Recalling the Shelburne Falls & Colrain Street Railway
by Alfred Barten
© 1992, 1994, 1996, 1999 Alfred Barten
updated 2006 by Sam Bartlett
Shelburne Falls Village, set on the banks of the Deerfield River at Salmon Falls and framed by the surrounding rugged hills of northwestern Massachusetts, is home to the Shelburne Falls Trolley Museum. The non-profit educational organization is based in the old Boston & Maine freight yard (click here for aerial view). This yard overlooks the "glacial" potholes and the former trolley bridge better known today as the Bridge of Flowers. This local landmark, now famous for its floral displays, was built in 1908 by the Shelburne Falls & Colrain Street Railway to give the line a physical link to the Boston & Maine and New York, New Haven & Hartford railroads at their station on the Buckland side of the Deerfield River. Models, photos, artifacts, and videos at the museum illustrate the area's rich railway history.
The museum's chief asset is the SF&C combination passenger-baggage car No. 10. The car body was donated to the museum in 1992 by Marshall Johnson, whose father purchased it in 1928 after the trolley company ceased operations. On October 9, 1999, restored No. 10 made its formal return to operation amid a gala festival held to honor the car, its donor, and the many volunteers and professionals who helped make an impossible dream a reality.
No. 10 is relatively well known among trolley enthusiasts. Drawings of it were published in Model Railroader (April 1970) and in the Connecticut Valley Chapter of the National Railway Historical Society' s Transportation Bulletin No. 75, (1967- 68). (The latter publication includes a detailed history of the SF&C and the Bridge of Flowers, and is sold at the Museum's TrolleyStop giftshop.) Brass models of this attractive car were made by Fomras of Japan and imported in recent years. With an overall length of 32'-9", No. 10 is one of the smallest eight-wheel interurban combination cars ever built in the United States.
The car was built by the Wason Manufacturing Company of Springfield, Massachusetts, in 1896, the year the SF&C was opened. It was considered state-of-the-art at the time, having electric heaters and lights. Wason was noted for building streetcars used throughout New England and other eastern states and for building the first 400 cars of the Manhattan Elevated in New York City after that line was electrified. Wason also built standard railroad coach and sleeper cars and did a good export business to South America and the Orient. The company built all its parts except for motors and, in World War I, even built airplanes for the war effort. Wason was acquired by the J.G. Brill Company of Philadelphia in 1907 but retained its corporate identity until its closing days in 1931-32.
No. 10 was inspected in April 1991 by Kinsley Goodrich of Dalton, (click here for picture) a professional woodworker with a longtime interest in trolleys and experience in operating and providing milled wood components for trolleys at the Connecticut Electric Railway Museum in Warehouse Point. The car was found to be in relatively good shape, considering its long inactivity, its age, and conditions of storage. Rainwater had for the most part been kept out of the interior by metal roofing material on the lower roofs and roofing paper over the clerestory roof. Some of the interior paneling, trim, benches, and floor boards had to be refinished; the rest was rebuilt. Hidden posts in the side walls were generally in good condition. Part of one side sill, window sills and sash, and the roof had to be replaced.
Old tires and concrete blocks had been piled on the roof (click here for picture) to hold down the roofing paper. The resulting weight caused some distortion to the body lines, but this has been straightened by shimming at key points. The baggage-end vestibule was badly rotted and needed complete rebuilding.
Trolley Days on the Shelburne Falls & Colrain Street Railway Co.
The SF&C was a seven-mile rural trolley line between Shelburne Falls and Colrain, Massachusetts. It ran from late 1896 through most of 1927. A pronounced downturn in the company's financial picture, the decision of a major freight customer to go to trucks and a determination by the state to rebuild Route 112 along North River to Colrain, which would have forced otherwise unnecessary and expensive track relaying in that section, brought on the company's demise.
Like other rural trolley lines, the SF&C provided area residents, farmers, and manufacturers a much-needed social and commercial connection to the outside world via the railroad in the days before automobiles and paved roads became commonplace. The era of the rural trolley--the 1890s to the 1920s--was filled with excitement over the advances of new technologies and the freedom and opportunities they promised. Trolley building, or "trolley fever," spread across the country like wildfire through the '90s and into the next decade. Towns everywhere sought the advantages that the "electrics" offered riders and shippers, not to mention promoters and investors who anticipated great gains from the industry' s spectacular growth. Just as quickly, though, the era ended as post-World War I inflation, mass-produced automobiles, and municipally financed paved roads forced many trolley companies into bankruptcy. The SF&C was as close to prototypical as a rural trolley line could be, considering the highly individualistic nature of the species.
Initially, the SF&C ran north from the village of Shelburne Falls, on the north side of the Deerfield River, to the town of Colrain where it served several mills. All incoming freight had to be unloaded from railroad cars at the joint Boston & Maine- New Haven railroad station in the town of Buckland on the south side of the river and carted by horse and wagon over an iron highway bridge to Shelburne Falls. Here the freight was transferred again to the trolley company's freight cars--a collection of four-wheel flat and box cars--for final delivery. Outgoing freight followed the reverse procedure.
A 20-ton weight limit on the iron highway bridge discouraged the Buckland selectmen from permitting trolleys to use the bridge as a way to reach the steam roads on their side of the river, though the Shelburne selectmen for their part saw no difficulty. The cumbersome procedure of transferring freight to horse-drawn carts for the river crossing lasted until 1908, when the SF&C completed its own bridge across the Deerfield.
The new bridge, built largely by Italian labor recruited in New York City, was impressive by any standards. The five-span arched structure was built of poured concrete and designed to support the heaviest rolling stock then in use on the steam roads. It spanned the river at an angle and was 398 feet long. The cost of over $20,000 was about equal to the amount that would have been saved in teamster charges for transshipment had the bridge been built in the first place.
Once able to cross the river on its own, the SF&C established a direct connection with the steam roads, building a siding and a freight house near the main depot. The line acquired No. 25, a heavier combination car equipped with knuckle couplers to haul standard railroad freight cars. The new combine routinely pulled one, sometimes two, 40-ton freight cars to and from Colrain on its daily rounds. Some of the bridges on the line had to be strengthened to accommodate the heavier freight cars.
As well as moving shipments to and from the mills along the line, the SF&C carried many cans of milk and barrels of apples, cider, and vinegar. The milk was reloaded into special milk tank cars at the rail yard for final express delivery by the steam roads. SF&C passenger traffic was also substantial. In 1913, its peak year, the line carried nearly 243,000 people and collected just over $12,000 in revenue from the service. Twelve round trips were scheduled per day between the terminal towns. When traffic demanded, extra cars were put on. Sometimes non-scheduled specials were also run. Scheduled trips varied from 35 to 43 minutes each way but could easily take an hour. The line's informality permitted a motorman to backtrack, for instance, so that a passenger could run home for something left behind. Loading packages into the combination cars and coupling/uncoupling freight trailers (or railroad cars in later years) could also delay a trip.
Trolley companies often developed out-of-town parks as a way of encouraging traffic. No exception, the SF&C leased some land about halfway up the line and established a picnic grove. Hillside Park, as it was known, became a popular place for summer band concerts, recreational outings, and sporting events such as baseball games. Just riding in an open car on a hot summer day or eve was a joy in itself. The line also carried mail, with pickup and delivery three times a day at communities along the route.
Originally the SF&C generated its own power with a small combination hydro-electric/steam plant at Frankton, north of Shelburne Falls. When plant equipment wore out in the mid-twenties the company purchased electricity from the New England Power Company. The SF&C also owned a ticket office in Shelburne Falls and three car barns--one each at Shelburne Falls, the Frankton powerhouse, and Colrain.
Besides the two combination cars, the SF&C operated two 9-bench, four-wheel open cars; a 12-bench, eight-wheel open car; two closed eight-wheel cars; and three former horse cars, one converted to power, the rest used as trailers. A total of nine four-wheel trailer cars served the freight business before steam road cars could be hauled. A four-wheeled motor served as both a locomotive and snowplow. All cars except No. 10 and No. 25 were purchased second-hand.
In 1911, the SF&C projected an extension to Wilmington, Vermont. The town was served at that time by the Hoosac Tunnel & Wilmington Railroad (affectionately known as the "Hoot, Toot & Whistle"), a ten-mile narrow gauge steam road that linked this southern Vermont community to the B&M at Hoosac Tunnel, Massachusetts. A proposed dam project, which threatened to submerge the already troubled road's right-of-way, encouraged the SF&C extension. Surveys were made but all came to naught when new money was found from interests in North Adams to convert the HT&W to standard gauge and plans for the dam were abandoned.
If the trolley offered a new-found freedom, the automobile offered more of it. America's romance with the trolley turned to outright love for the auto in the 1920s, and the SF&C's fortunes, never great by any measure, turned to desperation. After 1917 the line's income exceeded expenses only twice. In 1927 the company could no longer meet its obligations and was forced to cease operations. It was sold at a foreclosure sale in 1927 for $11,500 and scrapped the following year.
Today No. 10 is the only piece of SF&C rolling stock in existence. The railway's buildings and structures have fared a little better. Still standing is the freight house and yard at Shelburne Falls, preserved as part of the museum's operations. The former maintenance shop along Route 112 is a home, the ticket office in Shelburne Falls still stands at the Shelburne end of the Bridge of Flowers. Recently, a former coal trestle at the foundry in Lyonsville was mostly demolished.
Most of the old right-of-way is still clear. One can follow it northward along Route 112 and the North River through Griswoldville and Lyonsville to Colrain. Shortly after the line's abandonment, the concrete bridge achieved fame of its own as the Bridge of Flowers. Every summer the Shelburne Falls Women's Club lines the bridge with an extensive floral display, making Shelburne Falls a popular tourist stop along Massachusetts Route 2, the Mohawk Trail. The bridge itself looks much as it did in its trolley days, having undergone a facelift and repair work in 1984.
Shelburne Falls and Buckland have retained their l9th-century Victorian flavor, which contributes to the locale's appeal. Add to this some potholes (large holes in the rock ground by other stones and water) in the gneiss below Salmon Falls, artisans' showrooms, restaurants and many antique shops, and you have a perfect setting for a restored vintage trolley reunited with the bridge it once traversed and the town it once served.
SLTM recipient of prestigious railroad preservation grant!
January 31, 2014
MASS BAY RAILROAD ENTHUSIASTS NAME SHORE LINE TROLLEY MUSEUM AS RECIPIENT OF 2014 H. ALBERT WEBB MEMORIAL RAILROAD PRESERVATION AWARD
The Massachusetts Bay Railroad Enthusiasts, Inc. (“Mass Bay RRE”) announced on January 25, 2014 that the Branford Electric Railway Association, Inc., of East Haven, Connecticut (“BERA”), is recipient of the 2014 H. Albert Webb Memorial Railroad Preservation Award. The $10,000 grant associated with the award will support rehabilitation of four traction motors in Union Street Railway RPO Car 302, which was undergoing a thorough and complete restoration prior to August 2011, when the storm surge from Hurricane Irene left the car’s trucks partially submerged in muddy salt water, rendering the traction motors nonfunctional. The Award funds will leverage additional funding from FEMA necessary to complete the project, an essential part of BERA’s larger Hurricane Motor Repair Program.
Mass Bay RRE President David Brown of Andover, Mass., together with Mr. Webb, presented the 2014 Award to BERA (also known as the Shore Line Trolley Museum) on Saturday, January 25, 2014, during the Amherst Railway Society’s “Railroad Hobby Show” in West Springfield, Mass., the largest event of its kind in New England. Several previous recipients were present to be recognized for their ongoing preservation efforts throughout New England, and future applicants were encouraged to begin the process for the next selection cycle.
“We’re delighted to have been selected as this year’s Award recipient,” said BERA’s Director and Grants Manager Nathaniel Nietering. “The traction motor repair will be the final element of the restoration of RPO 302. The H. Albert Webb Memorial Railroad Preservation Award will be an important component to making this restored trolley RPO story a reality.”
Leigh A. Webb of Franklin, New Hampshire, donor of the award named for his late father, said, “As heartbreaking as it is when concerted efforts at preserving our storied rail history can be all but wiped out by a single, violent act of nature, it is at the same time reassuring that those efforts will only be slowed, not abandoned. It is with great pride that the H. Albert Memorial Railroad Preservation Award will be part of a continuing legacy at the Shore Line Trolley Museum, and extremely gratifying that the Award’s funds will be leveraged to attain even greater success.”
Number 302 is a Railway Post Office trolley car historically operated by the Union Street Ry. from the railroad station in Fall River, Massachusetts to the New Bedford post office and on to Wareham, with a connection to the Railway Mail Service network at Providence, RI. It stopped at all intermediate post offices along the line to pick up and deliver U.S. Mail in the 1920s and 30s. As the U.S. Postal Service was formalizing its structure in the era of the Civil War, railroads were rapidly becoming the dominant and fastest form of overland transport. The Railway Mail Service was developed to act as a broad and reliable way to move large volumes of mail from one town to the next and across the country, with the golden era stretching through the first half of the 20th Century.
Aboard Railway Post Office cars, mail clerks sorted mail en route, receiving and dispatching mail to each town passed along the way. A small number of street railways and interurbans also ran Railway Post Office cars for service along their lines. Roughly a half-dozen trolley-RPO car survive in preservation in 2013. Car 302 is one such rare example. Built in New York, the car spent its entire operational service life in southeastern Massachusetts, exclusively based in New Bedford and the surrounding era. When the Union Street Railway was converting to buses in 1948, 302 was preserved and transported to the newly-formed Branford Electric Railway Association, where it has remained for the past sixty-five years. As a representative from New England, this car is a significant example of rural street railway operation and the larger trolley-RPO and RPO service story country-wide.
The Shore Line Trolley Museum joins several other past New England recipients of this preservation grant award.
Download this Press Release in PDF Format: http://www.massbayrre.org/Press/Webb_Award_2014.pdf
Download this Press Release in Word Format: http://www.massbayrre.org/Press/Webb_Award_2014.doc
Download photos of Union Street Railway Car No. 302:
(Photo Caption: Car 302 poses on the Short Beach straightaway at BERA in this undated photo. Photo Credit: Photo: BERA)
(Photo Caption: Union Street Railway Car 302 operating at the Shore Line Trolley Museum in 2009. Photo Credit: Photo: BERA)
For more information contact: William Crawford, H. Albert Webb Memorial Award Committee Chairman, firstname.lastname@example.org
|August 25, 1846||The Lexington and West Cambridge Railroad is opened between the Fitchburg Railroad's main line in West Cambridge and Lexington Center.|
|1867||West Cambridge becomes part of Arlington this year; so, the name of the local railroad is changed to the Lexington & Arlington Railroad.|
|1870||The Lexington & Arlington Railroad is acquired by the Boston & Lowell Railroad.|
|1872||The Boston & Lowell Railroad creates a subsidiary corporation, the Middlesex Central Railroad, for the purpose of extending its Lexington Branch eight miles further west through Bedford to Concord Center. Work on the extension begins this year.|
|August 4, 1873||The Middlesex Central Railroad opens its new extension to Bedford and Concord Center amid local celebrations.|
|August 31, 1877||The Billerica & Bedford Railroad , the first two-foot common-carrier narrow gauge railway in America, begins shuttling passengers and freight between these two towns.|
|June 1, 1878||Daily revenue exceeds operating expenses; however, undercapitalization brings financial hardship upon the B&B. The unique two-foot railway is forced to close and is sold at auction. A year later, it is transplanted to the Farmington, Maine, area and flourishes there for many decades on the Sandy River Railroad.|
|August 4, 1879||The Middlesex Central Railroad opens another extension of its branch line.This one goes 2.5 miles further west to Reformatory Station (across from the Concord Prison).|
|May 31, 1885||Using the right-of-way of the defunct Billerica & Bedford Railroad, the Boston & Lowell Railroad opens standard-gauge train service over the former narrow gauge corridor between Bedford and North Billerica. Bedford Depot is now at the junction of two rail lines: the Lexington Branch between Boston and North Billerica (via Bedford) and the Reformatory Branch (between Bedford and Reformatory Station in Concord).|
|1887||The Boston & Lowell Railroad is absorbed by its chief competitor, the Boston & Maine Railroad. The Lexington and Reformatory branches become owned and operated by the B&M.|
|April 24, 1926||The Boston & Maine Railroad ends passenger service on the Reformatory Branch. (However, passenger service continues over all parts of the Lexington Branch.) A year later, on February 5, 1927, the B&M formally abandons the 2.5-mile section of the Reformatory Branch between Concord Station on Lowell Road and Reformatory Station on Elm Street. The remaining section of the Reformatory Branch between Bedford Depot and Concord Center is maintained for freight service.|
|December 31, 1931||The B&M ends passenger service on the Lexington Branch between North Billerica and Bedford. This 8.63-mile section is kept open for freight, however.|
|1956||The steam era comes to a close on the Boston & Maine. At first Diesel and then self propelled Budd Rail Diesel Cars (RDCs), take the place of steam-hauled passenger trains on the Lexington Branch.|
|1962||The Boston & Maine Railroad abandons the remainder of the Reformatory Branch between Bedford and Concord Center and the section of the Lexington Branch between Bedford Depot and Concord Road in Billerica. The Town of Bedford buys the two right-of-ways (the portions within town limits) a year later.|
|January 1965||The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority begins subsidizing Boston-area commuter rail service. At first, neither the Lexington or Central Massachusetts (Hudson) branches are included in the MBTA's new schedule. After local protest, however, the agency recants its original plans and preserves passenger service on both lines.|
|December 26, 1976||The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority purchases the commuter rail assets (local rail corridors and rolling stock) from the Boston & Maine Railroad. In the sale agreement, the B&M maintains trackage rights (for freight) over its former lines. The MBTA awards a contract to the B&M to operate commuter rail service on its behalf. (This contract would be awarded to Amtrak in 1986.)|
|January 10, 1977||A snowstorm blocks the Lexington Branch and the 5:30 P.M. train from North Station to Bedford has difficulty reaching its destination over the unplowed route. After days of no Lexington Branch service, the MBTA announced that it is discontinuing communter rail service on the line.|
|1980||The MBTA desires to build a parking garage at its new Alewife Red Line Station over part of the Lexington Branch right-of-way in West Cambridge. A Federal Court judge rules that the agency may temporarily remove track and other structures from the right-of-way to permit construction; however, the judge rules that the branch must be restored after the project.|
|January 31, 1981||After one final freight train uses the Lexington Branch, the MBTA embargoes the line.|
|1981||The Town of Arlington engages the MBTA in a "memorandum of understanding" to seek abandonment of the Lexington Branch, in exchange for Arlington's cooperation to allow the agency use of Town land as a Red Line construction staging area. In the agreement, Arlington asks the MBTA to support a proposal to convert the railroad corridor into a bikeway. |
|1991||The Lexington Branch is formally "railbanked" (not abandoned) in order to permit construction of the Minuteman Bikeway.|
|1993||The Minuteman Bikeway officially opens over the former Lexington Branch.|
|January 28, 1998||The railroad returns to Bedford, in a manner of speaking, when former B&M Rail Disel Car #6211 is brought to town for static display at the future Bedford Depot Park|
New Bedford’s Forgotten Public Transport Systems; The Omnibus, Streetcar & Trolley
by Joe Silvia
The earliest forms of land transportation in the region were Amerindian foot trails. The Amerindians originally used these footpaths not only as ways to travel to and from settlements, but many were game trails or direct routes to water for fishing, sustenance, and travel. Rivers were the original highways of the old world. Since these paths were already deforested and served as unobstructed traffic lanes, they were simply re-used by the first European settlers. The first Europeans walked these paths just as the Amerindians did, and occasionally used horses. As the population burgeoned, the footpaths were broadened to allow horse drawn carts.
Since the 16th century Europe had been using a wagonway system to assist in hauling mining payloads. Within a hundred years a wooden flange was added to these routes to keep the wheels on track and this system was the pre-cursor of the stream powered rail system that was to come. The clear, unobstructed path that contained a flange or rail allowed horses to draw wagons with a freight of 10-13 tons per trip without worry. In the 18th century these wooden flanges were taking quite the beating, so as a matter of course they were covered with a sheathing of iron. As payloads increased the wagon “technology” had to keep up. Wheels were made out of iron to handle the heavier loads. Iron on iron also lessened the friction allowing a quicker pace and return. Since the payloads increased, the rails were replaced with completely iron flanges or they would simply collapse. The setting for the steam powered rail and trolley systems of the future were now in place. By the advent of the Industrial Revolution in the 1820s, a modern, mechanized rail system was up and running utilizing these tracks in parts of Europe.
The Omnibus; Precursor to the Autobus or Bus
Also in the 1820s, we saw the advent of the Omnibus, which was a rather elongated horse drawn carriage that served as the earliest form of public transport. The abbreviated version of this word, bus, is still in use today. This first mode of public transport was rather simple. There were no designated “stops.” A would be passenger simply stood somewhere on the omnibus’ route and flagged the driver with a wave of his or her hand. Today, when a passenger wants off the bus, he pulls a cord that alerts the driver electronically. During the era of the omnibus, that cord was tied directly to the driver’s ankle. The omnibus was a popular mode of transportation until around 1905.
Since profitability is the name of the game for any business, the early Omnibus companies sought ways to carry more passengers in a day. Since the mules and horses that drew the omnibus were taxed as much as they could possibly be, they thought in terms of speed. Even adding one extra trip a day would translate to added profits. The aforementioned tracks were the solution. Unpaved streets created too much drag or friction, and iron wheels on iron rails carried far less friction. This would allow speedier routes and return.
The Novel Streetcar
In 1832, North America’s first streetcar lines opened in New York City. Alongside this development of inner city transit was the progress of the rail. In 1840, eight years after the first streetcars were running in America, the New Bedford-Taunton-Boston railroad was completed as was New Bedford’s first train station, Russel Warren’s Pearl Street Depot. The streetcar was a slight improvement over the omnibus since they took advantage of using the rails that allowed faster travel than unpaved roads would. These streetcars were typically managed by two individuals, a conductor and a driver. The driver, would of course, control the reigns of the horses and the brake handle. The conductor who rode in the rear, would collect fares, alert the driver when everyone was “on board”, and generally help passengers on and off the streetcar.
These technologies all converged into the creation of the streetcar system. The omnibus concept was taken from the unpaved road to the rail system utilized by the streetcar, that had proven to be far more practical and efficient. Streetcars were originally drawn by horses and mules. While this seemed like a “greener” and cleaner method of transportation, horses and mules left a fair share of manure as they navigated their routes. The manure would not only make travel by foot adventurous to say the least, it was simply unhealthy and unhygienic. The odor was surely a powerful one. A typical horse can produce up to 30 lbs of manure per day. The men responsible for the clean up duties were called “dirt-carters”, one of the forgotten occupations of yesteryear. “Dirt” was a euphemism for poop, crap, manure. It was akin to calling a garbage man a “sanitation manager.”
Of Vintage Exhaust
Regardless, where feces and unsanitary conditions mix with the general populace, disease typically follows. What was needed was an alternative way to drive these vehicles. In 1871, San Franciscan Andrew Smith Hallidie patented the first cable car. While much of the nation and world began to phase out the use of animals to draw their streetcars from the 1860s-1890s, New Bedford was one city among others that continued to use them. Part of the reason for this reluctance may have had to do with the sheer logistics of a transition. A ditch would have to be dug between the rails and under each street that was to use a cable car. Within the ditch would be placed a cable that would actually pull the it along the street. Within this ditch, a chamber, called a vault, would have to be dug to house the machinery -a steam engine and pulleys- that mechanically pulled this cable. Perhaps, the massive logistics behind the cable car prevented New Bedford from wholly switching over.
In 1872, the New Bedford and Fairhaven Street Railway Company was first incorporated. At this time the rail was still drawn by horse. In 1887 it consolidated with the Acushnet Railway company under its new name, the Union Street Railway Company. This company built a repair station in 1897 at 1959 Purchase Street, called the Union Street Railway Carbarn. If this sounds familiar, it should as the apartment complex that sits there today still retains its name “The Carbarn.”
The region was exploding in population and commerce. Using animals was quickly becoming an impractical method. In 1888, Richmond, Virginia led the world by setting a precedent and introducing a city wide electric trolley system. The logistics behind setting up the electric system was far less than that of the cable car system. Regional powerhouses with steam engines and generators were set up to provide the electricity needed. Specifically, the power for New Bedford’s trolleys came from the first electric light company in New Bedford, the Edison Electric Light Company united with the New Bedford Gas Company and Edison Light Company in 1890. They had stations on Coffin Street and South Water Street. Electric wires would leave the powerhouse and thread throughout the city. The trolleys would connect to this grid through a pole that contacted one of the overhead wires.
The Advent of the Electric Trolley
In the 1890s, New Bedford began to catch up with the rest of the world and began to phase out the use of animals and replace it with the electric system. However, as late as the 1920s, New Bedford was still using animals for some of the streetcars. The Mayor at the time, Morgan Rotch had an intense dislike for the concept of overhead electric wires and claimed that horses would “Never, never become accustomed to the sight of electric cars.” Many other naysayrers voiced concerns that fallen wires would electrocute people. In spite of thise, by October of 1890 the first street car made its run.
From 1901 to 1927, the New Bedford & Onset (NB&O) company serviced the region with electric trolleys. One route went from New Bedford to Wareham then to Onset with occasional stops in Fairhaven, Mario and Mattapoisett. Another went from Middleboro to Wareham, and Onset. After the canal was built between Massachusetts Bay and Buzzards Bay in 1916, NB&O extended their tracks to include Monument Beach and surrounding towns.
Unfortunately for the NB&O, scientific and technological advances, brought us the automobile and the autobus, or bus. In 1925, buses began to become an increasingly more popular mode of public transportation. Slowly routes were replaced one by one with the bus. By 1933, most routes were replaced, and in May, 1947 the trolley system had been completely replaced.
Besides the obvious Carbarn on the Purchase Street, there are still remnants of the old trolley system. Some of the buildings where the stations and waiting rooms sat, still exist. The corner of William and Purchase Streets where Cafe Arpeggio is today, was a waiting room. Three “trolley buses” run by the Harbor Development Commission (HDC) service New Bedford today and bring mainly cruise ship tourists to various points of interest including the Rotch-Jones-Duff House and Garden Museum, the New Bedford Whaling Museum and back to the ship. They are also used on special occasions like for the transportation of national and foreign dignitaries. Group rates are available from the HDC. More info can be had by contacting Debbie Yuille at 508.979.1456 or email@example.com.
For those of you interested in seeing the early streetcars in action, you’ll enjoy this video by the icon ML Baron. Mr. Baron restored this film that was produced by the Union Street Railway Co. You will see Mayor Charles Ashley, take a ride down Purchase Street and see familiar landmarks, see Lincoln Park as it was in 1921, and even Fort “Pheonix” when it had a wharf, main house, and water slide. Interestingly, Ashley grants a free year’s worth of transportation to Edwin B. Macy who is the oldest living veteran of the first street car trip in New Bedford. Fare at that time in 1921, was the same as it was in 1872: 5 cents.