Charlottesville’s Last Ride (or “The Hungry Squirrels”)

10 Feb

This week’s featured collection object comes to us all the way from… Charlottesville.

Though this might now be surprising, it is a pretty darn cool item.  Not everything can come all the way from France, guys… sheesh.

Street Car Control Handle, 12" in height and 12" in diameter, wood and brass materials

This control handle once resided in the vehicle that made the last street car ride in Charlottesville in 1935.  Operated by Mr. Bayard Maupin, the handle functions quite like those not-nearly-so-attractively-made-of-wood-and-brass-but-rather-steel-or-or-some-other-blah-metal controllers you find on the City’s current buses.

The street car system had a very interesting history in central Virginia.  In February of 1888, Frank J. Sprague opened the Clay Street Line in Richmond, becoming the first successful electric trolley system in the United States.  It didn’t take long until Charlottesville caught the bug, and installed its own streetcar program.  As the electrical powered cars were cheaper to run than traditional horse-drawn cars, by the early 1900s Charlottesville’s streetcar horses were completely phased out.

Bay Maupin with his street car, 1930

Bay Maupin, the driver on that famous ride, began working on the city line in 1908, stayed with the city after the transition from street cars to buses, and then moved to maintenance, finally retiring in 1947.  According to several sources, his 39 years of service were marked most clearly by his big friendly smile and care for his passengers.  In other words, Maupin was not your run-of-the-mill, cranky school bus driver.

(Caveat: I can’t speak for Cville’s bus drivers, this comment is totally from my own un-Charlottesvillian childhood experiences.)  

In a “Yesteryears” article by David Maurer, Maupin recalls how he and his three-legged dog, Skippy, had aided students one winter who had over-imbibed.  Maupin spotted the students lying near the track, stopped, and dragged them into the car.  He found their fraternity house, and delivered the boys to their brothers.

Bay Maupin, looking at camera, third from left.

Maupin’s friendly presence secured the love of the town, and made him into a community figure.  His mere move to a new house earned him a spot in the Daily Progress in June 1965.  The article recalls Maupin’s propensity to sit on his porch and feed his animal neighbors.  Apparently after his move, a congregation of squirrels, pigeons, sparrows and other birds were left hungry and waiting for their food source to return.  I have little doubt that tracked him down, eventually.  Both Maupin and the street car came to exemplify the nostalgic , kind-hearted image of a much simpler past.

For a more detailed (and interesting) history of Charlottesville’s street car system, I highly recommend Chris Gist’s recent post from the Scholar’s Lab at UVA.

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