ROCHESTER STREETCARS......................... No. 65 in a series
by Charles R. Lowe
Rochester’s first streetcar line opened on July 22, 1863, 150 years ago this summer. To celebrate this milestone, ROCHESTER STREETCARS presents this early-day view of horse car 39. Lettered “STATE ST. & LAKE AV.” and signed “FAIRGROUNDS”, car 39’s horse is just out of view at right. In the background is the Powers Building, and car 39, waiting for riders, is about to begin a run north on State Street and Lake Avenue to the end of the line at Driving Park Avenue. Located at the northwest corner of Driving Park and Dewey Avenues, but only a short walk from the end of the horse car line, the Driving Park fairgrounds contained a horse-racing track and a baseball field.
Car 39 was not one of Rochester City and Brighton Railroad’s original cars. Those cars were large and heavy double-end, two-horse, two-man cars, and their high costs helped force RC&B into a re-organization in 1868. A new company with the same name but a mandate to economize emerged out of this chaos.
New single-end, one-horse, one-man horse cars were soon added to the roster and provided the economies needed to make RC&B solvent. The new cars were nick-named “Bobtail” cars. While the front end of the car had a platform for the driver, only a small step for passengers was at the rear, giving the car a cut-off or “bobbed” appearance. Turning Bobtail cars was accomplished by installing diminutive turntables in the street. The car would be moved onto the turntable, and the horse would be used to turn the car 180 degrees, readying it for the return trip.
To forestall others from building its Bobtail cars, the John Stephenson Company, of New York City, was granted a patent in 1874. Based on its distinctive truck as well as its bobtail construction, car 39 surely was built by Stephenson. RC&B operated 18 to 20 double-end cars between 1863 and 1868. Beginning in 1869, the total number of cars slowly increased and reached a total of 40 cars in 1874. Some of the older double-end cars may have been scrapped in these years so more than 20 cars may well have been purchased. By 1878, perhaps about when our photo was made, RC&B had 58 cars, probably all Bobtail cars, and 178 horses.
Stephenson’s use of a plain deck roof on car 39 seems to have pre-dated the company’s adoption in the mid-1870s of what it called a “Bombay” roof. Stephenson, which first used the Bombay roof on an order of cars for that city in India, soon made it the standard roof provided for cars purchased in the early 1870s, perhaps as early as about 1872—1874. Our view of car 39, therefore, is one of the earliest known photographs of a Rochester horse car, made at the very dawn of the streetcar era. Its presentation now is a fitting way to pay tribute to 150 years of transit in Rochester.