Small But Important – The Covington & Oxford Street Railway

February 14, 1888

A new streetcar company was chartered in Georgia to provide a small but important transit link in the north-central part of the state. More specifically, this company was established to better connect the city of Covington and the town of Oxford (incorporated as a city in 1914) with each other as well as with a depot of the Georgia Railroad located between both communities.

This enterprise was not the first incarnation of the Covington and Oxford Street Railway Company established to bring streetcar services to that section of the Peach State. The original version of the company had been set up by local citizens in 1873. Grading for the streetcar line was begun that same year, and those efforts were quickly followed by the laying of crossties. The company encountered difficulties trying to sell sufficient stock to fund the construction of the entire line, however, and the enterprise fell apart by the end of 1874.

Just over 13 years later, the creation of a new Covington and Oxford Street Railway Company proved to be far more successful. This was due in large part to marked improvements in the local economy and in particular the ability to raise enough money for building the streetcar line from start to finish. Ground was broken for the new line approximately two months after the charter had been granted. Crews then began laying track for the route, which initially encompassed about three miles (4.8 kilometers) in length.

For several years, the streetcars constituted a popular means of transportation between Covington and Oxford as well as to and from the Georgia Railroad depot situated along the line. Various sources indicate that these non-motorized vehicles were pulled along by horses as well as mules during the course of the Covington and Oxford Street Railway’s existence.

An early and prominent beneficiary of this streetcar line was Emory College in Oxford. (This college, which had been founded in 1836, was the original campus of present-day Emory University in Atlanta; Emory College is now known as Oxford College, and it is one of Emory University’s nine academic divisions.) In the fall of 1888, the Atlanta Constitution highlighted why the new streetcar service was vital to the college and its students. The newspaper reported, “The street railway from Covington to Oxford is in full blast – meeting the trains and carrying persons from one place to the other, and altogether the outlook for Emory college is better than it has been for years.”

The Covington and Oxford Street Railway line continued to grow within its first several years of operation. By 1894, it encompassed at least six miles (9.7 kilometers) in total length. This transit enterprise was anything but perfect, though. One ongoing challenge involved the steadfast refusal of the Georgia Railroad to allow the streetcars to cross its tracks to drop off and pick up passengers a lot closer to the depot and trains.

An even more significant drawback was the increasingly antiquated means by which the streetcars moved from one point to another. As the United States progressed further into the 20th century, the Covington and Oxford Street Railway became widely known as one of the few remaining entities in the nation to rely on animal-powered streetcars on a regular basis.

One key disadvantage of not adopting a more modern form of transportation was made abundantly clear during colder-than-average winter weather in northern Georgia in February 1917. “Long ago when [the city of] Washington, Ga., gave up its mule-drawn street railway the Oxford and Covington Street railway was pointed out as the last old landmark to hold out against electricity and the interurban,” reported the Atlanta Constitution. “But the Oxford-Covington street railway has lost some of its prestige.”

The newspaper further noted, “For the past four days it has been necessary to commandeer a one-horse wagon to carry the mail from the Georgia [Railroad] station to the Oxford post-office and the mules, who usually furnish the power for the street railway, have been enjoying a vacation. Older citizens, who several years ago opposed electrifying the street cars of Oxford and Covington offered as their best argument the statement that ‘mules can travel any kind of weather.’ Their argument has been exploded and Oxford today is without a streetcar service.”

The formal end of this streetcar service occurred later that same year when the officials of the Covington and Oxford Street Railway Company – citing a “great increase cost of labor and material, with no profit to its stockholders” – requested surrender of the charter that had been granted nearly three decades earlier. The Georgia General Assembly approved this request on August 15, 1917.

For more information on the Covington and Oxford Street Railway, please check out https://railga.com/oddend/streetrail/covingtonstr.html.

Additional information on the history of the Covington and Oxford Street Railway and other streetcar systems in Georgia is available at http://www.dot.ga.gov/BuildSmart/research/Documents/GAStreetcar.pdf.

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