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HLOM: Trolley cars clanged down Batavia's Main Street in 1900s

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Posted: Tuesday, November 1, 2011 2:27 am | Updated: 2:37 am, Tue Nov 1, 2011.

(EDITOR’S NOTE: This is another in a series of monthly articles produced by the Holland Land Office Museum.)

It was the year 1903.  The Daily News cost one cent, men’s shirts were 50 cents, a woman skirt was 98 cents, gas ranges $10, and a house on East Main Street could be purchased for $1,500.

Many of the roads were dirt and the main means of transportation was on horseback, horse and buggy or on a bicycle.

A drastic change in transportation was about to be introduced to the village of Batavia.   There were plans to build a trolley system from Williamsville to Rochester via Batavia.  The builders of this new means of transportation were called The Buffalo and Williamsville Company.

On May 21, carloads of rails arrived and on June 1 excavation for the south track was  laid. Heavy plows made by Wiard Plow Company and drawn by 4 horses were used in the excavation.  The trolley service would run from East Main Street, east of Clinton Street to the intersection of West Main Street and Lewiston Road.  The cars would pass each other on a double section between Court and Bank Street

There would be two cars for regular service, 4 regular crews and one extra crew. Consolidated Gas and Electric Co. of Batavia furnished power for the B&W Trolley line.  Trolley Company installed a transformer at the Consolidated Co. plant to increase voltage for the road.  The power plant was located on Clinton Street.  There was also to be a shed built on Clinton Street to house the trolley cars.

Two men ran the trolleys, a conductor and a motor man.

On Sept. 19, 1903, the opening of the trolley lines was seen by thousands but not without a delay.  The trolleys were to start in a blaze of glory. Two cars were to make their trip the length of village in handsomely decorated cars.  The first car held the Citizen’s Band playing for the celebration and the second car had the officials of the village and rail officers. With the delay the builders and city officials were afraid they would hear “I told you so” but after an emergency visit by the construction engineer who set up the new electrical machinery surveyed the situation, and fixed the problem.

When he turned on the power, blinding sparks flew and one by one the cars began their maiden journey on the new tracks.  Brilliant fireworks from the residences along the route illuminated and decorated their homes.   Over 7,000 people witnessed the first ride of the trolley with hissing rockets hurling skyward crimson fires flaring furiously with the cars passing beneath a fiery arch formed by Roman candles while torpedoes exploded beneath the fast moving wheels.  It was noted that the most elaborate residence was that of Mrs.  Adelaide Richmond Kenney.

The residents of Batavia every September looked forward to the County Fair that was located where Tops Market is today.  People would come from all over to go to the fair.  They would arrive at the New York Central Depot (Salvation Army), the Erie Depot (across from Salvation Army) and the Lehigh Depot.  Then they would take the trolley to the fair grounds.  The fare was a nickel and the trolley ran every half hour.  The trolley ran east to west along Main Street.  One trolley   car would start at Clinton Street and the other start from the Fair Grounds. They would meet in the middle of Jackson St. and pass each other.  The center section from where Main Street Pizza is located to the Post Office had two tracks for that purpose.  The rest of the route was single tracks.

The trolley system was not without some injuries.  The sound of the trolleys scared the horses and many times the buggy driver was thrown to the ground.  Horses in the road sometimes hit passengers exiting the trolley.  On June 29, 1911, the trolley car going east was passing the Holland Land Office when the copper cable carrying 550 volts of electricity broke and fell across the top of the car.  The current passing through iron on the car top went down the front of the cable to the motorman who was thrown backwards.  He sustained only minor injuries.  Another injury was when a buggy passed across West Main St. toward Walnut Street directly in the path of the street car. Two people were badly injured.Photo:8710533,left;

The dream of connecting Rochester, Batavia and Buffalo never materialized.  As it was approaching the 1930s another new means of transportation was about to replace the trolley system.  Earl P. Churchhill and Arthur H. Sands got financial backing from the city and inaugurated a new bus service in January and that ended the era of the trolley cars in Batavia.

All that was left of the trolley system were the tracks.  In 1943 some of the tracks were taken up during scrap drives. The other tracks became problematic when the blacktop that was used to cover them resurfaced and was causing problems to motorist.

In 1980, more than 50 years after the trolley system ceased to run in Batavia, an original trolley turned up when an old building was to be demolished.   It was embedded partially in the ground.  When the trolley was discovered it seemed destined to be restored.  With 50 volunteers who considered transportation of the past needed to be preserved   hoisted the old trolley on a flatbed truck and made its way down Batavia’s Main Street one last time on its way to the New York Museum of Transportation in Rush, NY where it was to undergo major restoration to bring the trolley back to its original condition.

If you have a memory you would like to share, please e-mail me at amstarowitz@gmail.com.  You can also call the director of the Holland Land Office Museum at 343-4727. 

(This article was written and researched by Anne Marie Starowitz, a board member for the Holland Land Office Museum.  Information for this article was gathered from the Genesee County History Department, with the help from Susan Conklin, County Historian and Judy Stiles.)

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