Trolleys Back on Derby Streets!
Derby Public Works employees Shawn Wheeler and Frank Pelacci are shown painting the first of 40 trolleys that will grace the streets of Ansonia & Derby. (Click on pictures for larger images.)
Trolleys disappeared from the streets of Derby in 1937, but thanks to the combined efforts of the cities of Ansonia and Derby and the Rotary Clubs of Ansonia and Derby/Shelton, they are making a comeback! In a project that combines history, health and recreation the old "Beltline" is being re-created on the streets of the two cities. The "Beltline" was the circular route followed by the trolley line that served the two towns from the late 1800’s until 1937. Of special significance was the fact that the Ansonia/Derby line was the very first electric trolley line in New England and only the second in the United States. On top of that, it also had the first electric freight locomotive in the U.S..
The Clubs researched the history of the trolleys and had stencils made that are being used to paint trolleys every tenth of a mile on the streets where the trolley originally ran. The route starts on Main Street at the Derby Train Station and runs along Main Street to Elizabeth Street to Atwater Avenue in Derby before crossing into Ansonia at Clifton Avenue where it proceeds to Pershing Drive before crossing the Naugatuck River at Bridge Street to Main Street in downtown Ansonia. It then proceeds southward on Main Street until it crosses back into Derby at Derby Avenue. It then turns west on Main Street back to the train station. The entire route is just more than 4 miles in length. The trolleys will be white but will contain lettering in red marking them as "Derby Beltline" or blue as "Ansonia Beltline"
Gone, but not forgotten!
Our thanks to Randy Ritter for the picture above.
The history of the trolley dates back to 1887 when the Derby Street Railway Company was organized with the intent of building an electric trolley line mainly for the purpose of hauling freight to and from the Derby Docks and the industrial center of Ansonia on upper Main Street. Construction lasted until April 30, 1888 when operators and city official took an unannounced midnight run from Ansonia (near the current Ansonia Copper & Brass) to the Derby Docks. The trip showed that the device would work, though the midnight timing showed that they weren’t quite sure about that.
The original car was a "one-ender, "the motor being at one end of the car. The power plant was at the docks, and cargo would be loaded onto steamboats for transport to New York City. The initial line had 3 passenger cars, a freight motor and 6 freight cars.
The new line was in direct (and not always friendly competition) with the Ansonia and Derby Horse Railway which also had trolley cars, but power came from horses. Eventually the horse cars gave way to the improved electric trolleys.
Investors had thought that freight would be the profitable part of the line, but it proved not to be the case. Passenger service was first extended to the Sterling Opera House and by 1894 the circular route known as the "Beltline" was complete. As passenger traffic picked up cars ran every 15 minutes rather than the previous 30. The cars had a speed of 15 miles per hour.
As the service grew in popularity, an improved powerhouse was completed and more stock added. In 1895, they added the branch line to Lake Housatonic Park which was an amusement park designed to boost trolley ridership. Their stock consisted of 25 cars – 10 closed and 15 open. They also had a snow plow and water sprinkler (to keep the dust down). Trolleys now ran every 7.5 minutes.
In 1888 they traveled 61,200 miles with 177,000 passengers. By 1895, they were doing 247,600 miles and carrying 1,033,977 passengers!
By 1902, the trolley line connected to New Haven. Buses replaced the trolleys in Ansonia and Derby on June 30, 1937 at 1:15 am with George Patrol as the motorman on the last run which ended at the trolley barns in Derby located where the National School Studio building stands today.
The "Beltline" also served as an early version of today’s popular Greenway as many people walked the route for exercise. At one point in time, the Boys Scouts provided merit badges to local scouts for their runs on the "Beltline".
The Electronic Valley maintains a secure website where individuals are encouraged to track their exercise (https://secure.electronicvalley.org/fitness/default.asp). Runners and walkers can track their runs and other factors such as weight and heart rate. Their data is secure, but the site will provide summary data about all runners and walkers.