Article From the Summer 2002 Issue of


The Journal of the New York Museum of Transportation


By Donovan Shilling

A century ago, as electric trolley technology permitted bigger and faster cars, construction of interurban lines began to spread. The following is a "remembrance" by a fictional rider on the Rochester and Eastern’s first day of public operation between Geneva and Rochester.

Geneva, the "gem" that crowns Seneca Lake, is a thriving center for commerce and industry, a strategic and prominent site on the old Seneca Trail, the gateway to Seneca Lake and a distinguished college town. The origins of this pleasant lakeside city are closely mingled with the great Seneca Indian dynasty that made Kanadesaga, on the site of present Geneva, become known as "a place of consequence in the domain of the Senecas." Our tale however deals with more recent times. It’s the story of the interurban trolley line to this landmark community at the turn of the century.

Laborers in Geneva toiled throughout 1903 placing 70-pound rail on a route that would join Rochester, Victor, Canandaigua and Geneva with an interurban trolley line. By June 1904, the contractors had reached the western side of North Street. There, a new steel bridge was erected over the Naples branch of the Lehigh Valley Railroad.

It was a balmy summer day on Wednesday, June 15, 1904, as my fiancé Emily and I watched two Rochester & Eastern Rapid Railway interurban trolley cars roll down Castle Street past the State Agricul-tural Station. A small cloud of dust arose from the cinders that paved the street at that time, making their awesome arrival look all the more splendid. Several horses pulling wagons were startled. We noticed that some rather unfriendly looks were directed at the new contraptions as the wagon drivers pulled on the reins to calm their frightened animals.

Slowing gradually, the interurban cars rumbled through the heart of our downtown and came to a halt at a small but adequate station on the north side of Castle Street near Exchange Street, opposite the venerable Kirkwood Hotel.

It looked like the whole city had gathered to witness this long awaited event. Our sister city in neighboring Canandaigua had been served by this trolley line since the fall of 1903. Both of our impressive trolley cars, some fifty-two feet in length and painted a gleaming orange with green trim along the belt rail, motored to a stop, again in a small swirl of dust. The morning tranquility was shattered once again as the electrically propelled vehicles were greeted with applause and a loud but ragged cheer from the onlookers. Somehow great numbers of school kids had gotten out of classes early to behold the milestone occasion in local transportation. They yelled, waved their hands in genuine approval, then threw a shower of shredded paper at the cars as they lumbered by.

The huge cars backed onto the wye at 40 Castle Street to turn around. The Orange Limited’s cars were then ready to receive a delegation including our mayor and a number of city leaders. The new terminal, officially designated the "Rochester & Eastern Waiting Room and Ticket Office," also handled freight, Rochester theater tickets and package express orders.

After the appropriate inauguration proclamations from our mayor and John H. Pardee, superintendent of the new trolley line, the two cars, packed with dignitaries and other officials, took a trial run to Canandaigua. After their return the local VIPs would be joining officials from Canandaigua at a banquet prepared at the Nester House to celebrate the opening of the Rochester & Eastern Rapid Railway line to our city.

We weren’t worried about there not being enough room for us on the first run since it was understood that trips to the "Flower City" would be offered about every hour on the hour. On busy Saturdays they would run every half hour. Up to 21 interurban cars would rumble down to Geneva and return to Rochester each day. To brag a little, if we may, we were part of the fortunate first 290 people to buy tickets during that inaugural day. We clambered aboard the big interurban along with a crowd of excited friends and neighbors, filled all the 48 seats and began our 43 1/2 mile ride to Rochester on the aptly named Orange Limited.

Emily and I were lucky in obtaining two seats together, right next to one of the car’s fourteen big double windows. A plus in heading west from Geneva in the morning was that the sun would not be in our eyes on the trip out nor on our return later in the day. We also realized that the two hour and ten minute trip to the "big city" would provide ample time to inspect a lot of the countryside. A fancy railway ad in Rochester read, "scenery unrivaled, equipment unsurpassed, and service unequalled—no dust, no smoke, fast trains, frequent service, and the favorite route to Canandaigua and Geneva, situated on two of the Finger Lakes."

Well, we were taking the journey to find out if this was really so. Our first sight along Castle Street was of the neat fields and orchards operated by the State Experimental Farm. Opposite it, one could enjoy a view of the elaborate white Octagon House and then observe Dr. Brook’s famous observatory.

Motorman Clarence Tousey eased back on the controller as we slowed, entering the tiny village of Seneca Castle, just 6 ¾ miles out of town. A small gathering of farm folk, kids, chickens and dogs stood in the roadway watching us rattle by. Their expressions seemed to encompass both curiosity and resignation. We guess that they suspected that their tranquil farming community would never be quite the same anymore…

Ottley’s Stop, the next landmark on the line, was where the trolley cars utilized an underpass to clear the Pennsylvania Railroad’s tracks to Sodus Point. Here fields of ripening wheat and acres of cabbages bordered the tracks, and the rich smell of freshly plowed earth drifted into our car. We continued to accelerate, rushing up and down the rolling hills leading through Dunkel’s Corners. Next we were roaring through the woods and out of Van Gelder’s Swamp. We learned that Mr. Tousey always shuts down the power and allows the big interurban to coast down one hill and part way up another. By doing this, it eliminates the use of too much current and saves on the power bill.

In the distance the huge golden dome of Canandaigua’s county courthouse came into view. Once the "seat of justice" for all of western New York State, the community was still famous for its wealth, its popular lakeside pier, large stores and perhaps the widest main street in the entire nation. Speeding closer we saw the smoke stacks of the Lisk Manufacturing Company, noted for their anti-rust enameled ware, and also spotted McKechnie’s Brewery, makers of a particularly sudsy brew.

Entering the city we were told that the trolley was now utilizing the tracks of the Ontario Light and Traction Company, leased to the R&E on October 17, 1903. Two reasons surfaced that prevented the R&E from receiving permission to build independent lines. The first was that the citizenry didn’t want their beautiful elm trees cut down. The second centered on fears that the current from the rails might kill the trees!

As our trolley surged along, climbing the long two mile hill up Main Street, we marveled at the vitality of the commercial section, the beautiful residences, the institutional buildings such as the old Orphanage, now the Moose Club, and Mrs. Mary Clark Thompson’s Memorial Hospital which was under construction as we passed. Most of us took particular note of the Gideon Granger Homestead, designed by Thomas Jefferson. We were told that it was now the Young Ladies’ Academy, a very popular educational institution.

Four miles out of the city, the car arrived at Paddlefords, just a crossroads now, but in the mid-1800’s countless cords of firewood were shipped from there to fuel the steam engines on the New York Central and Hudson River Rail Road. Next, we were rushing through Mertensia. Here, the cedar ties seemed to blur into a solid mass as we reached a breakneck speed of almost 30 miles and hour. We were told that it took 2,640 ties to hold a mile of trolley track. It sure seemed like it!

For a while we studied the interior of our vehicle. It was very modern in appearance, divided into two sections, and even boasted the ultimate convenience—a toilet room. Most of us sat in the main passenger area where comfortable seats were upholstered with plush and the interior was trimmed with polished Mexican mahogany. The other section was the smoking compartment with rattan seating and a special ceiling vent to carry away the noxious fumes. The car also had a water cooler on board, and being electric featured wonderful illumination. 26 light bulbs of 16 candlepower each shone out from some very decorative brass fixtures.

Flank Lynch, the conductor, took great pride in telling us more about his shiny, new interurban. He bragged that it was never more than five minutes late. While we were passing through East Victor and its large creamery, he showed us the latest innovation in rapid rail communication, a Stromberg-Carlson telephone that was located on the wall of the motorman’s compartment. A 25-foot cord on a reel allowed him to plug the phone in at the nearest passing siding and talk directly to the dispatcher. It was a wonder…. He added that the car had been built in Elizabeth, New Jersey by the John Stephenson Company, weighed over 35 tons and had four General Electric

Conductor and Motorman pose proudly beside Rochester and Eastern
Rapid Railway 6.

Wallace Bradley Collection
NRHS Rochester Chapter

75 horsepower. We smiled and nodded, but weren’t overly impressed. Feeling the continuous vibration and rumble of the wheels as we arrived at the Victor station, we questioned Mr. Lynch on the phenomenon. He replied that it was probably due to the wheels flaking. The wheels, he explained, are composed of oolitic hematite (a low grade iron ore), processed and cast into trolley car wheels. Since the wheels are not wrought iron or steel, they are often chipped on the tough cobblestones adjacent to the trolley rails in Rochester streets. Of course, he added, all the rail joints added to the sensations we were experiencing.

Our next stop, Victor station, was just ahead. Built of brick, the depot looked quite impressive. From there we could see Victor’s largest industry, the huge building complex that’s occupied by the Locke Insulator Company, its claim to fame being its "High Potential Electric Insulators." Traveling right through the center of the village, we heard the trolley whistle blowing repeatedly to warn kids playing too near the tracks to suit the motorman. The little tots waved to us, seemingly oblivious to the danger of being so close to the big orange car that raced along their adopted playground.

By the way, several years later, as concern over trespassers grew, the R&E arranged for motormen to throw a sealed red envelope out of the cab window when trespassers were spotted. The envelope had WARNING printed on the front in heavy black letters. Inside, the message read:

All persons are forbidden to use the tracks or any portion of this company’s right of way for footways or thoroughfares. The practice is dangerous and unlawful. All persons so doing are trespassers and will be subject to prosecution. The company is not liable for accidents or injury to passengers.

Three miles west of Victor, our speed slowed. Glancing out of our window we observed that the trolley was traveling across the long bridge that spanned the Lehigh Valley Railroad’s double tracks. A discussion ensued among nearby passengers as to whether the bridge was really 180 feet long. The friendly argument was resolved when all parties agreed that this was the longest bridge on the R&E. In addition, thanks to the knowledge of those around us, we learned that this bridge was just one of 28 that were engineered to cross gullies, railroads, streams and the Erie Canal.

Ahead was a tiny passenger station, no larger than eight by ten feet in dimension, that served the hamlet of Fishers. Two stores, a small cluster of homes and a sawmill also helped to identify the location. Passing this landmark we overheard some friends discussing how the trolley was powered. Of course we all knew that "trolley" referred to the little wheel on the pole atop the interurban, that conducted electricity to the car’s four electric motors. What we didn’t know was that the overhead transmission wires, draped on 30 to 50 foot cedar poles, carried some 40,000 volts of electricity and were insulated with glass insulators made in nearby Victor.

Nearly two hours had passed and we were now about ten miles west of Canandaigua and just nine miles from Rochester. Our location was where our trolley ran on the hillside near Crossman’s Pond. Many considered this pastoral location to be the most picturesque sight on the trip. Vast fields of potatoes, prosperous looking farm buildings and neatly kept homes marked our landscape at this point.

We whizzed along, skirting a few low hills and, surprisingly, a series of sand dunes as we neared Bushnell’s Basin and its ancient canal tavern. The trolley slowed considerably here before cautiously crossing the Erie Canal on a 123-foot steel truss bridge. This allowed us to thunder along into Pittsford, just about seven miles from our final destination. The village’s handsome brick depot was quite grand, serving a large population of commuters who worked in Rochester. While making the Pittsford stop, the unmistakable sweet and tangy smell of vinegar drifted into our car. The mystery of the distinctive scent’s origin was soon solved as we powered our way out of the station and passed Grove Street, the location of the L. C. Foreman & Sons Pickle Works. The conductor, calling the cluster of gray buildings "Pickleville," told us that it was probably the largest pickle plant in New York State.

The route now angled toward the "big city", heading toward Brighton’s "Twelve Corners." We crossed another bridge that spanned the Erie Canal near the Rowland’s Farm. From here, there seemed to be orchards everywhere we looked. The perfume of peach, apple and cherry blossoms scented the air. We breathed deeply of the stimulating fragrance, unburdened by the smell of coal smoke as on a steam train, and decided this was one of the highlights of the trip.

By paralleling the edge of Monroe Avenue, the windows in our big interurban allowed a splendid view of Brighton’s busy intersections. Wagons were lined up at the numerous clay pits operated by the Rochester German Brick and Tile Company and Whitmore, Rauber and Vicinus. Customers crowded the local shops, and we heard cheers arise from a baseball game at nearby Sheehan’s Field. The city line was just ahead, at the corner where Highland Avenue crossed Monroe Avenue, and we saw Gideon Cobb’s fine brick, Italianate mansion, a local landmark at Cobb’s Hill.

Our journey was almost over. In the distance, the skyline seemed to be filled with smoke stacks and tall buildings. We couldn’t wait to get off. However, our car was slowed as it reached a tangle of carriages, bicycles and crossing pedestrians. The motorman resorted to ringing his trolley gong now and then in an attempt to assert right of way, but his efforts didn’t amount to much. At the sight of all the traffic, we knew we were not in Geneva anymore. Finally, the car swung off Monroe Avenue to Clinton Avenue. This took us past the armory and Washington Square with its graceful elm trees, beds of bright flowers and monument to Abraham Lincoln and our Civil War heroes. Our car took Court Street over to South Avenue and continued to Main Street East, whereupon it turned to the west. Emily inquired as to when we would cross the Genesee River, and I explained that we were crossing it right then. I told her that the large buildings on both sides of us at that point were built on the Main Street bridge and thus concealed the river from our view. Thinking it was another of my little jokes, she had none of this, and I suspect to this day wonders where the Genesee River disappears to in downtown Rochester!

Motorman Tousey eased back on the controller and applied the air brake and we rolled to a smooth stop at Exchange Street. Emily and I spilled out of the car, aided by our conductor who was all smiles and handshakes. It was evident that his shift had ended for the day. The rattle of street traffic, the noise of the exiting travelers and the bustle of activity around us worked like a tonic. We were off to explore the exciting sights of downtown. Later, we planned to attend the Lyceum Theatre to see a matinee performance of the latest play. The big marquee outside the Moorish style playhouse on Clinton Avenue South advertised the "Sixth Annual Tour" for Klaw & Erlanger who were presenting The Rogers Brothers, Gus and Max, in their latest show, "The Rogers Brothers in London." We could hardly wait to get started. It had been a bang-up morning journey from Geneva and now it promised to be a smashing afternoon… Our cheers for the Orange Limited!