The first electric trolley trip between Fonda and Gloversville in 1893 was a surprise wedding gift for the trolley line manager.
The story is told in Paul K. Larner’s book “Our Railroad: The History of the Fonda, Johnstown & Gloversville Railroad.” The F.J.&G. steam railroad was already in existence in 1893. The electric line eventually became part of the F.J.&G,’s operation but at first was a separate entity, the Cayadutta Electric Railroad, named for the creek which flows from Fulton County to the Mohawk River in Fonda.
In 1892, construction of the Cayadutta Railroad was mired in serious controversy. There had been a riot by unpaid Italian immigrant workers in Johnstown. But work continued on the electrified line, including construction of an amusement area north of Fonda called Cayadutta Park. By summer of 1893, the trolley line was getting ready to open.
In June, Cayadutta Electric Railroad general manager T.C. Frenyear journeyed to Exeter, New Hampshire to marry Emma Chase. Her minister father performed the ceremony and the Frenyears took an afternoon train for Gloversville.
Frenyear appears to have been a popular person, despite the Cayadutta Railroad’s labor troubles. A trade magazine called him “a most progressive man.”
In Gloversville a plan was hatched to meet the bridal couple in Fonda with trolley cars and take them back to Gloversville as the first official trip on the electric railroad.
Several carloads of dignitaries made the run from Gloversville to Fonda to await the train from New Hampshire on June 29.
A stop was made at the Cayadutta’s power house and, according to the Gloversville Leader, the passengers were impressed, “The massive boilers were looked at, and more than a casual observation was made of the huge engines, the massive wheels and broad belts and the whizzing dynamos which send the electric current along the line. The magnificent switchboard, with its levers for different circuits, was also an object of curiosity.”
People along the route waved handkerchiefs at the electric cars and mill workers pushed their bodies halfway out of windows to salute the procession.
T.C. and Emma Frenyear arrived in Fonda and returned to Pine and Beaver streets in Gloversville on car number 14.
Larner wrote that the official opening of the line took place the next day. Seven electric cars were put into service and the combined load slowed the vehicles and eventually burned out a wire in Johnstown. Cars and celebrants were stranded for two hours. Regular scheduled service was instituted by August of 1893. Soon, horse-pulled trolley cars disappeared from Fulton County.
There still were problems for Italian immigrant workers who had failed to receive their pay from a contractor named H. Ward Leonard. Larner wrote that the Cayadutta hired guards for its car barns and powerhouse.
There was media frenzy over an unfounded report of a bomb being seen among unpaid workers. No bomb was ever found. The workers hired lawyers and the dispute eventually was settled in court.
In 1894 the F.J.&G. leased the Cayadutta Railroad and the F.J.&G., Cayadutta and Amsterdam Street Railroad consolidated as the F.J. &G. Railroad Company in 1902.
The electric line provided local trolley service in Gloversville, Johnstown and Amsterdam plus connected these cities and Fonda. From 1903 to 1938, the F.J.&G. ran electric cars from Gloversville to Schenectady. After shutting down the trolley line, the company provided bus service until 1956.
In Amsterdam the abandoned trolley tracks seemed to take on a life of their own. The metal rails were buried in the pavement but often reappeared in the spring thaw when potholes grew on Main Street and elsewhere.
Bob Cudmore is a freelance columnist. Opinions expressed in his column are his own and not necessarily the newspaper’s. Anyone with a suggestion for a Focus on History topic may contact him at 346-6657 or [email protected]