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First Hoot, Toot & Whistle

Deerfield Gave "Warm" Reception To Trolleys

By Kelsey Flower

It was such a simple bill- "Bill Accompanying the Petition, of Charles H. Keith and others"...House of 222 - that the legislative committee on street railways must have been startled by the storm raised in January, 1900, by "An Act to Incorporate Street Railway Company for the purpose of constructing and running a street car line in the towns of Greenfield and Deerfield for the use of the public.

True, an Act of 1898 opened the way for the blowing of such a storm. If at least 10 taxed property-owners abutting on any public highway filed a written protest with the board of railroad commissioners, the location could not be valid for street cars until approved by railroad commissioners.

Protest filed and George Sheldon, experienced as a representative, became the leader of the poposition. He presented an amendment which would prohibit the proposed street car line running through the "Old Street."

However, another list was presented the commissioners of citizens who opposed the amendment and desired the line through the "Street". This list was immediately contested, claiming the persons were not being bona fide residents of taxpaying status.

Most 1900 citizens recognized a need of transportation to Greenfield as county seat and a more ample shopping center. Some townspeople and farmers had no horses and vehicles. General public transportation was available through a four-pence-ha' penny packet express, maintained early in the 1800's by Rufus Rice and in the next generation by his grandson, Rufus Rice Williams.

Express Williams

Daily trips started from Albany Road at scheduled hours and anyone bound for Greenfield hung in plain sight a red rag. This halted the team of "Express Williams", who did errands, carried the mail, made purchases and conveyed passengers for a modest charge. The team of western ponies, small, speedy creatures, once beyond the north end took the four miles of travel in one mad dash. Until recently, headboards of their stalls in the home barn bore their names, Kit and Dick.

One could hardly expect Express Williams to favor the street car line!

In less than a month, feeling was running high. Two embattled parties were formed and correspondence with the world beyond the village made the mails heavy. Much of the story of this contention was recorded in letters recently come to light in Memorial Hall.

C. Alice Baker could be counted on for the vigorous defense of her beloved village. To George Sheldon she wrote early in March, 1900: "I think that it is very important that the people should understand that the 'promoters' get all the money there is to be got in the building of these country electric lines and other people nothing--no dividends, no anything. I think that Deerfield people ought to understand that they are not going to Greenfield for five cents, either…"

From Boston came less emotional suggestions. On Feb. 5, 1900, Robert R. Bishop of the superior court wrote George Sheldon "should endeavor to make friends with the Mamon of Unrighteousness and see if a route across the home lots east of the old street would not be satisfactory to the promoters of the railroad…"

Mr. Solly, the minister, also had a world of caution: "I have talked considerably about restricting a street car corporation so they would not hurt the Street, but the people seem so glad of the idea of its coming here that they are willing to grant them a free way-… The whole thing places me between two fires. Those who are ablase for 'modern improvements' expect of course, that I, a young progressive minister, am on their side… The artistic and historic people think I must be on their side because I am always interested in the beautiful and historic. I hate indeed to think of the old street becoming modern or torn up; but I think that the Electric car System is to spread over all the country, especially between small towns. The people call for it loudly…"

Defend "The Street"

Mr. Howard, school teacher, even ventured the opinion that having the line through the street would be advantageous to property owners and convenient to residents.

The "historic" and "artistic" residents rallied to the defense of the old street. "Poor Frances Allen is almost crying over it,: wrote Margaret Whiting of the Blue and White Society Feb. 20, 1900.

J. Wells Champney and wife, of the artistic and literacy group, on the eve of extensive travel through the South of France, delayed in New York City long enough to write a letter of protest for publication in the matter of "the protection of Old Deerfield street from the unavoidable defacement…"

Describing the state of tension in the village, Mary Allen wrote "that it is like walking on
hot lava to go up and down the street."

Probably the person most surprised by all this disturbance was J. A. Taggart, president of the trolley company. On Feb. 26, 1900, he began a correspondence wich in the course of years changed radically intone. He wrote to Mrs. Sheldon" "Dear Madam: Regarding the proposed electric road I will say that previous to the hearing before the legislative committee I had no idea there would be opposition anything like what has developed… An electric road bed takes very little of a street. In the village of Montague, Mass., the track crosses the Commons. After the track was laid, the turf was replace and the beauty of the village green is in no way diminished. I see no reason why a single tree need in any way be marred or injured or a bit of turf destroyed. The ples should be painted an inconspicuous color, place in line with the trees. I can but feel that you are inclined to overestimate the ultimate results.."

Evidently, the realization spread that the charter would be granted and attention turned to location of the line. Miss Emma Coleman prepared an appeal to selectmen in the name of "undersigned inhabitants" which requested town fathers to locate the tracks "at the rear of the home-lots." A simple sketch of the suggested location was appended--the line of the present Routes 5 and 10.

Access to this suggested location was at the north end, Memorial Street and the south end and at a distance of some quarter-mile from the homesteads, on the mile-long Old Street.

These were public ways: a private walk between the north end and Memorial Street was considered. On Feb. 26, Mary Allen wrote Mrs. Sheldon: "We have no objection to a plank walk being built on the north side…"

Tracks at Last

Well…during the summer of 1900, the Greenfield and Deerfield Street Railway Company installed a track through the Old Street, right of way obtained from each property owner on the west side of the street.

Feeling remained bitter and showed itself as workmen laid the rails. Miss Alice Childs, who lived in the corner house south of the Commons, recalls that when the tracks were laid as far south as her family homestead, her mother, going out to have a look at the work, greet the laborers civilly. So unusual was such pleasant conduct on the part of abbuttors that all the workmen, accustomed to unfriendly looks and curt remarks, gathered about her to shake hands and thank her.

And if Taggart believed his annoyances were over with functioning of his line, he soon learned how mistaken he was. On Sept. 24, 1901, he wrote Sheldon: "Replying to yours of Sept. 20, 23 removed grass between the rails to facilitate stopping and starting of cars. Grass on the rails is very troublesome and is a cause of many accidents. We would not care in any way to detract from the beauty of the old street, but it seems we must take all necessary precautions for safety."

Four years went by, trollies running smoothly--at least on the tracks. But Sheldon had not signed the instrument granting right of way. Taggart's patience was wearing htin and the tone of his correspondence changed. On Jan. 9, 1906, he wrote to the Hon. George Sheldon, then living in Boston: "My dear sire-- It is indeed a cause of regret that you are unable to furnish us with a date regarding your title previous to 1667. We were in hopes that you would be able to trace the title back to the time of the deluge, or at least of the beginning of the Christian era, in which case the services of an astute attorney, we could trace it back far enough to make the present title reasonably safe. You will at once see the necessity of care in this matter in view of the fact that eminent scientists now claim that man originated somewhere in North America, probably in the Deerfield Meadows, therefore the possibility arises that some of the late lamented Adam's descendants may sometime claim an interest in this property. Enclosed you will find instrument granting us right of way and also check for $.00. Kindly sign inclosed instrument opposite seal, go before a justice of the peace and have him take your acknowledgement and return same to me at Greenfield. Yours truly."

"Sheldon Bargain"

The signature has been torn out, other tears mended with glued paper, and the number of dollars carefully effaced. Around the zeros is a baloon on the tail of which, hanging below the typed letter, is the notation, in Sheldon's script, "Sheldon's bargain."

The end of the controversy?

Indeed not!

By April 30, 1908, Taggart was engaged in correspondance involving Allis - Chalmers Co. in search for a "type of whistle which will not split the ordinary ear drum when blown". The first results of the search were a failure-- "the whistles on our two new cars were an aggravation to mankind." The second try was not much better. "We are grateful to you (Wason Mfg. Co. of Brighton) for taking the trouble to try and secure a soft whistle for us, and we are also disappointed that there is not more difference in the two types. Some firm ought to manufacture a whistle which would be really low toned as well as soft." Allis-Chalmber Co. wrote that there was a "new specially designed tow whistle with an extra long bell for soft, deep tone which will no doubt answer your customer's requirements."

Answer requirements? Impossible!

Taggart was wary. He wrote in July, 1908, "Remembering our former experience, we would rather hear the whistles in actual operation than take Allis Chalmers) word for it."

Taggart wrote to Sheldon in patient tone, July 25, 1908: "- We have at last secured from the whistle manufacturers the promise of a soft-tone whistle…We confess that these stretching whistles have troubled us very much… To make our former complaints more forcible, we have taken the liberty to call their attention to your complaint, which we trust will be agreeable to you."

Apparently the matter of the whistle was solved and the present generation of residents has no recollection of the sound.

Long-suffering Taggart, however, had other troubles. On Sept. 26, 1910, he wrote to Sheldon: Acknowledging receipt of your letter of Sept. 23, we beg to advise that the devices you mention are part of a regular system in vogue on this road and most any other railway system, the object of which is to warn motormen as to their approach to a switch. Our rule calls for shutting off power opposite poles bearing the white strips. This is to obviate accidents from split switches, so called. It is seldom any switch is located in a village proper, and as it would be great menace to remove these marks at that particular switch, we will be pleased to paint out the devices and thus assist stranger in locating proper stopping points. We trust this action will meet with your approval and beg to remain."

This letter brought the dispute, at least in an epistolary record, to a close. Residents living at present recall the trolleys with affection and gratitude. They brought the last evening mail for which folks gathered at the old Grange Hall beside the Brick Church--and the mail was perhaps less important than the companionship, gossip, news, village life. People new each other, everybody.

But--tempus fugit--and entrains floods, wars, shortages, rising costs, expansion of the line; above all, the advent of the automobile. Years brought no improvement for the financial situation, which deteriorated from bad to worse, and in November, 9123, the courts ordered the sale of the assets and properties of the Connecticut Valley Street Railway and directed the receiver to suspend service on all routes on later than March 31, 1924.

(c) Pocumtuck Valley Memorial Association, Deerfield MA. All rights reserved.
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This complete summary of the Deerfield, Massachusetts, trolley debate of 1900 was printed in a nearby newspaper in 1960. Deerfield's residents feared the trolley as a force of modernization and worried that it would change the town's character. In a sense, they were correct: the town's reputation was built by visitors coming for its seemingly unspoiled antiquity and many of them rode the trolley. The trolley, completed in late 1900, ran for more than twenty years. But an even more powerful force for change, the automobile, was about to explode on the town and the trolley line was forced into bankruptcy and closure in 1924.

 

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"Deerfield Gave Warm Reception To Trolleys"

publisher   Greenfield Recorder-Gazette
author   Kelsey Flower (1885-1975)
date   Nov 15, 1960
location   Greenfield, Massachusetts
height   22.75"
width   6.25"
process/materials   printed paper, ink
item type   Periodicals/Newspaper
accession #   #L02.167


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See Also...

"Deerfield Electric Road"

Deerfield Inn and Trolley

"Trolley Wayfinder"


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