Texas Bar Journal • December 2023

Riding to the Capitol in Style

The 2023 Texas Capitol ornament salutes the era of Austin’s electric trolley car.

Written by Will Korn

Prior to the early 1890s, the original trolley in Austin charged a nickel per passenger and was pulled by a team of two or three mules. By 1893, electricity in Austin became more reliable with the completion of a hydroelectric powerhouse on the banks of the Colorado River. Shortly thereafter, electric streetcars became a common sight, running passengers to and from the Texas Capitol via Congress Avenue. The townspeople preferred these new electric trolleys that were both cleaner and faster than their mule-drawn predecessor.

Increased demand for electric transit helped establish the Austin Street Railway Company, which existed from 1911 to 1940. In 1911, trolley routes were expanded to cover over 23 miles of the city’s most active areas. A rider could take the trolley north to Hyde Park or south from the Capitol across the river to the Texas School for the Deaf on South Congress Avenue.

But despite their novelty, electric trolley cars were not always profitable, and the company operated at a deficit for several years. Eventually a bus system supplanted the trolley, and on February 7, 1940, the last trolley ran its route. By 1942, all the trolley rails had been recycled into roughly 50,000 pounds of steel for use in World War II.

The 2023 Capitol ornament honors the heritage of one of Austin’s first booming transportation systems, saluting the electric trolley’s contribution to a growing and modernizing state. The ornament is a burgundy trolley car finished in 24-karat gold and measuring approximately 1 ½ inches by 3 ½ inches. “Texas State Capitol” is inscribed on the side panel in white, and the windows of the car feature Christmas decorations with the Capitol rotunda in the center window.

The ornament program was established in 1996 by the late Nelda Laney, wife of then-Speaker of the House Pete Laney. The program has raised over $12 million. All proceeds from ornament sales go toward the preservation and maintenance of the Texas Capitol, Capitol Extension, the 1857 General Land Office Building, other designated buildings, and their contents and grounds. Funds also go toward preserving the Texas Governor’s Mansion and to operating costs for the Bullock Texas State History Museum and the Texas State Cemetery. For more information and to purchase an ornament, go to texascapitolgiftshop.com.

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