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Cudmore: Trolley days in Amsterdam

Cudmore: Trolley days in Amsterdam

'Forgotten transportation' imitated by shuttle buses

The streetcar era in Amsterdam lasted for 65 years.  Amsterdam historian Jerry Snyder said trolley cars are “forgotten transportation” for many people, “They know they existed but don’t know a lot about them.  It’s interesting to have any connection to them whatsoever.”

For example, it’s nostalgic and apparently good for business to make today’s tourist shuttle buses in Schenectady, Saratoga and elsewhere look like trolley cars.

In Amsterdam, Snyder said, the first horse-drawn cars rode on rails laid down on the city’s flat land stretching east and west in 1873.  The next year the horse car company reported over 100,000 trips by passengers who paid six cents for each ride. 

By 1891 the Amsterdam Street Railway, then owned by investors in New York and Philadelphia, had installed an electric trolley car system that tackled some of the city’s formidable hills, more or less successfully. 

Snyder said the railway stationed workers to spread sand to help cars climb the 14 percent grade on Market Hill, the steepest in the state. The railway had its own generating plant on Walnut Street near where Riverfront Center is today.   

Later there was a car barn at Henrietta and Division streets with a dance hall on the top floor.  The line was extended to Fort Johnson and an entertainment facility called Akin Park, easily reached by trolley customers.

In 1900 the Fonda, Johnstown & Gloversville Railroad purchased the Amsterdam Street Railway.  Started as a steam railroad, the F.J.&G.’s electric division by 1903 stretched from Bleecker Mountain in Gloversville to Scotia, with access to Schenectady courtesy of another trolley line. 

A wye in railroad terms is a track configuration resembling a triangle with each point leading to a different route.  The Rockton Wye is still the name of a location in Amsterdam, the intersection of Clizbe Avenue, Lyon Street, Hewitt Street and Northern Boulevard.

Snyder said the phrase Rockton Wye first appeared in newspaper coverage in 1914.  The wye enabled the electric cars to turn around to serve the different neighborhoods of Amsterdam and nearby Hagaman.

Historian Hugh Donlon said the F.J.&G.’s large interurban cars, powered by electricity, could reach speeds of more than 50 miles per hour, “Their speed and silent approach classified them as lethal according to the accident record in 1938.”   

Snyder said automobiles and buses doomed the trolley cars.  Public service laws changed enabling the F.J.&G. to operate buses in addition to trolleys.  The infrastructure of the electric railroads was extensive and aging. 

People also liked the fact that you could board buses in relative safety on the sidewalk curb, as opposed to getting on trolleys in the middle of the street.  The F.J.&G, abandoned its electric lines in 1938.

One of the F.J.&G. interurban cars from the 1930s is on display at the Orange Empire Trolley Museum in Perris, California.

A small trolley car built in 1917 and used in the city of Amsterdam ended up converted into the kitchen of a camp in Fish House on Great Sacandaga Lake.  What’s left of the car first went to Fonda and the Montgomery County Department of History and Archives, then to outside the sheriff’s office in the town of Glen.  The car is now at the Walter Elwood Museum on Church Street in Amsterdam covered by a protective motor home cover.

The only remaining known Amsterdam city trolley car needs a lot of work.  Snyder said it’s hoped eventually to bring it inside one of the buildings at the museum.  F.J.&G. car 29 is 34 feet long and weighs 8 tons.  It was built in 1917 by the Wason Company in Springfield, Massachusetts.


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