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Getting Around

Residents of Independence Heights recall using many modes of transportation: walking, streetcars, busses, and cars. Its residents have vivid memories of them all.

_____During Independence Heights’ early days as a city, so few residents had cars, recalls Lota McCullough Charles, that “grass even grew in the streets.” Like many others, Sarah Jenkins’ family “never had a car. My mother didn’t drive. My dad didn’t drive,” she explains. As a child, Mrs. Jenkins walked the eight blocks from her home to Burrus Elementary School every day. She says, “You’d fix yourself up for school and by the time you’d get to school your feet and socks were all muddy because the roads were so terrible.”

_____Vivian Seals remembers that when the residents of Independence Heights left the community to go into greater Houston, they would travel on the Studewood Streetcar. The streetcar tracks did not go past 30th Street, so if residents were traveling within Independence Heights, they would have to walk. When the public bus services first began running, they took the same route as the streetcar. The lines turned around at 30th Street because drivers “didn’t want to come into this neighborhood,” according to Mrs. Seals.

_____Mrs. Charles’ brother served as president of a neighborhood civic group that was instrumental in getting the busses to travel further into Independence Heights. In the 1950s, he and others finally convinced the bus company to extend the route to 36th Street, into the heart of the neighborhood.

_____An alternative to the bus or streetcar did exist, in Independence Heights’ own jitney driver, Ben Cyrus. Jitney drivers would pick up people who couldn’t afford or didn’t want to take more expensive rides with licensed taxi drivers. They charged the same fare as the streetcar and bus. Of course, the city didn’t like the idea of the jitneys competing with their own public transportation system, and so eventually the city passed an ordinance to end this service. After that, Mr. Cyrus continued to be involved in transportation, running a taxi line that serviced both the Southern Pacific and Union train stations. His house still stands on the corner of North Main Street and 35th Street. Mrs. Seals remembers that he lived at this location with his mother and wife from at least 1923 onwards.

_____Helena Allen explains that before the Independence Heights roads were paved, it could be a difficult walk to catch the bus on 30th Street. “It was so muddy when it rained, we would have to wear old shoes to the bus line and put our good shoes on after we got there,” she explains. Residents who lived near the bus stop “would let you leave your things on their porch and, believe it or not, when you’d come back . . . they’d still be there.” The worst part of the unpaved streets that Mrs. Allen remembers was actually getting her feet so stuck in the mud that she would have to wait for a passerby to help her out. She says, “You’d be standing there reeling, not realizing that the more you reel, the more you sank down.”

_____Mrs. Allen also remembers that when it rained heavily, residents would park their cars along North Main Street and just walk home, to avoid getting their tires stuck in the mud on the unpaved side streets. “It’s been so long, it doesn’t seem real now, but that’s just the way it was,” she says with a chuckle.

_____Although Mrs. Seals’ parents bought their first car as early as the 1920s, it was later, when they purchased a Hudson Super Six which really stands out in Mrs. Seals’ mind. “I remember that we had a freeze and that my daddy had told my brother to let the water out of the car, and he didn’t do it,” she says. “The block burst, so we had a big bill getting the car fixed.”

_____The first vehicle purchased by Edward Peters’ family in 1939 was a Ford truck that was integral to the family’s financial health. Mrs. Peters’ father was a landscaper and the truck was, as she recalls, “how he provided for [our family] and it enabled him to further his business . . . That Ford also provided the family with transportation for many years. One of the doors fell off the truck, but [my father] still drove that truck,” Mrs. Peters says with a laugh.

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