Trolley

This photo, from the collection of John Dean Wilkins, shows the intersection of Union and State streets in the early 1900s. Lincoln Park is to the right.

In Friday’s edition we introduced to you a great new book, “Trolleys of the Oil Rich Enchanted Mountains,” published by trolley historian and author John Dean Wilkins. Today we offer a bit more in the way of a preview of the impressive work, which represents Wilkins’ lifetime effort to record the history of trolley service in our Twin Tiers region.

The first few chapters focus on the development of streetcar service in Olean and the region, beginning with horse-drawn cars on the Olean Street Railway, which was organized on April 5, 1880. The oil boom had resulted in growth in municipalities throughout the area, and an improved interurban transportation system had become a must.

“In the late 1880s and early 1890s, electrification of street railway services had gained momentum,” Wilkins writes. “The implementation of a successful system in Scranton, Pa. followed by Frank Sprague’s application of electric propulsion in Richmond, Va., plus the efforts of others, demonstrated the practicality of such a system. New York State had witnessed the electrification of 16 horse car systems by early 1891. Olean was not to be left out.”

John R. Fobes, director of the Olean Street Railway, pushed for approval from the city and state to put in electric lines for the rails, while he also brought in electricity and rail line experts as consultants. By July 1893, the OSR was electrified.

An article in the July 18, 1893, Olean Democrat stated: “Last of the Horse Cars Has Been Replaced. … At last the little old ‘bob tailed’ cars have been replaced by large commodious and handsome ones. The poor patient beasts that were wont to laboriously pull the cars along have been turned out to pasture and the new cars are rapidly propelled up and down the street by the wonder worker of the 19th century, electricity.”

The book explains the subsequent expansions of lines out to Portville, Bolivar, Ceres, Shingle House, Pa., Salamanca and Rock City, as well as the sometimes uneasy relationship the local lines had with the big railroads of the day — not least the tricky issue of crossing big rail lines with trolley track.

Separate chapters detail the development of horse-drawn trolley service in Bradford by the Bradford & Kendall Railroad, with construction of track getting underway in 1879. Conversion to electric lines proved a harder sell in Bradford than in Olean, as there was considerable resistance to the concept — electrified lines were not approved until 1896.

Chapter 5 deals with the organization of the Western New York & Pennsylvania Traction Company, which was the vision of W.R. Page, operator of the Olean-area operations.

“The new company was officially incorporated in Albany on Nov. 23, 1906,” Wilkins writes. “It was the dawn of a new era during which the company would expand to its to its final configuration, enjoy a brief period of prosperity and then fall victim to the country’s love affair with the automobile.”

As we mentioned Friday, the book is full of photos from the period, from Olean’s North Union and West State streets, to the main streets in places like Portville, Bolivar, Shingle House, Salamanca, Bradford, Little Valley and Allegany.

The book also delves into the development of power plants to generate the needed electricity for the lines, bus services that developed in the area after the trolley lines ceased and rail freight services in the region.

“Trolleys of the Oil Rich Enchanted Mountains” can be ordered from 4th Lake Publishing, 245 Deer Path, Gillette, N.J., 07933. As we also noted Friday, the book is a relatively pricey $54.95 plus shipping of $8, but it’s as impressive as any self-published history work that we have seen.

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