Eugene’s railway system, launched in 1911, was a job engine that provided opportunities for Blacks and other racial minorities.
A predecessor to the electric railway system was a mule-drawn streetcar. In 1891, the Eugene City Council contracted with Henry Holden, of Fort Worth, Texas, to begin building a streetcar service.One of Eugene’s few African Americans, Wiley Griffon, accompanied Holden to work on the railroad. Griffon’s route as a streetcar driver ran down Willamette Street and, in 2019, a mural was painted in his honor at one of the old streetcar stops between 20th and 21st avenues in south Eugene.
African American, Chinese, Hawaiian and Irish men, along with a few women, laid track for the street railway. Often separated by race, they were referred to as “gandys” because they performed synchronized dances and songs while they worked, attracting onlookers.
The Eugene and College Hill Street Railway transported about 1,200 passengers in a circuit. After 12 years of operation, the electric streetcar was discontinued in 1927. The rise of automobiles led to a drop in ridership and a loss of city funding. As in most cities, this changed the way people interacted with one another and also widened the gaps of race and class. After the streetcar system was discontinued, a series of commercial bus companies emerged. Lane Transit District was founded in 1970, creating the public transportation system in use today.
· Minor, R. (97403). An Archaeological Assessment of Eugene Street Railway Remains on Willamette Street, Eugene, Lane County, Oregon (Vol. 384, pp. 2-20, Rep. No. 384). Eugene, Oregon: Heritage Research Associates. Retrieved January 29, 2021, from https://www.eugene-or.gov/DocumentCenter/View/24804/Eugene-Street-Railway-Heritage-Report.
· Brown, J. (2007, July 13). Gandy Dancer Work Song Tradition. Retrieved January 30, 2021, from http://encyclopediaofalabama.org/article/h-1220