Remember The Trolley?

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By O. R. Cummings

(Historian of the New England Electric Railway Historical Society, Inc.)

It's hard to realize but true -- a whole generation of New Hampshire children is growing up without ever seeing a trolley. Gone are the days when the flying motorman was every boy's hero, when the whole family would ride the "electric" to the beach or out to the lake for a Sunday picnic. What streetcars still remain in Boston and other distant cities are little like the old open-air monsters which used to lurch and rumble over the countryside. The favorite spot for the youngsters was on the front seat, right behind the motorman. There was always a conductor whose dangerous duty it was to collect tickets from the running board at any speed. Men who had acquired the "filthy" tobacco habit rode on the seats at the rear of the car, usually facing backwards to avoid offending the ladies, who never smoked -- or at least, not in public.

It all seems so far back, yet forty years ago electric railway lines virtually covered the nation, with cross-country and inter-city routes sharing prominence with urban systems. Here in New England, Massachusetts had over 3000 miles of trolley lines, Connecticut had about 1000, Maine boasted 500 and Rhode Island had 400. The street railway mileage of New Hampshire, at the height of the trolley era, was above 260 -- and Vermont had somewhat less.

The largest single system in New Hampshire was that of the Manchester Traction, Light and Power Company, comprising some sixty-five miles of track, and the smallest was the eight-mile "toonerville" of the Chester and Derry Railroad. There were trolley lines in Berlin and Gorham, Keene, Laconia, Claremont, Charlestown, Portsmouth, Concord, Salem, and many other communities, large and small. The Massachusetts Northeastern Street Railway operated forty-six miles of track in New Hampshire, and another sixteen miles were under lease to the Bay State Street Railway of Massachusetts.

A fact not known to many today is that street cars were once built in the Granite State. The Laconia Car Company built for many years both horsecars and trolleys, as well as steam railroad equipment, and a few of its products are still in service -- on the Boston & Maine Railroad and the Metropolitan Transit Authority of Boston.

But to get back to the trolley lines, in addition to several roads scattered throughout the state, there was a continuous route extending from Penacook and Concord to the sea at Hampton Beach -- and even on to Portsmouth. The distance by electric car from Concord to Portsmouth was 102 miles, and the trip required some seven hours to complete -- at a cost of $1.26 in 1915! The journey passed over the tracks of five separate companies and crossed the New Hampshire-Massachusetts state line four times. Four changes of cars were required -- at Manchester, Hudson, Haverhill, and Hampton Beach -- but schedules were arranged to provide close connections at all points.

Just for fun, let's return in retrospect to the year 1916 and take that trip from Concord to Portsmsouth. Forget the snow outside your window and imagine it's a warm summer day; it seems as though everybody is out for a trolley ride.

Out starting point is Maine and Pleasant Streets in Concord, and here we board one of the big closed cars of the Concord and Manchester Electric Railway, owned and operated by the Boston and Maine Railroad. Passing swiftly through the outskirts of Concord, our car crosses the Merrimack River near Bow Junction, runs over a private right of way to Main Street, Pembroke, and continues alongside the highway through Allenstown, Suncook and Hooksett to Manchester.

Changing to one of the big Laconia-built interurbans of the Manchester and Nashua Street Railway at the transfer station, we find the next leg of our journey is to Hudson Center, where we again change -- this time to a Laconia-built fourteen-bench open car of the Massachusetts Northeastern, for the longest continuous part of our trip, a twenty-five mile jaunt through Hudson, Pelham and Salem to Haverhill. This portion of the journey is particularly enjoyable, for our car follows a private way most of the distance from Hudson to Pelham -- up and down hills, across open fields and farmlands, and through primeval forests of pine and hemlock. There's also a brief visit to Canobie Lake Park in Salem where our car pauses briefly to discharge a host of pleasure-bound passengers.

The third part of our trip carries us from Haverhill through Plaistow and Newton to Amesbury -- from Amesbury through Salisbury to Seabrook and then along the shoreline to Hampton Beach. There we change for the fourth and last time -- and arrive in Portsmouth, tired and hungry but with a memorable adventure behind us.

The end of the "electrics" came gradually as the automobile outgrew its classification as a "rich man's toy." The Concord-Portsmouth route was broken in 1924 with the abandonment of the line between Salem and Hudson. Discontinuance of the Hampton Beach-Portsmouth line came in 1925, and in 1929 it was no longer possible to ride from Haverhill to Salem or Amesbury. In 1932, the Manchester-Hudson route was given up, and abandonment of the Concord-Manchester line took place in 1933. The last urban passenger-carrying trolleys to operate in New Hampshire were those of the Manchester Street Railway, which motorized its system in 1940.

Today, the only remaining trolley line in New Hampshire is that of the Claremont Railway, a freight-only pike, connecting the Boston and Maine at Claremont with the mill in that town and in West Claremont. It once operated passenger service, but this was given up in 1932. The very last Granite State passenger line was the Springfield Terminal Railway, connecting Charlestown, New Hampshire and Springfield, Vermont, which gave up its passenger service in 1946.

Sic transit gloria mundi!

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