History of the Trolley System in Berkshire County

The notice for the discontinuance of trolley cars in the Northern Berkshire area came officially on April 9, 1930, although many people in the area already knew this was an inevitable fate. Successful bus routes had already taken over some of the lines and the public seemed ready for the change. For some of the older residents however, change didn’t come easy. They remember the trolley cars’ heyday in the early 1900’s.

In was in 1886 when a charter was first granted for the Hoosac Valley Street Railway company which was authorized the construction of a horse drawn railway between North Adams and Adams. The promoters of the company were the Haines brothers from Sandy Hill, N.Y. Charles Haines was the company’s first president. Later C.Q. Richmond took over in 1888 who remained in a position of power through its last days.

One year later in 1889, electric lines were installed, making this area one of the first in the country to have electric powered street cars. William T. Nary, who later became superintendent of the Hoosac Valley Street Railway, operated the first electric car on the West Side Line between Adams and North Adams. At the beginning however, people were afraid to climb aboard due to the sparks that flew from the wires as the cars rolled by. When imagined fires and electrocutions never occurred, people began flocking to this new mode of transportation. In fact, on July 4, 1905, the Hoosac Valley Railway broke all records by handling 30,000 riders in one day.

With this local popularity growing, the Hoosac Valley Street Railway began thinking of expanding its territory and so in 1905, the East Side Line began running between the two sections of Adams as well as one to Williamstown.

In the following year of 1906, the Berkshire Street Railway Company purchased the Hoosac Valley Street Railway Company. This union increased the trolleys’ territory to cover all of Berkshire County from Williamstown to the Southern Berkshires.

With more resources at the company’s disposal, the Berkshire Street Railway began expanding north. A new line was opened that ran from the “Y” in Williamstown to Pownal, VT. Then on June 22, 1907, a new line carried its first car all the way to Bennington, VT. At this time, several other plans were in the works to build trolley lines to the summit of Mt. Greylock, as well as Kemp’s Park in North Adams. Due to a variety of difficulties, these plans never came to fruition.

Beginning in 1908, the trolley company laid out plans for a park to be built between Adams and North Adams. It was to have a refreshment pavilion, a man-made pond with a swan boat, swings, merry-go-round, row boats and a specialty house which held a menagerie of animals including monkeys, burros, swans and ducks and it was to be called Hoosac Valley Park. This park turned out to be one of the more popular places in all of Berkshire County. It was common to see 10,000 visitors there in one day.

In 1910, another merger occurred with the Pittsfield Street Railway Company. Through this acquisition, the Berkshire company was able to expand even further from Bennington, VT. to Hoosick Falls, NY as well as a line that went into Connecticut. They began running two parlor cars knowns as the “Berkshire Hills” and the “Bennington”. Both operated with increased fares, during the summer months mostly for tourists.

Through many years of service, the cars rolled on through storms of all types. The winter of 1918 was one of the hardest times the company had to face. The many snow storms that had to be dealt with caused car lines to be tied up for hours, if not days. Northern Berkshire residents formed “shoveling bees” in order to remove snow from the tracks. Another man-made storm developed in the summer of 1918 when the motormen went on strike for seven weeks. People made do by riding in “Jitneys” instead. Jitneys were truck or privately-owned buses who charged people 5 to 10 cents a ride.

When the strike was over, the Berkshire Street Railway found that the majority of the people preferred to stay with the Jitneys. This fact, coupled with the rising interest in personally owned automobiles, caused the beginning of the end for the trolley car.

On May 7, 1930, the Berkshire Street Railway petitioned for licenses to run buses throughout Northern Berkshire county. Later on, in that month on May 16th it was reported that the Hyman-Michaels Company of New York purchased the right to remove the rails of the abandoned line that ran from the “Y” in Williamstown through Bennington.

The last car service in Northern Berkshire ended on September 1, 1930 with operations on the West Side Line between North Adams and Adams terminated for good. Bus service for all defunct car lines began the following day. Almost all of the rails, wires, posts and cables associated with the trolley system were taken down by September 23, 1930. The final trolley car ended its run in Berkshire County on November 14, 1932 when the car on the Dalton line was put into its barn for the last time.

Adapted from a story for the North Adams Historical Society.