cemetery to Piedmont Springs. The line began at Piedmont Avenue and Pleasant Valley Road and ascended the hills generally along present Moraga Avenue to Highland Avenue, which it followed to the springs, on a site later occupied by the Piedmont City Hall. The line opened in 1878.


An extremely popular open car nicknamed the "Palace Car” was used on the run. The car had upholstered seats and a rug on the floor, extreme amenities for transit in those days. The car was later rebuilt as a special car for all of Blair's lines. The road was extremely successful, carrying 5,000 to 7,000 riders per month in the summer of 1882. The fare was 10 cents. Abandonment occurred on August 20, 1890, when Consolidated Piedmont Cable opened a line on Oakland Avenue that provided more direct service.



Blair's Market Street Railroad got off to a slow start. It was organized in 1877 to run on its namesake street and construction began on March 12, 1878. The work was delayed by an injunction obtained by a Mrs. Fogg who objected to the line and halted construction. However, the rails did not arrive from New York for a while and by the time they did the dispute had been resolved.


The line was completed on Market Street between First Street (at a Southern Pacific station) and 14th Street on April 11, 1878, but service did not begin until June 10, 1881, and then only at irregular intervals to hold the franchise for the street. The company took in five fares in seven days. However, a car barn and stable were established at 16th and Market Streets.

Work continued slowly. On October 19, 1881, rail laying commenced north of 14th Street but a terminal point was yet to be selected. In November 1881 the decision was made to operate out Market Street to 24th Street, down 24th Street to Adeline Street, along Adeline to 32nd Street, down 32nd Street to Hollis Street, along Hollis to the Oakland Trotting Park, later part of Shellmound Park in Emeryville. By now it had become the rainy season and there was no more rail on hand, and construction ceased.


Before long, citizens began complaining to the Oakland City Council about the road lying unfinished at their doorsteps. So on November 30, 1881, horse cars began operating on a 45- minute headway over the track that was completed. Finally, on August 23, 1886, construction resumed and work was finished at year's end. The Emeryville Terminal was at Hollis Street and Park Avenue. When SP abandoned its Market Street steam train station and moved the depot to First Street and Broadway, the horse car was cut back to Seventh and Market Streets.


The Market Street operation was abandoned in 1890. By now Blair was heavily involved in the Consolidated Piedmont Cable road, a venture that would end in failure.

Blair 1 - Oakland_Tribune_Sun__Nov_29__1970_.jpeg
Blair 1a - Oakland_Tribune_Sun__Nov_29__1970_.jpeg

Oakland Tribune - Sun - Jun. 11, 1916

Blair2 - Oakland_Tribune_Thu__May_1__1952_.jpeg

Oakland Tribune - Thu - May_1, 1952


Oakland Tribune - Sat - Feb. 8, 1890


Oakland Tribune - Sun - Sep. 3, 1916


Oakland and surroundings by Elliott, W. W., Oakland, Calif., Publication date 1885:

The Broadway and Piedmont Street Railroad connects Piedmont with the Broadway Station. A ride upon it during the pleasant weather of winter or in the early spring is like a delightful excursion into the country. It winds up to its destination through green fields belonging to Walter Blair, its builder, through blooming orchards and tree-bordered avenues, across or through which the cities by the sea and far-off villages and hills are visible. Horse railroads are usually prosaic means of traveling, but a trip by this one has the veritable air of romance, and no visit to Oakland is complete without it. Branches of this road connect with Oakland Point and Alameda. This is the line that passes the entrance to Blair's Park, a beautiful resort lately opened and free to visitors.

Oakland Tribune - Sun - Sep. 30, 1951:

Horse-Car Days

"It was Blair and Howe, who built the first horsecar line from Seventh and Broadway out to the junction of what was then known as Webster Street, and now called Piedmont Avenue, thence to the cemetery gate, early in the '70s. A few years later Mr. Blair built the horsecar line from the junction of Piedmont Avenue and Pleasant Valley Avenue, winding through his milk ranch and coming out on then Vernal Avenue and Moraga, or the corner which we now know as Highland and Moraga Avenue, thence, south to the road house upon the site of the present Piedmont Park. Up to that period all the territory north of Lake Merritt and east of the city boundary, including Piedmont, was a series of milk ranches. About 1873 the Piedmont Land Company purchased through Blair and others a tract of about 300 acres, and then commenced the subdivision. The old map before me is without a date, but the caption is 'Map of Piedmont Park, Oakland Heights, Alameda County, California.' This subdivision was the first of the small tracts, varying from lots 100x 180 feet on blocks One, Two, Three, Four and Five, between Hillside Avenue and Vernal, now known as Highland Avenue. The other lots were from an acre and a quarter up to 13 and 14 acres, extending to the eastern boundary of the City of Piedmont. Until that period the roads of the county were all thrown up with rough clay, turned over every spring so the surface might be smooth ... for every winter cut deep through the rough surface. Only then was Moraga Road finished with rough macadam, as was Vernal Avenue with rock taken from the Blair quarry, which is now a part of the Piedmont Park system, situate between Ricardo and Dracena Avenues, and area of about seven and one-half acres (the present board of trustees built better than they knew when they acquired this for public purposes). The promoters of the Piedmont Park subdivisions, in company with Walter Blair, mostly, if not all, are now passed over to the great majority, were James de Fremery, James Gamble, L. A. Booth, Timothy Barker, A. W. Bowman and others.”

Pacific Service Magazine by Pacific Gas and Electric Company, Publication date 1912:

"Piedmont Springs Line.—In the years 1878-1879 the Oakland and Piedmont line, owned by Walter Blair and the Howe Brothers, built a line of horse railway commencing at Piedmont Avenue at the junction of Pleasant Valley Avenue, running through fields to the Piedmont Sulphur Springs in Piedmont. This line began operating on March 1, 1879.

Oakland Tribune - Sun - Sep. 19, 1926

Blair map of the line.jp2

Crabgrass frontier : the suburbanization of the United States by Jackson, Kenneth T, Publication date 1985:

A second Oakland land baron, Walter Blair, founded the Broadway and Piedmont Railroad in 1876, with results that were noted by the Oakland Daily Evening Tribune on December 12, 1876: (I looked at this paper and this article was not present)

 An example of the value of a street railroad as an investment to improve or open up real estate can be seen in the Broadway and Piedmont Railroad which was completed last spring. This was a private enterprise projected by Walter Blair and Samuel and Montgomery Howe solely to give access to their landed property and to enhance the value of the property along the line. The increase in the value of property along the line as well as the high volume of sales which has accompanied the new line has proved the wisdom of the enterprise.


Oakland Tribune - Sun - Jan. 29, 1956:


Blair and Associates
"The year 1876 also marked the organization and building of the Broadway and Piedmont Horse Railroad. Walter Blair, with his associates Howe and Montgomery, sponsored this line which extended from Seventh and Washington Streets to 14th, east to Broadway and then north to Webster Ave, (the present Piedmont-Ave.) and thence to the gates of Mountain View Cemetery. Another company backed by the same investors built an extension of this road to upper Piedmont, starting at Webster Ave. thence east to the rise where Key trains now cross Pleasant Valley Ave. and thence by a circuitous grade, generally following Moraga Ave. to Highland Ave. (then called Vernal Ave.) and thence easterly to Piedmont Springs. In the writer's boyhood days the many curves and the abandoned roadbed of this private right-of-way were plainly visible as he and others with the same thought in mind tramped across the fields for a swim in Blair's Quarry. Many notables from near and far were guests of the then well-known Piedmont Springs Hotel. The beautiful park adjoining the hotel and extending almost to the present St. James residential area, contained numerous springs of various mineral waters noted for their health-giving properties. Blair also built a branch line out Broadway from the junction of Webster (Piedmont) Ave. to the top of the hill, terminating in front of the Treadwell home, presently occupied by the California College of Arts and Crafts. Old maps indicate the line was to have turned west on Birch (or 49th St.) to the vicinity of the present Lawton Ave, and thence north to College Ave, and beyond, but this route was not used. For many years after both lines were abandoned and forgotten, the brick stables and carbarn stood forlorn and empty at the triangular corner of Piedmont Ave. and Broadway.

Piedmont railroad - horse operated line to Piedmont Springs Park and hotel.jpg

Piedmont railroad - horse operated line to Piedmont Springs Park and hotel

Converting to electric from cable, 1887

Western electrician, Publication date 1887:


The Consolidated Piedmont Cable company of Oakland has at last, after months of deliberation, determined to adopt electricity on existing horse car lines, instead of the cable, ill re-equipment. The company operates the cable system through two or three miles of level Oakland streets, and continues on up into the suburban hills to Piedmont Springs and Blair's Park. Its horse car lines, which serve as feeders to the cable system, run out to Mountain View cemetery and also on Market, Fourteenth, Adeline and Wood streets. Owing to a proposed extension of the Mountain View line up into the hills and to the manner in which it connects with the cable system, it is proposed to convert it into a cable road, but all the other lines will be operated by electricity. The generating station will be located in the present cable power house, as ample power is there available, and for once, it is hoped, tlie electric and cable systems will be in harmony.

Pacific Rural Press (Jan.-June 1894):

Receiver Ira Bishop of the Piedmont Cable Company, Oakland, proposes to reduce the operating expenses at least $12,000 a year by changing the road from Eighth and Washington streets to Mountain View Cemetery from a cable to an electric line. The motive power of the Piedmont branch from the power-house will still be a cable, owing to the heavy grades on that line.

Fun fact: the Piedmont powerhouse is where Whole Foods is today.


Oakland Tribune - Fri - Aug. 1, 1890

The Mountain View horse cars will continue running t0 the cemetery on their usual schedule time, but the branch horse car line between Piedmont Junction and Piedmont is discontinued today.

Today five open cars began running on the piece of completed cable road, and on Sunday two more will be put on the track.

The last rail of the down town section of the road was laid several days ago, and within the next four weeks the entire road will be in operation, making the change of cars unnecessary. When the road is in complete working order, the trip to Piedmont from Eighth street may be made in twenty-two minutes, or about half the time it requires at present to go by the old horse road. Then, by taking the narrow gauge route from San Francisco, passengers may be put down in Piedmont in forty-eight minutes from the time they left San Francisco, as against one hour and a half by the old cumbersome horse road.

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