Beneath your feet: Ruins of Raleigh's old streetcar tracks unearthed on Glenwood Avenue
Each time you drive down parts of Glenwood Avenue, you're driving over the unseen, underground ruins of Raleigh's lost streetcar system. Earlier this week, a construction project unearthed a section of track in remarkably good condition, just inches beneath the asphalt.
A section of road peeled away to reveal layers of history: The steel track, the wooden cross-section and even the hand-laid bricks that helped hold tracks in place.
"Under about six inches under asphalt, we found the old trolley track paving with hand laid bricks," said Hunter Flaugher of Hunter Contracting, who snapped photos of the historic find. "The brick would have been exposed at the time."
Like a sheet of sedimentary rock, each layer of the newly-dug section of road revealed segments of lost history.
"Here's the nail plate," said Jared Rosenau with Carolina Design and Construction, pointing at a sheet of metal. "And here's a nail going right into that track."
The bricks were laid out in a crossing pattern, providing a visual of how Glenwood Avenue may have looked in the early 1900s.
"They'd lay out a section of brick going parallel to the track, then another going across. Those bricks were laid so you'd have a level surface, and the trolley would sit right in the gap," said Rosenau. "This allowed other vehicles to cross the tracks without a big up and down bump like with a standard railroad track."
Donating the original track for historic use
Flaugher says it was very challenging cutting through the steel section of track to remove it from the ground – a task which had to be done in order to complete the construction. However, a section of the original track will now be donated to the museum, and another section will go to the Great Raleigh Trolley, a modern day trolley that offers historic tours of the city. In fact, some of those tours even explore the history of this very streetcar system, hidden beneath the streets of Raleigh.
"For as many times as this road's been paved over, it's kind of crazy it's only that deep in the ground," said Flaugher, who was curious about the history of the trolley tracks he dug up.
Other remnants of Raleigh's trolley system
Before automobiles rose to popularity, residents in Raleigh's suburbs relied on the trolley to carry them into downtown for work and back home again. As early as the 1880s, downtown began offering trolley rides – powered first by horses, then later by CP&L electricity.
According to maps from the early 1900s, the tracks were laid on Glenwood Avenue, Fayetteville Street and Hillsborough Street.
There are a few other remnants of Raleigh's streetcar system still tucked away around Glenwood Avenue. Near Five Points, a stone structure stands as the last remaining original trolley stop. Just down the road, hidden in a neighborhood, are remnants of Bloomsbury Park, a trolley park that sat at the end of the line.