When Las Vegas revelers greeted the arrival of the first train on July 4, 1879, their enthusiasm was confined to Railroad Avenue, unless they chose to ford the river to celebrate at a saloon or hotel on the west side — there was no bridge across the Gallinas.
After Las Vegas was founded at the Old Town Plaza in 1835, the settlement expanded north, south and west, but not east, and there was no need for a bridge over the river. (The highlands and plains east of the river were used for grazing livestock and some dry farming.)
By December 1879, six months after the railroad arrived, the first bridge appeared on the Gallinas, a sturdy wooden plank bridge spanning the same location as the existing bridge. The crossing was obviously chosen because it provided direct entry to the plaza, through the several business establishments which were by then forming what would become Bridge Street.
In 1880, a rail company was established to run street cars in Las Vegas, to be pulled by horses or mules. By 1881, a rail line was completed, and street cars were running between the railroad depot in new town and the plaza in old town, the tracks crossing the wooden bridge built two years earlier. (The combined Las Vegas population at the time was about 5,000, and $1 would buy 25 tickets to ride the street cars, which operated between 7 and 9.)
In 1887 an iron bridge replaced the wooden plank bridge at the same location.
Open iron works rose on the north and south sides of the bridge, as did a middle divider, all held together by iron girders running atop the bridge. The rail line built in 1881 again crossed the new iron bridge, and horse- and mule-drawn street cars continued to run between the east and west sides of town until 1901, when an electric trolley system replaced the horse-drawn street cars.
Both the horse-drawn and electric trolley lines utilized the same route through Las Vegas, beginning at the railroad depot, then west on Lincoln Avenue across Grand, and north into Sixth Street, to Douglas Avenue. At Douglas the rail line ran west to 12th Street, then north to National Avenue and west across the bridge along Bridge Street, into and around the Plaza.
Early streets in new town were named after historical American figures, some contemporary at the time. Jackson and Lincoln Avenues were named for U.S. presidents, and Tilden Avenue honored Samuel J. Tilden, a late 19th century New York governor and presidential candidate in 1876. Douglas Avenue was named for Illinois senator Stephen A. Douglas of the famous Lincoln-Douglas debates, and presidential contender against Abraham Lincoln in 1860. (University Avenue was originally named Main Street.)
On the west side, the name for Bridge Street is obvious, but less apparent is how North and South Gonzales got their names. Those streets were named after Jesus Gonzales, who ran a grist mill at the south end of early Las Vegas, near the intersection of South Gonzales and South Pacific Streets. (Gonzales used acequia water to turn his mill wheel, and the original name of the street was Calle de la Acequia.)
As for South Pacific, before the A.T.&S.F. arrived here, residents hoped to attract any one of several major railroads which were then expanding westward, including the Southern Pacific and the Northern Pacific. In anticipation that one or the other would reach Las Vegas, residents named the two main streets extending from the Plaza for the two railroads. (Hot Springs Boulevard was named North Pacific until the early 20th century, when the name was changed to correspond with its destination.)
Other early streets on the west side were named for eight of the original 12 New Mexico counties, with San Miguel on the north and Socorro Street on the south. As for the trolley line, in 1905 the entire streetcar system was bought by William Buddecke and Margarito Romero, youngest of the Romero brothers.
The partners spent $150,000 to renovate the line, buy additional cars and build a trolley house for maintenance and repair at the north end of 12th Street. They also extended the line on Hot Springs Boulevard to the Insane Asylum.
(The trolley building is extant and owned by Highlands University, which has made plans for its restoration.)
In 1909, the existing concrete bridge was built across the Gallinas, and the electric trolley line continued over the new bridge until 1927, when it was discontinued. After providing transportation in Las Vegas for almost a half century, the street cars became outmoded and obsolete — replaced by the automobile.
Jesus L. Lopez is a native of Las Vegas and a local historian. He may be reached at 425-3730.