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Relocated Main Street Streetcar Will Be Refurbished | News

BY DEBRA FERRELL

Star-Tribune Editor

December 21 marked another milestone in Chatham history with the pullout of the iconic streetcar next to Studio 29 Salon on Main Street.

Owner / Operator Deborah Haymes explains that after working the last year to restore the streetcar to create a rental, she has decided the massive renovation project faces obstacles that are too difficult for her to finance. “I really don’t have $ 100,000 to invest. I will pay for it all my life! she exclaimed last Tuesday as her husband’s business had a crane that carefully lifted the cart above his barbershop.

It was a nail bite because no one was 100% sure they wouldn’t collapse under stress and fall on their apartment building. Fortunately, things turned out well and the streetcar has been safely deposited on a tray to take it to the Chatham Haymes Brothers office where renovations will take place.

In many ways it broke her heart to see it go missing, but she is hopeful that the town of Chatham accepts it as a donation and puts it in a prominent location where it can be visited and enjoyed by all.

“There have been no occupants for 20 years. I pulled out the old rotten wood and pulled out the bar stools and windows. I hate moving it around, but I hope all is well, ”she said on a cold, cloudy morning.

Haymes explains that the streetcar has been here since 1938, when it was taken out of active service.

“When I moved here in 2000 it was already closed,” she said. “Everything was just ruined. It had to be gutted.”

Through his research, Haymes discovered that the car was built by Perley A. Thomas in 1926. The company still exists today and manufactures buses in High Point, North Carolina.

The other tram named “The Streetcar Named Desire” after the famous film by Marlon Brando, has already been demolished.

The information below was collected from the victoriavilla.com website.

This article explains that the two Chatham diners were only two out of 20 in the country. The cart removed from Main Street actually makes it one of 19 as the other cart at the old location on Main Street and Depot Street was demolished. No other exists in Virginia other than these 19 according to this website.

The two electric streetcar type restaurants moved to Chatham were added to the Register of Historic Places by the State of Virginia. The nomination was successfully completed in large part thanks to the efforts of Marc Wagner of the Virginia Department of Historic Resources, whose research provides much of the information reported here.

Towards the end of the Great Depression, many cities in the United States were replacing their running electric streetcars with more mobile and versatile buses. The now unnecessary trams were expected to be for scrap. It turned out that there was a ready-made market for them in the streetcar catering business.

The Danville Traction and Power Company, successor to the old Danville Streetcar Co., was no exception. They apparently sold most of their fleet at auction in 1938. Interestingly, the streetcars sold were 20th century replacements for the electrified horse-drawn carriages that entered service in 1889.

Additionally, this need for public transportation in 1886 spawned the Danville Railway and Electric Co. Demand for electricity and public transportation prompted the fathers of the town of Danville to build their own power station in 1887. the very first municipality-owned and operated power plant in the United States

One of the electric cars, No.66, was purchased from Danville Traction in 1939 by the Burnette brothers, Henry, Frank and Jesse of Chatham. The car was stripped of its heavy electrical equipment, temporarily stripped of its undercarriage and moved to Chatham on a flatbed truck owned by Booker Stone. After erecting it to its current location, the Burnettes quickly converted it into a functional dining car that they operated for almost 40 years. The business has thrived on great food, quick service and a particularly good hot dog.

The Burnettes and their descendants either left this life or pursued other pursuits during the 1970s. The property, including an adjacent gas station building, was purchased by Allan Easley as a location for his agency. assurance. Burnette’s Diner passed into the hands of a succession of owners before being rented out by Steve Law and Kay Andrews who operated it as S&K Diner for several years.

Both carried out a complete renovation of the facility and went to great lengths to restore the characteristics of the tram. Law has done a lot of research into the origin and life of the car. He was the one who determined that the car was the old Danville Traction No.66, which had driven up and down on West Main Street in Danville. Law eventually took over the sole operation before leasing it to David Sargent of Ohio. David and his wife, Linda, remodeled the restaurant and renamed it Chatham Cafe.

The story of ancient # 66 was told here first because more research was done on its background. The truth is, the Burnettes were swayed into buying a streetcar by the success of Bill’s Diner, a converted streetcar that went into service at least two years before theirs. Chatham’s Bill Fretwell was already distributing tasty food and specializing in hot dogs when he recognized the potential of a converted streetcar.

He went to Reidsville, North Carolina, and bought one from Duke Power, which owned the franchise. It is believed that Fetwell’s car was one of the last to hit the streets of Reidsville. While Burnette’s car carried 30 passengers, Reidsville’s car only carried 15. Being much smaller, it required a smaller batch. Bill’s Diner and Burnette’s Diner developed a healthy competition trying to see who could make the best hot dog sauce. Children from both families were involved in the operations outside of school hours. Henry Burnette Jr. remembers spending long hours, as do children Fretwell, Dale, Wane and eanor, who remember weekends being the busiest times at Bill’s Diner.

When Bill died in 1983, the restaurant was sold to Walter Whittle for $ 15,000. His business has become the only African-American restaurant owned and operated in the Commonwealth. Incidentally, he renamed it “The Streetcar Named Desire”.

For a town the size of Chatham, being the site of a true streetcar restaurant is a rarity. Claiming two of them also justifies their inclusion in the Register of Historic Places.