Take a trolley ride into the past Saturday in Williamstown


WILLIAMSTOWN -- Residents at one time could take a trolley to North Adams and back for a mere five cents, and though trolleys in Berkshire County are no more, "Take the Trolley," a presentation led by Williams College Professor Emeritus John M. Hyde, on Saturday at 11 a.m. in the David and Joyce Milne Public Library, 1095 Main St., will show their conception, rise, and eventual demise.

Hyde, a longtime lover of trains and transportation, said Wednesday the trolley's prevalence was a brief one, from about 1890 to 1930. But at it's peak, Hyde said, the county's trolley system was extensive.

"It used to be said that at the height of the trolley system, you could have traveled from Boston to Chicago, by trolley," he said.

Hyde's lecture will begin with the country's railroad, which he said laid the groundwork for trolley systems. With immigrants coming to America seeking work in the mid 19th century, moving large amounts of people great distances was a necessity, he said.

"But trains weren't effective at moving people in urban areas short distances," he said.

Hyde's illustrated presentation will include numerous vintage photographs, many taken around Berkshire county, of various incarnations of the trolley as transport. Early horse-drawn carts eventually led to steam powered ones, he said.

The history of the electric trolley has strong roots in Northern Berkshire -- Frank Julian Sprague, who graduated Drury High School in North Adams, was the father of the electric trolley system, Hyde said. The country's first city-wide system was installed in Richmond, Va. in the late 1880s.

The trolley's demise was a result of advancements in transportation and the acceleration of car culture, Hyde said.

"The automobile became, as an instrument of local transportation, much more effective," he said. "With the Depression of the 1930s, most of these trolley systems folded, as they did in Berkshire County."

But as many urban centers in the country and abroad face more traffic gridlock, trolleys and other types of "light rail" are making a comeback, he said.

"And not just for cities," he said. "One of the most famous [light rail lines] is between Albuquerque and Santa Fe, N.M. It stops in towns along the way, connects campuses.

"Cities simply cannot cope, because there's so many driving cars. Where do you park? What do you do about traffic jams?"

The presentation, given in conjunction with the Williamstown Historical Museum, is free and open to the public.

To reach Edward Damon:
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On Twitter: @BE_EDamon


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