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.
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
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,
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
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
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
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.
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,
The end of the controversy?
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.