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Troubles Dogged Local Trolley

Footnotes to Long Island History

Troubles Dogged Local Trolley

by

Thomas R. Bayles


 

            It was 50 years ago that the trolley cars came to Patchogue, and eight years later they were abandoned.  The Suffolk Traction Company was given a franchise to construct a trolley line between Patchogue and Port Jefferson, and in 1907 began laying tracks on North Ocean Avenue and clearing and grading the right of way to Holtsville.

            Three years later, the company asked for more time, as they had run out of money.  The company was reorganized and $150,000 raised, with $50,000 of this by residents of Patchogue.  Barracks were built near Canan Lake to house the laborers, and construction of the line to Holtsville was begun in the spring of 1911.

            The first car, a second hand storage battery car, was purchased from the Federal Storage Battery Company of New Jersey.  This car could go 52 miles before the batteries needed recharging, but sometimes it went dead through a short circuit or other cause, and had to be towed in by a team of horses or pushed by another car.

            On July 1, 1911, the first car ran down Main Street and everybody who could climb aboard rode free.  Regular service started the next day between the four corners in Patchogue and the post office in Blue Point.  The line carried 1,000 people a day and was a great success.

            The tracks were completed to Holtsville and rails were laid in Port Jefferson but the line never was completed across the Island, and Holtsville was as far as it ever got, with a partly constructed bridge over the Long Island Rail Road there.  On May 13, 1912, the first car was run to Holtsville and a few days later John S. Furman was employed as motorman.  One day the car was coming downhill from Holtsville when a lady asked Mr. Furman to stop at the next corner.  Just before it stopped, the car jumped the tracks and bounced along the dirt road until it pulled up to the curb and stopped right on the corner.  The lady passenger calmly stepped out of the car and said “thank you” to the motorman.

            Mr. Furman said that the Blue Point hill was the biggest headache of the line and in winter the ice froze on the rails.  In the spring the buds and seeds from the threes made the rails slippery as though they were greased, and in the fall the wheels of the cars spun over a litter of leaves.  Often the men riders were asked to get out and give the trolley a push up the hill.  The writer remembers riding the trolley to Holtsville one day when it stalled on a hill and everyone had to get out and push it over the top.

            One day the car was running along near West Lake when it hit some mud, bounced off the rails, ran across the road and plunged into the lake.  Walter Jayne, a member of the Blue Point Life Saving Station, was a passenger on the car, and jumped out and pulled three women out of the lake.

            Trouble began when the company decided to extend the line to Sayville, and it took most of the money that was to be used to construct the line to Port Jefferson.  A couple of bus lines sprang up and the line started to lose money.  The company asked for another three year extension of time to complete the line to Port Jefferson, which was granted by the town board.  An attempt was made to raise $250,000 additional capital but the public was not so much interested in the trolley any more as automobiles had come into general use and people didn’t have to depend on the trolley.

            Things finally got so bad that Electric Light Company cut off the power that was used to charge the batteries, and on October 10, 1919 the last car ran in Patchogue.  The tracks were torn up between Patchogue and Holtsville and the $20,000 bridge over the railroad sold as scrap.  The trolleys were run over to a siding near the lace mill and abandoned.  Here is a poem by Paul Bailey published in the Patchogue Advance in 1909.

            “The tale is told in rails of steel

            That slumber in the street

            So peacefully and sweet

            and trip the natives feet

            but nary a sign of a trolley wheel

            To make the scene complete.”

 

50 Years Ago- April 26, 1912

            Patchogue- Progress that is being made with the building of the cross-island electric car line was made vividly apparent to the people of the village Monday when the big gasoline power car that has been working on the track construction between Holtsville and Patchogue for a long time came running into town over the newly laid tracks, and proceeded through the village to the yard opposite the lace mill.  This car is propelled with a high power engine similar in a general way to that of an automobile.

 

50 Years Ago- May 17, 1912

            Patchogue- The electric car line to Holtsville started actual operation Monday under auspicious circumstances without any furs or feather.  It is very evident from the manner in which the car has been immediately put to use by the people that it will by a paying success.  The car made the run to Holtsville in 15 minutes.  Several of the directors of the trolley company besides a goodly number of passengers rode on the car for its first trip and there were about 200 fares Monday.

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