Historic Pelham

Presenting the rich history of Pelham, NY in Westchester County: current historical research, descriptions of how to research Pelham history online and genealogy discussions of Pelham families.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Pelham Manor Residents Fight Construction of the Toonerville Trolley Line

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On July 31, 1937, the Village of Pelham Manor hosted a celebration attended by about 8,000 people for the last run of the "Toonerville Trolley" in Pelham Manor. Everyone in Pelham and tens of thousands of others across the nation and around the world loved the little trolley line that inspired Fontaine Talbot Fox to create a rickety and unpredictable trolley car known as the "Toonerville Trolley" in his comic strip entitled "Toonerville Folks". Everyone loved Pelham's Toonerville Trolley line.

It was not, however, always like that. Indeed, a number of Pelham residents fought bitterly to keep trolley tracks out of Pelham Manor. There were at least two lawsuits that resulted in reported decisions in which Pelham Manor residents sought to block construction of the Toonerville Trolley tracks through Pelham Manor along Pelhamdale Avenue. Today's blog posting will discuss these two decisions.

Anna M. Secor v. Board of Trustees of Village of Pelham Manor, et al., 6 A.D. 236, 39 N.Y.S. 993 (App. Div. 2d Dep't 1896). In 1895, the Westchester Electric Railway Company submitted an application to the Board of Trustees of the Village of Pelham Manor to permit it to lay trolley tracks through the village along Pelhamdale Avenue. On December 2, 1895, the Board took the matter under advisement but adopted a resolution setting January 4, 1896 as the date the application would be considered.

To comply with statutory notice requirements, the Board arranged for publication of notice of the hearing on the railroad company's application for four successive weeks in the weekly local newspaper Pelham Manor Tribune. Thereafter, the Board of Trustees approved the application of the Westchester Electric Railroad Company.

Anna M. Secor -- whose family owned a large tract of land in Pelham Manor -- commenced an action and obtained an injunction prohibiting the railroad company from "acting upon the consent granted by" the Board of Trustees and restraining the Board from further acting on the application of the railroad company "until they have published the notice as required by statute."

The suit seems to have been a delaying tactic. The statute at issue required that in the case of a village like Pelham Manor without a daily newspaper, public notice most be provided "for fourteen days" in "a newspaper published therein, if any there shall be, and if none, then daily in two daily newspapers if there be two, if not, one published in the city nearest such village or town."

The plaintiff's principal argument was laughable. Anna Secor, through her lawyers, argued that although the Pelham Manor Tribune was distributed in Pelham Manor, it was not published in Pelham Manor since it was printed in New Rochelle. The Court rejected the argument, holding that "We think that there has not been established any substantial departure from the requirements of the statute, and a case was not made warranting the interference of the court by injunction. The order should be reversed, and the injunction dissolved, with $10 costs and disbursements."

McLean v. Westchester Electric Ry. Co., et al., 25 Misc. 383, 55 N.Y.S. 556 (Sup. Ct. Kings Co. 1898). A more serious challenge to construction of the trolley line along Pelhamdale Avenue seems to have been mounted two years later by a Pelham Manor resident named Joseph F. McClean. He owned a piece of property along Pelhamdale Avenue. He sought an injunction from the court to stop Westchester Electric Railway Company from building the trolley line with its tracks and electrical lines above the street.

In this reported decision, the Court had to address two issues -- a technical one and a substantive one. The technical issue was whether McClean had "standing" to sue the Railway Company (i.e., did he have a legally recognized right to make a claim to enjoin construction of the trolley line). The Court concluded that although numerous court decisions supported the proposition that a nearby property owner's "right to protect public highways from invasion is very limited", an abutting property owner has standing before a court of equity "to compel the public officer to the performance of his duty" to protect against "invasions" of public highways.

The second issue was substantive -- whether McClean was entitled to the injunctive relief he sought. The Court concluded that he was. It wrote:

"The conclusion brings me to the consideration of the franchise and rights of the defendant corporation. Without discussing other points, it seems to me that there is one fatal defect in the defendant's franchise. The consent of the local authorities, the trustees of the village of Pelham Manor, it is conceded, is necessary. Conceding that the trustees elected for one year, without any new advertisement could amend the resolutions or proceedings passed or had in relation to defendant by the board of the previous year; conceding that not forfeiture, loss, or taint came by reason of any forfeiture, loss, or taint came by reason or any inaction or default on the part of the company, - the question stands as though it had asked and obtained the consent of the trustees in January, 1898. But the difficulty is that at that date the defendant, as I regard it, had no capacity to ask for or receive this franchise, - a franchise to construct and maintain a railroad on Pelhamdale avenue. That avenue was not described in the defendant's articles of association, and the defendant bases its right to ask for and to receive the consdent for this avenue upon proceedings under which such an extension is claimed were, I think, clearly invalid. They did not constitute an extension of either of the railroad or of the route or routes of the defendant. They only projected a railroad, not only independent of, but separate from, all the routes or roads to which the defendant then had any right or claim whatever. It may be that this point is technical, but does it not follow that, if that extension proceeding was good, the defendant, if it had received the other necessary consents, could have constructed and operated a railroad upon the so-called 'extension,' making no connection with its railroad built on the routes described in its articles of association, and so have secured the right to build and operate two independent railroads in two different political divisions, and that under articles of association and provisions of law which contemplated but a single connected road, carrying from end to end for a single fare? But it is said that the defendant has taken a second extension proceeding, by which it has closed the gap between its routes as described in its articles of association and in its first extension. But that came in February, 1898, and after the final action of the village trustees has been had. Holding that the action of the village trustees was invalid, because of the defect I have indicated in the first extension proceeding, I consider that, while the second extension proceeding might cure defects in the first, it could not relate back, operating as it were, nunc pro tunc, so as to make valid the resolutions of the village authorities which were before inoperative and ineffectual. Unless this defendant, proceeding under the railroad law, had located a route upon Pelhamdale avenue, either by its articles of association, or by formal and valid extension proceedings, it seems to me very clear that it no more had capacity to take and exercise the franchise here in question than would a manufacturing corporation or a private individual. So holding, I decide that the plaintiff is entitled to the relief by injunction, as prayed for in his complaint. Injunction granted."

Ultimately, of course, the trolley line was built ensuring that a few years later Fontaine Fox would experience his inspiration for the "Toonerville Trolley" and change Pelham's history forever.

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