Saturday, May 06, 2006

Lovecraft's Providence: Antecedents II

In "Mass Transit in Rhode Island, Part 10" in Old Rhode Island magazine, March 1995, by D. Scott Molloy, he states that the first trolley in Providence was in 1892.

Union (Horse) Railroad Company, Rhode island's largest mass transit carrier, survived several competitive scares in the late 1880s. Though, the town of Woonsocket had hosted the first regular streetcar service in the state in September 1887 ... the venture quickly failed. Two years later the Newport Street Railway overcame the outrage of wealthy summer colonists in the City-by-the-Sea who wanted no street rivals for their expensive carriages and regular trolley service began in August 1889 ... the Cable Tramway Company ... initiated service over College Hill in December 1889 and threatened a head-to-head challenge for other routes.

The Union railroad considered the promise of electric propulsion so in the Spring of 1889 the Union Railroad petitioned the Providence city council to experiment. The Julien Electric Traction Company, using the technology of Belgian inventors, introduced the concept of battery power in New York City. If successful, battery powered streetcars would not require poles, overhead wires and other unsightly appurtenances. Cellular energy also tempered public anxiety over potential fire hazards. The Union Railroad felt the overhead trolley method would not work well in the narrow, constricted streets of Providence so management took Mayor William Barker, city clerk Henry Joslin, and the entire railroad committee to New York to witness the Belgian battery system in person. The visitors rode battery-operated streetcars and inspected property on the Fourth Street and Madison Avenue Railroad. The party was impressed and the Union Railroad felt vindicated that it had not hastily embraced the overhead wire concept.

Two special streetcars, designed by John Stephenson and Company, arrived in Providence in October 1889. Horses pulled the battery cars to the Elmwood Avenue Carbarn where the company prepared facilities to charge batteries, popularly known as "buckets of lightning." But before trial runs began, a New York court placed an injunction against the Julien Company, halting further experiments until design and engineering litigation with a competitor was settled.

The Union Railroad quickly changed plans and took city officials to Boston for an examination of an overhead electric system employed by the West End Street Railway. In June 1890 the Union Railroad began belated experiments with battery cars after a judge lifted the Julien injunction. A promotional trip hosted Reeves' American Band to Pawtuxet. "The band played enlivening music while passing up Westminster Street and an admiring throng watched the strange object." But there were too many problems with battery streetcars, said Union Railroad spokesmen. Batteries required frequent and prolonged charging and were virtually inoperative on moderate inclines.

{Like College Hill - CP}

In late October 1890 the city council's railroad committee unanimously endorsed the Union Railroad petition for general electrification. But the economic warfare was intense ... The annual report of the horse railway underscored seventeen million passengers, a fleet of 1,515 horses and 301 horsecars, and another 8-percent dividend for the tenth year in a row. Finally by 1891, the legislation passed.

Needing no further encouragement, a syndicate of land speculators bought large tracts of unimproved land along the Pawtuxet line. One advertisement lauded the village as Pawtuxet-By-The-Sea, offering "Unobstructed view of the Narragansett from Squantum on the north to Rocky Point and Prudence Island on the south, while on the west the twilight splendors of the blue ribbed hills, bathed in the purple glory of the setting sun, give sweet repose." Thirty new homes appeared by the end of the year even before the advent of electric trolley service.
By the end of 1891 the Union Railroad tested electric streetcars along Broad Street into Pawtuxet. The inaugural public trips ran smoothly on January 20, 1892, despite having to share some tracks with slower horsecars. Curiosity seekers and commuters thronged the trolleys on a day when the temperature never reached freezing. Frost on the windows interfered with any sightseeing. The motorman, who operated the trolley on a front platform with no protecting shield, was described by a reporter as being "done up to the crown of his hat in storm clothes." A conductor, who enjoyed some warmth inside the vehicle, collected the nickel fares. A skilled electrical engineer road the rails that day in case of unforeseen emergencies.

{Lovecraft was 2 years old, and about to move back to the Phillips' household to a revolutionary and modern Providence - CP}.

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