Friday Flashback #109

On Monday (October 1, 7 p.m., Town Hall auditorium), a public information session explores Westport’s “Main to Train” study. The goal is to create better transportation connections between downtown and the Saugatuck train station.

Someone may mention trolleys. Cities and towns around the country are reintroducing the old-time vehicles as a way to move large numbers of people quietly and efficiently.

Westport had trolleys back in the day too. Streetcars carried passengers to and from Bridgeport and Norwalk — and beyond.

A trolley car on the Post Road (then called State Street).

Spurs operated from the town center to the railroad station and Compo Beach.

The trolley line to Compo Beach.

I’m not sure when service ended — or why. But the tracks remained at least through the 1950s.

If you remember Westport’s trolleys, click “Comments” below.

(Hat tip: John Kelley)

32 responses to “Friday Flashback #109

  1. I remember the tracks in the road on a small section of Post Rd West, between Sylvan Rd and Kings Highway South. It was probably right around 1960.

    • Jonathan L Maddock

      I, too, remember tracks in the road in the late 50’s, early 60’s. They were embedded in sections of road that were still concrete instead of asphalt.
      My father, Larry, told me of riding the trolley to Staples (he graduated in 1939). I don’t know where the nearest access was to his house, but he grew up on West Parish Road. That would have been a fairly long ride. I would love to have experienced that.

  2. Well, I don’t remember the trolley but I do have a story…
    During the blizzard of 1888 the trolley couldn’t run because of the snow covering the tracks. George Walter Mills was a trolley man at the time, and he wasn’t going to let a few feet of snow stop him. So he and his father Joseph, who was also a teamster, hitch the horses up to the old wagon to carry the passengers from the center of town to the train station, and to pick up the mail from the station. Off they went, only to find out when they got there that the mail hadn’t come, the train was stopped because of the snow.

  3. Oh no, it’s son of the Saugatuck Transit Oriented Development plan.
    When will Westport snap out of it and stop indulging in these pie-in-the-sky vanity planning junkets? It’s embarrassing. And wasteful.

    • Yup, heard about the trolley from one of consultants hired 5-6 years ago.

      • I’m shocked – shocked – to learn that the consultant firm for the “Main to Train” project is none other than the successor to the consultant firm which birthed the appalling Downtown Porkulous Plan. And of course the principal of the former is now a voting member of the Downtown Porkulous Plan Implementation Committee – the local public agency which helped make the Main to Train glop a reality.

  4. The trolley tracks on the Post Road, out of town, were way over to the side of the road next to the sidewalk, if there was a sidewalk. I have a memory of going for walks with my father and having a trolley go by just a couple of feet from us and that scared me. By the time of World War II many tracks had be removed for scrap drives except where they were too hard to remove. Tracks were not raised like railroad tracks – they were the reverse, sunken in the pavement and trolley wheels were below the pavement.
    To install tracks for new trolleys today seems like a lot of work.

  5. Carmine Picarello

    Until recently there was some evidence of a trolly track north bound on Riverside Ave near the VFW hall. In the early 50’s my cousin and I would use the CR&L bus line to get to the beach. They had several routes through Westport which I assume had replaced the Trolley line. My Grandmother told me of shopping trips to Stamford where they would transfer from the railroad to an extensive trolley system the city of Stamford maintained. Were it not for General Motors interest in selling diesel powered busses we might still have trolleys. With renewed appreciation for clean running electric powered municipal transportation, San Francisco has actually reestablished trolley routes and expanded theirs.

  6. Carmine, I was just thinking of the old CR&L buses going off to Compo, dropping us off at the then wooden pavilion porch just before Beach School in the mid-50s, then picking us up again at the end of the day dropping us off at the stop nearest to our homes. Mine was at Main St and Maplewood
    Ave. Fond memories.

  7. I grew up in Fairfield and remember trolley tracks on the Post Road in the 49s and 59s. My father-in-law grew up in Stamford and remembers taking trolleys up to the Yale Bowl,

  8. If it makes anyone feel better, Metro North still running like its the 1950s

  9. My late Father-In-Law, Emil “Dutch” Dennert, worked the trolley as a young man, as did his brother Frank. Frank later became Fire Chief and was killed in that horrible truck fire on the Post Road. One of my bosses as a young cop was Lt. Winfield “Winnie” Allen and he told me a story pf when he was a kid, he and his friends would knock the boom off the wire running the trolley as it traveled towards Compo Beach. Dutch and other conductors would chase him and his friends and everybody would get a good laugh.

  10. It’s astonishing to me the collective local memory this blog elicits. Much of it otherwise would already have vanished into history. Thank you, Dan!

  11. Captain Jeff Northrop

    I can remember the tracks still in the road in front of Thompson’s drugstore and Marvel bakery in the early sixties.
    My great grandfather John Jones, editor and founder of the Westporter Herold used to tell me about the trolley that went through Longshore and stopped at Oak Island where each summer there was a carnival.

  12. Sylvia Robinson Corrigan

    My old friend, Betty Donaher, one of ten children who had lived in a the big gray house on Bridge Street – which still stands, – told me of how she used to ride the trolley downtown to go to the movies. I am guessing that might have been in the 40’s, or earlier.

    • Eric William Buchroeder SHS '70

      Wow Sylvia!!!!
      Betty (or was it Bette?) was the finest of elementary school guidance counselors ever known. She (and she alone) had the charm and patience to keep me in check without the need to impose punishment. Remembered fondly and with love. THANK YOU!!!!

  13. Mary Cookman Schmerker Staples '58

    I really don’t remember the trolley or seeing the tracks. Perhaps I just took the tracks as part of the street and never thought about it. I remember the Bus. We used to get the bus instead of a school bus. For the old, old staples we picked the bus up in front of Assumption Church and went out to North Compo and Clinton Avenue. I was in Westport recently and was amazed about how narrow the streets seemed. I asked my self if the streets seemed narrower now because cars are bigger or am I just older? I can’t imaging how it would be possible to add trolley tracks again and have a Trolley making stops. Wouldn’t that just make traffic slower?

    • That bus was the CR&L.

      • Mary Cookman Schmerker Staples '58

        Thanks Mike! I did not remember the name of the bus. From Bedford Jr. High we used to walk down to Colgans to get the bus and if we had spare change even buy a cherry coke before heading home. For “newbies” Colgans was where Tiffany’s is now. Changing the subject, I’ll bet you remember the school bus driver Mr. Brown?

  14. I rode the trolleys in NYC as a kid. Loved the wicker seats and loved to play motorman on the back end controls of the car (not used and disconnected).

    From 1930- 1950 there was a “motor group conspiracy” to get rid of the trolleys in favor of diesel buses. One day the over head electric lines were pulled down. The smelly diesel buses took over. Later the steel tracks were pulled up .

    GM, Firestone, Standard Oil, Phillips Petroleum and Mack trucks were all involved. They did it all over the country! Moved us from trolleys to buses.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/General_Motors_streetcar_conspiracy

    Now we’re going back to electric, hybrid and propane buses. Who knows maybe I’ll get to drive the back end of a trolley in the not too distant future!

  15. Bring back the Mini Bus! My dad rode it to the train station every day, and we kids had the freedom to get all around town.

  16. Re Wendy, Fred and Captain Jeff’s comments on “Oak Island.”

    This must solve the mystery of an “amusement park” on Cedar Island in Gray’s Creek, between Longshore and Owenoke, where, exploring as a child I found a giant iron piece, sort of mushroom-shaped, half embedded in the ground. My grandparents told me it must be the base of “the Merry-Go-Round.” I have no recollection of any other details, nor have I ever heard the name Oak Island used before. But, I was excited by the idea of an amusement park once so close to my house and remember wishing it was still there. I would have been ten or so at the time…..

    From the 1930s through the 1960s Cedar Island was owned by Fred Lewis (creator and builder of Longshore) and subsequently by my grandfather, J.P. Bradley and my father J.K. Bradley, whose first wife was Lewis’s daughter.

    Always, during my childhood, if you stood on shore of the north shore of Cedar Island, facing what then was called Cutting’s Lane and now “Baldwin… whatever… Road”, you could see a section of a causeway, about 20 feet wide, reaching toward Longshore, which had been cut through at the Lonshore side, presumably to let the creek flow freely. I think some small remnant of this causeway is still visible., like a thumb sticking out.

    With the comments above it all makes sense: the causeway attaching the Longshore road to Cedar Island was for the trolley to reach the amusement park, or carnival. Mystery solved!

    Strange that the island’s name must have been changed from “Oak” to “Cedar” – I certainly remember more oaks than cedars there, as a child, and more poison ivy and brambles than anything else…

    • Mary Cookman Schmerker Staples '58

      Thanks Bonnie. I well remember the poison Ivy and in season didn’t some Egrets nest there?

    • I remember Cedar Island very well. When I found it really was an island I decided to spend some time there taking as many varied photos as possible. It was sort of a test to see what I could find in one small area. Some of the pictures eventually appeared in the boating magazine Soundings with the title, The Small Effort of Noticing Things.

    • Wow! Thank you for the details of your memory of exploring and finding remnants of the amusement park

  17. Bonnie, thanks. I do remember your having posted about finding the remnants of some amusement park piece and this is all a fascinating bit of Westport history I had not been aware of.

  18. Eric William Buchroeder SHS '70

    A dear neighbor and friend Chip Duffy (who provided me with the best of apres Greens Farms School daycare from the ages of 5-9) was a conductor on the trolley’s Saturday run from downtown to Compo and would amuse me with stories of how he would turn off the lights to provide a little privacy for young couples in love.

  19. Thinking about the amusement park or carnival on Cedar (then “Oak”) Island, it seems strange that there don’t seem to be any photographs of people enjoying themselves there or of the “amusements” provided. No
    one has mentioned how long it lasted or any stories about it from the day.
    It must have been a pretty big deal to build the grounds, install a Merry-Go- Round, etc., as well as building the causeway for people to walk over from the trolley ride to Longshore.

    Other people must know…. I can’t be the only one, and that only because of the simple fact that my grandmother told me “Merry-Go-Round.” Why wasn’t I curious enough to ask any questions then? It was sort of like an OK – and off to play moment. I remember that very clearly.

    Maybe Cedar Island should be renamed Ghost Island…

    To try to clarify the mysterious iron artifact I found: it was like a big black disc, maybe about a yard wide and maybe 3 or 4 inches thick, with a tube-shaped piece of the same material and thickness, about a foot high sticking up from one side. I’d guess that the M-G-R had a pin which was inserted into this when it was laid flat, enabling it to turn easily. My earlier “mushroom” description referred to a mushroom standing on it’s head.

    Mary – As for egrets,: I actually don’t remember so many then – they were still sparse, undoubtedly slowly recovering from near devastation due to being slaughtered by the hundreds of thousands for their feathers, used to adorn women’s hats (everyone wore them!) in the late 1800s and early 20th century.
    Mostly, I remember so many black-crowned night herons – my favorite bird.
    And the occasional stately great blue heron. And the fiddler crabs: at low tide hundreds would come out of their holes to bask in the sun together. If you came upon them suddenly they would all scurry back to their homes, and it made a loud sound as they brushed together, bodies hitting bodies, like rattling rice in a bottle, with a shushing sound. As kids we loved to scare the by our mere presence and then hear that sound.

  20. lThe C R & L Lines (Connecticut Rail &nLighting) replaced streetcars with busses in 1937. The company had to maintain tracks and wires, as well as pay taxes on them. In many cases unions insisted on a crew of 2, one to operate the car and another to collect fares. And the government required a split between streetcar companies and electric utilities (I believe C R & L was once owned by United Illuminating of Bridgeport). Busses were thus much cheaper to operate without the volume to justify these expenses.
    I currently live in San Francisco, and ride the historic streetcars they have every day (they are mostly retired streetcars from Philadelphia and Newark
    and painted in the livery used by cities across the country and have been immaculately restored(see http://www.streetcar.org for picture). Boston, Philadelphia, Kenosha and, soon, El Paso, still run PCC cars. I don’t think Westport could support such operations but I never tire of riding them.

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