I remember sitting at our little table on the second story porch overlooking Second Avenue sometime around dusk on a summer evening, having milk and cookies and watching the sparks fly from the overhead cable as the trollies went by. To me it seemed as magical as a Fourth of July fireworks display; even more beautiful, perhaps, because not only was it coming from a train rumbling and screeching past the house, but the train was actually stopping at the front door. We would jump up and peer over the porch rail to see passengers stepping out of the glowing coach and onto the curb. Magic of the highest order.
My only other memory of the Albany trolley is my fear of stepping on the rails when crossing the street, because I heard that you could be electrocuted if you did and, of course, die a horrible death, instantly, and be terribly disfigured, and nobody would attend your funeral, and you would pass from this earth unloved and unwanted, and… wonder where that idea came from?
Albany saw its first trolley in 1881, and the last one rolled down Second Avenue on Saturday, August 10, 1946. I was four years old. The automobile had become so popular that they were no longer profitable, and the United Traction company decided to replace them all with busses. You could still see the steel tracks on cobblestone streets all over town for many years, though, as in the photo above. One by one they were covered over with asphalt, and re-appeared only once, during the filming of William Kennedy’s book, Ironweed, when they recreated the old trolley system on a section of Broadway. It helped to keep those back porch memories alive.
By the way, the trolley in the photo is passing through the heart of downtown Albany, the intersection of State and Pearl Streets, probably sometime in the 1930s, perhaps headed for Second Avenue. In the background on the right you can see John G. Myers department store, which was to play a major part in our lives, the story of which will be told in some future post, I’m sure.