Article From the Summer 2003 Issue of
The Journal of the New York Museum of Transportation
ONE THING LEADS TO ANOTHER
Last spring in a conversation in our Archives, it was confirmed by our two ranking people-who-ought-to-know (Shelden King and Charlie Lowe) that color photographs of Rochester streetcars were not known to exist. There were the riveting Kodachrome images in the Crittenden movies of car bodies being burned up at Blossom Road yard, but it seemed that trolley fans of the day preferred to stretch their film money by using black and white, so that color shots of the streetcars in use were out of the question. What?! Right here in the birthplace of color photography? Surely someone must have used some early Kodachrome film to capture Rochester’s streetcars before their demise in 1941!
A note to Carol Ritter at the Democrat & Chronicle got our search mentioned in one of her human interest columns, and several contacts came in as a result. Right off the bat, we were sent a color slide of a 1200-series car on St. Paul Boulevard. The color had faded to magenta, but the shot was still new to us and a welcome addition to the Archives. Then a call came in from a lady who clearly recalled as a child being dragged off to the Blossom Road loop by her dad to see "the last trolley". She not only gave us the two glass-mounted slides her father took that day, but ended up letting us have about a hundred other pictures that he had taken, all from the 1938 – 1942 era. These wonderful color slides cover the railroad exhibits at the New York World’s Fair, the Queen Mary in wartime gray paint in New York harbor, a few Rochester street scenes, and many other shots of old autos and transportation, plus the two streetcar shots at the loop, likely taken on the last day of operations, March 31, 1941.
We received several calls of the "We don’t have color photos, but would you be interested in…" variety. A retired Rochester school custodian, who had worked on the B&O earlier in his working career and who lived near the East Avenue stop of the Rochester Subway when he was a teen, came forth with a nice collection of snapshots from over 60 years ago. Postage stamp size (he and his buddies processed and printed the pictures in a home darkroom), we see subway shots quite different from those in our collection. Living where he did, he befriended the New York Central crossing guard where the Auburn branch crossed East Avenue at grade (about where the can of worms is now), and several of his pictures show steam locomotives on that line. The man also gave us an A-13 controller handle that he liberated from the Blossom Road yard where streetcars were taken before scrapping. We were delighted by his stories about sneaking into the yard with his friends, putting the pole up on a trolley and running the car back and forth a few feet (the cars were all parked in a line)! A lady in Spencerport graciously let us peruse her vast collection of antique post cards, and after we had noted which ones were new to us, she had color copies made of them all and donated the copies for our files.
Other photos, black and white, were sent in, and a lady donated a set of 8 x 10’s her late husband had taken back in the 1950’s of a pickle car owned by Foreman’s Pickle Company in Pittsford. He was a scale modelers and had taken the photos to help in building a model of the car, so we can now tell you all about that unusual piece of rolling stock!
Perhaps the most tangential connection to our search for color pictures was an offer of two antique suitcases that once belonged to members of the Tolan family who resided in Rochester’s oldest house, the Stone-Tolan House, on East Avenue. Both pieces have found a good place in our exhibit hall, and we are pleased to have these relics from Rochester’s early history. They are especially appropriate when we realize that East Avenue was once a major Indian trail and was a main trade route for early settlers in this area. Over the years, the property has been traversed by the New York Central, the Rochester, Syracuse and Eastern, and I-490.
As we got to know members of the family, we were allowed to look through a collection of old documents and photos kept down through the years. A century-old print
shows Nellie Tolan, who bequeathed the home to the Landmark Society on her death, with her electric car. Nellie and her electric car were well known in town back then. Another notable piece was a marked blueprint map identifying the 72-foot wide strip of property sold to the Rochester, Syracuse and Eastern when that interurban line was preparing for construction.
The records of our history are fragile, and what to one person may seem priceless, to another is just more "stuff" to sort through when moving or cleaning up the affairs of a lost relative. Reminding people in our area that we are eager to help save mementos of the past is part of achieving the museum’s mission. Our thanks go to Carol Ritter for helping us keep in touch with the community, and to the many people who added such interesting and valuable images to our collection!
OUR CUP RUNNETH OVER
Several other donations to the museum’s collection, not directly related to our call for color photos, deserve special mention. David Lanni, who has been supportive of the museum and who has appeared in these pages many times, donated his major collection of Rochester, Syracuse & Eastern Railroad materials. Dave spent years tracking down everything he could find in libraries, historical societies, and individual collections pertaining to the construction and operation of the RS&E. Originally intending to write a book on the line, he included his 90-page manuscript about the line and the many aspects of its early planning and construction. It’s a fascinating tale, and having his extensive collection of negatives, prints, maps, and clippings all in one place makes the David Lanni RS&E Collection especially valuable to future students of our area’s transportation history.
Mary Hamilton Dann, local author of "Rochester and Genesee Valley Rails" and "Upstate Odyssey, the Lehigh Valley Railroad in Western New York", has donated her collection of photographs compiled for use in these two books. Carefully filed in protective sleeves and stored in sturdy binders, the collection includes pictures that didn’t make it into the books. Once again, the hard research work by a dedicated person brings a wealth of material together in one place for convenient study of railroad transportation in our area.
Bernie Weis’ byline has appeared in HEADEND, and he’s also been credited with several donations of items pertaining to his interest in transit, autos, and the like going back to his youth in the Park Avenue area of Rochester.
Bernie donated two things this summer: a mower and a box.
The mower is a walk-behind Cunningham sickle bar machine, designed and manufactured here in the city by the James Cunningham & Son Company once famous for their ultra-luxurious custom auto bodies and expensive hearses. The old Cunningham factory is now home to Bags Unlimited where we buy our archive supplies, the mower used to belong to Gary Morse’s family service station, and we have some tall weeds we’d like to see the mower attack sometime this summer. As for that box, it was chock full of mostly Rochester transit memorabilia—over 1,000 items—including tokens, bus passes, weekly transit passes, tickets, timetables and the like. A great collection that helps illuminate the history of transit in our town!
One last—but significant—donation just made it in before our publication deadline. We thank long-time member Richard Swick for arrangements he made during his annual visit from Florida. Through his and the donor’s thoughtfulness and generosity, we now own a second Rochester City & Brighton R.R. horse car bell! Identical to the one we obtained earlier in the year (see Spring 2003 HEADEND), this bell has an attached wooden handle where the earlier bell has a stub of old leather.
It’s been a rewarding summer in the Archives so far. We extend our appreciation for these generous donations, and we look forward to continuing our stewardship of these artifacts from our area’s history.