Article From the Spring 2004 Issue of


The Journal of the New York Museum of Transportation


By Charles R. Lowe

As the museumís year-long celebration of the centennial of the Rochester and Eastern Rapid Railway continues, we present this concluding look at the opening of the R&E, condensed from a forthcoming book by NYMT member Charlie Lowe. We join the work crews as they furiously strain to open the Canandaigua-Geneva section of the line in the spring of 1904.

During the last full week in May, steel for the new bridge to carry the R&E and the adjacent highway over the Lehigh Valley arrived at the work site. By this time, this bridge was the last obstacle preventing the movement of the R&E's work train from entering Geneva. On the 27th, a track crew began installing the wye on Castle Street in front of the R&E station. Completion of this wye was absolutely necessary as all R&E cars were single-ended cars.

Work lagged on construction of the bridge over the Lehigh Valley. By June 5th, most of the steel was in place, but tracks, trolley wire and approach grading were all absent. Doubt was beginning to replace the former optimism that the R&E would open as planned. Nevertheless, an announcement was made that the first westbound R&E car to leave Geneva would carry Geneva city officials and members of the press on an excursion to Rochester.

Construction went well over the next week. When R&E Secretary William A. Comstock and R&E General Manager John H. Pardee traveled to Geneva on June 11, Pardee stated to the Geneva press that he expected regular runs to begin on the 15th as planned. The two officers knew that work was all but finished on the line. Early the next morning, Sunday June 12th, Chief Engineer F. W. Walker was in charge of one of the R&E express cars and was supervising a work crew installing a switch just east of the Gates substation. While this work was underway, R&E President William B. Comstock, Treasurer Henry Haigh and General Manager John H. Pardee began an inspection trip in work car 0 over the soon to be opened section of line east of Canandaigua. After leaving Canandaigua, the inspection train came upon a flat car loaded with rails. To continue the inspection, the flat car was coupled to work car 0 so it could be pushed ahead. In the exciting spirit of the long-anticipated opening the R&E and wishing to obtain the best possible view of the newly built line, Comstock, Pardee and two laborers climbed aboard the flat car. Proceeding east, the inspection train reached the top of a grade near Butchers, just east of Gates. At this point, the two cars separated, and the flat car began rolling freely downhill toward Geneva. Just at this moment, the express car with Walker at the controller was seen backing to the west toward the runaway flat car. Immediately realizing the danger, Walker brought his car to a halt just as the flat car struck. Seeing that a collision was unavoidable, Comstock lay down on the rails loaded on the flat car but when the cars collided, he rolled the entire length of the car. Both Comstock and Pardee were thrown into the air, and Comstock, especially, landed heavily. Badly shaken up, Comstock was returned at once to Canandaigua in car 0 for medical care. Pardee suffered scalp wounds and bruises while Walker had numerous cuts in his head and face from broken glass. One of the laborers had two broken ribs. The express car's trucks were knocked out from under the car, but they were soon replaced.

Despite the accident, work to finish the road continued that day. The express car brought the loaded flat car to the bridge over the Lehigh Valley Railroad Naples branch and workers commenced finishing the R&E at the bridge. After a long day of work, the track here was passable and the yellow express car with its drab flat car slowly made its way over the bridge. About thirty men, mostly workers, rode on the train. As it moved slowly but smoothly on the new Castle Street track, numerous residents of Geneva assembled to greet the first R&E train. Although much work remained to finish the road, notably grading at the Lehigh Valley bridge and ballasting in other spots, the R&E was finally operable for its entire length.
Monday, June 13 was spent making the line more truly operational for the official commencement of regular operations. On Tuesday, a special train was run over the full length of the line. Seventy-five Geneva officials, businessmen and newspapermen were accompanied by R&E officers on a grand tour of the full length of the new interurban. A few men from Canandaigua also rode on the tour. Two of the R&E's yellow 1903 Stephenson cars were used for the tour, and they departed the Castle Street station just after 1 p.m. After the quick run to Canandaigua, the group inspected the power house and car house. A photograph of the entire group in front of R&E car 3 was made that afternoon at the car house, after which the cars made a fast run to Rochester. A rainstorm delayed the departure of the special cars from Rochester for 30 minutes until 5 p.m., but the return trip
      R&E car 3 is seen at the Canandaigua car house on the afternoon
      of June 14, 1903 during the celebration of the completion of the
      line to Geneva. The many prominent Geneva men who rode the line
      that day to Canandaigua are seen in front of the car. Regular
      service began over the full length of the line the next morning.

                  Author's Collection

proceeded without incident.Upon reaching Canandaigua a short delay permitted the entire group to be taken to a nearby restaurant where a light luncheon was served.

Once the group made its way back to the waiting cars, the best time of the entire trip was made over the return from Canandaigua to Geneva. Speeds of 50 miles per hour were easily maintained, and in a few spots, speeds of even 60 miles per hour were reached. Arriving in Geneva about 7:30 p.m., the group made its way to The Nester, one of Geneva's finest restaurants where a fine supper was waiting. After the meal, R&E treasurer Henry A. Haigh "rapped for order" and began speaking. Part of his speech has been preserved:

"I wish to thank you gentlemen who have honored us this afternoon by being our guests, for your hearty cooperation with us in bringing this enterprise to a successful end. I desire to express the appreciation of the R. & E. for your forbearance, hopefulness and helpfulness. It has been a source of comfort to us to feel that we are welcome and it is our intention that you will not be mistaken in your confidence.

I am sorry that William [B.] Comstock, whose credit has made this enterprise possible, cannot be present with us this evening, as he sincerely desired to meet with you on this occasion. But if you wish to know how we happened to come to this section perhaps I can tell you in an imperfect manner. Before we commenced with this task we spent considerable time looking over the United States with a view of finding a satisfactory location for a trolley road. We finally decided that New York State was the proper place and that there was no section that offered the opportunities that did the section lying between Rochester and Geneva. This was not a hasty choice but was based on a long and thorough investigation. We examined into the industrial life, social life, assessed valuations and financial interests of this section of the state and found that there was none better in the country.

There are many more trolley lines in the west than in the east. The east had gone into the west with their energy and capital and have developed our country. Now we, who are westerners, are coming back with our capital to help you build up the east. The bread that you cast upon the water is now returning".

Several other men made remarks after Haigh had finished. Dr. Whitman H. Jordan, who had negotiated with the R&E on behalf of Geneva for certain concessions, was grateful for the honesty and generosity of the R&E men. F. W. Walker, as the Chief Engineer of the R&E, had negotiated with Geneva for establishment of the line's eastern terminal. He complimented the courteous and business-like manner of Geneva's Board of Public Works and the Geneva Common Council. William A. Comstock, Secretary of the R&E, spoke next and mentioned that Geneva had been the long-sought goal of the R&E. Then toasts started flying. Responding to a toast to the press, W. A. Gracey, editor of the Geneva Daily Times, offered that the press welcomed the R&E. When Geneva's rival Canandaigua was toasted, Judge Walter H. Knapp, of Canandaigua, reminded the assemblage of the advantages the R&E would bring to both municipalities. Many, many other men in The Nester that evening spoke and all agreed that the new trolley road would be a great success.

William B. Comstock, confined to his lodgings after the accident near Seneca Castle, sadly was not at The Nester that evening. Another voice was also missing from The Nester as A. Lindsley Parker was noticeably absent from the proceedings. In fact, he had hardly been on the scene once Canandaigua had been reached although he had still been listed as the R&E vice president. The list of those attending the "Trolley Party" began with the officers of the road. These were:

President William B. Comstock (absent)

Vice President F. W. Walker

Treasurer Henry A. Haigh

Secretary William A. Comstock (Continued)

General Manager John H. Pardee

General Agent R. W. Norrington

Auditor Bruce Broad

Director O. N. Crane (one of several)

It seems that Parker had finally been replaced! Although Parker had been the very first representative of the R&E to visit New York State, over four years earlier, he had fallen out of favor. He was a lone hold-over from the Detroit Construction Company group that had initiated the R&E, and the Comstock syndicate had perhaps reluctantly retained him during the construction period. No doubt, the contacts and goodwill he had generated in 1900 and 1901 proved useful in the many negotiations needed to build the R&E without the benefit of any eminent domain powers. All the R&E franchises and rights-of-way were assembled through negotiations by the R&E; none of this was forced upon local land owners or municipalities along the path of the R&E. When Parker's usefulness to the R&E ended with the completion of the line, he went his way to new projects now unknown.

At the conclusion of the festive evening at The Nester, the excursion cars were probably run back to Canandaigua with the citizens of that village. Early the next morning, Wednesday, June 15, a car was run from the car house in Canandaigua to Geneva, arriving just after 6:00. After turning the car on the Castle Street wye and loading a few early-morning passengers, the first regular R&E train to depart Geneva left the station about 6:15 and made its way up Castle Street. An hourly schedule was established, with runs leaving Geneva at 15 minutes after the hour all day from 6:15 a.m. to 11:15 p.m.; the last car, though, only returned west as far as the Canandaigua car house. On Saturdays and Sundays, a half-hourly service between 8:15 a.m. and 6:15 p.m. would certainly offer a great many choices for riders. Fares from Geneva were modest.

Geneva to: One-way Round-trip

Seneca Castle $.10 $.20

Cananadaigua .25 .50

Victor .40 .75

Pittsford .55 1.00

Rochester .70 1.25

For the convenience of Geneva residents, a local 5-cent fare covered all travel between the Castle Street station and Pre-emption Road at the west edge of Geneva.

With the low fares and the novelty of the new trolley road, a great many Genevans rode the line on that first day, at least for a short distance, so that they could say they had done so; a total of 299 tickets were sold from the Geneva station alone.  Even on the first day, Geneva merchants reported brisk sales of all manner of items. It was a Seneca Castle farmer, though, who summed up what the R&E might really mean to area residents: "I have been waiting patiently for a year for the opening of this road. The convenience for me can scarcely be figured in dollars and cents. Now, in the busy season of the year I can leave my farm, come to the city [of Geneva], do my trading and get back all in one hour, while formerly, when I had to drive [a carriage], it broke up an entire half day." With its new roadbed, gleaming cars and mighty power house, the R&E stood ready to make good on its promise.