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.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Another Confirmation the Famous "Toonerville Trolley" was Inspired by the Pelham Manor Trolley in 1909

Trolley tracks once criss-crossed lower Westchester County carrying clattering streetcars and their passengers throughout the region. By 1899, travelers could journey between the Battery and any of New Rochelle, Pelham, Mount Vernon or Yonkers for a single fare of eight cents. 

Early last century, one of those trolley lines in Pelham inspired the creative genius of a man named Fontaine Talbot Fox (1884-1964). He created one of the most popular comics in the United States – “Toonerville Folks”. The syndicated comic strip ran in newspapers for nearly fifty years and became one of the most popular comics of all time, inspiring movies, books, games, toys, and much more.

The cartoon centered around the quirky inhabitants of a town called “Toonerville” and its rickety and unpredictable trolley. The operator of the trolley was “The Skipper.” Fontaine Fox, as he stated a number of times in published interviews, based the comic on his experience during a trolley ride on a visit to Pelham on August 8, 1909. “Toonerville Folks” ran in hundreds of newspapers from about 1913 to 1955 and brought national attention to Pelham. 

I have written before of the now well-established fact that nationally-renowned cartoonist Fontaine Fox's comic strip, "Toonerville Folks," and its trolley known as the "Toonerville Trolley" were inspired by a ride Fox took on the Pelham Manor trolley from the Pelham train station to the home of cartoonist Charles Voight in Pelham Manor in 1909.  See:

Wed., Nov.15, 2006:  Another Letter by Fontaine Fox Describing How the Pelham Manor Trolley Inspired Him to Create the Toonerville Trolley.

Wed., Mar. 25, 2009:   Another Brief Account by Fontaine Fox Describing Trolley in Pelham Manor as Inspiration for Toonerville Trolley Comic Strip.

Example of "Toonerville Folks" Comic 
Featuring the Toonerville Trolley.
Source:  The Pelham Sun, Vol. 22, No. 39, 
Dec. 18, 1931, Section 2, p. 1, col. 2.

Today's Historic Pelham Blog Posting transcribes a newspaper article about the Pelham Manor Trolley line that quotes yet another letter written by Fontaine Fox and sent to The Pelham Sun in which he reaffirms that his August 8, 1909 ride on the Pelham Manor Trolley inspired him to create his famous comic strip later the same evening.  After the transcription of the article, I have provided links to countless earlier postings I have made about the Toonerville Trolley, the Pelham Manor Trolley line, other trolley lines in Pelham, and a horse car railroad line that once operated in Pelham.

"Has 'The Toonerville Trolley' Lived Up To The Reputation Established For It By Cartoonist?
Record of Escapades Proves That Fontaine Fox Knew What He Was Drawing When He Started Famous 'Toonerville Trolley' Series; In Thirty Years Service Old Trolley Car Has Provided Much Humor for Residents of Village.
By Ed Browne

'Ay tear her frayed old trolley wire down,' but what would Pelham Manor have done twenty-five years ago without its 'Toonerville Trolley?'  Today the old Pelham Manor car is little more than a bad weather accommodation, but the old timers will tell you that the line old timers will tell you that the line was indispensable.  Perhaps the villagers have not been able to depend upon the old car for several years; perhaps the Westchester Electric Railway Company is running the line at great expense, but to those in Pelham Manor who recall the days in which the 'Toonerville Trolley' provided the only swift (don't laugh) means of getting from Pelham Manor over to Pelham station, the Pelham Manor car means quite a lot.  

In the days when 'Maxie' Martin was the 'Skipper'; days when the old car could be used to assist in dragging mired cars and stalled 'motor buggies'; days when society gathered at the athletic events held at Travers Island, when the clubhouse was new; days when Wolf's Lane was flooded under two feet of water; days when the electric plough [sic] of the trolley company was the only means by which a thoroughfare could be cleared of snow; days when the Branch line of the New Haven provided twenty-minute service and was a favorite commuters' line; days when Wolf's Lane was a dirt road and Pelhamdale avenue had its first macadam pavement; days when the street car was the only sure means of getting to the depot in time for your train; those were the days when the 'Toonerville Trolley' was in its prime, and they did not talk about putting a motor bus on in its place.

Much was heard about the old Pelham Manor trolley at the public hearing held in Pelham Manor on Monday night.  The fate of the car which was made famous by Fontaine Fox attracted nationwide attention and New York newspapers and press syndicate men were in attendance to learn what Pelham Manor would decide about the car which inspired one of the most popular comic cartoons that the modern newspaper has known.

It was unfortunate that Fontaine Fox himself could not attend.  The Pelham Sun endeavored to have the cartoonist present at the hearing, but he had recently departed for Florida.

The Pelham Manor car which operated between Travers Island on the Long Island Sound and Pelham station, where it makes good its boast of meeting as many trains as possible, has been in operation since 1900, according to the best information.  It was quite a necessary feature of village life according to the story of the old timers, but even in its early days it was source of much humor.

The Pelham Manor village fathers demanded that the traction company run a line from the Sound side of Pelham Manor to the New Haven station in Pelham before they would grant a franchise for the operation of the main line between Mount Vernon and New Rochelle.  The franchise of the latter line provides that service must be maintained on the Pelham Manor line, 'even although it be a loss to the company.'

In 1909 there was living in Pelham Manor an artist who had gained quite a reputation as a cartoonist.  He was Charles Voight, known as the originator of the amusing 'Petey' cartoons.  One bright Sunday afternoon Voight invited out to Pelham Manor a young cartoonist by the name of Fox.  A small town boy, Fox made most of amusing situations which he remembered from his boyhood in the South.  Among his early drawings there had been some which poked good natured fun at small town trolley systems, but when young Fox came to Pelham and rode in the Pelham Manor car, he realized that he had found a 'natural.'  Here was the very idea in real life.

He found at the helm of the one-man car one whom we all knew as 'Maxie' Martin, who was the soul of courtesy.  'Maxie' wouldn't move his car until all of his passengers were made comfortable.  He even stopped at an apple orchard on Wolf's lane and picked some apples for his passengers.  You would have imagined that 'Maxie' had the Twentieth Century Limited in charge had you ridden with him.

When the car reached the street on which Voight lived, 'Maxie' got out and accompanied Mr. and Mrs. Fox up the hill and pointed out the Voight residence.  The result was that immediately on returning to New York City that night, Fontaine Fox drew the first 'Toonerville Trolley' cartoon, and the nation has been laughing at it ever since.

The above story was recently told us by Mr. Fox himself, and The Pelham Sun has a letter from the cartoonist certifying the authenticity of the Pelham Manor car as the original 'Toonerville Trolley.'

'Maxie,' was the skipper of the car for more than twenty years.  He could be depended upon at any and all hours of the day.  Many's the time that Pelham Manor housewives availed themselves of Maxie's services when they were too busy to go over to North Pelham to John Smith's store.  Maxie would never bring back sugar when it was salt that was needed.  

Rumor has it that although Maxie attempted to adhere to his regular schedule, he could not bear to see any villager inconvenienced, so many times the schedule was disrupted to accommodate a villager who had to go in the direction opposite in which the car was going.

Maxie was retired in 1924 and his place was taken by Emil Matter, who is known to the villagers as 'Louie,' although few can tell why.  'Louie' has a companion, Edward Glaser, who operates on the morning run.  'Louie' and 'Eddie' have proven worthy successors to the original skipper.

It is useless to endeavor to recount the incidents in which the 'Toonerville Trolley' has proven its sense of humor.  Residents of the Pelhams are well aware of the fact that the car is an inexhaustible source of fun.  There are few weeks in which something does not happen which is just as amusing as the picture which Fontaine Fox is drawing.

In recent years there have been many reports as to the discovery of the 'original Toonerville Trolley' in various sections of the country.  The Pelham Sun recently called the attention of Mr. Fox to a report that the original line was found in South Orange, N.J.  We received in reply an amusing letter from the cartoonist informing us that the Pelham Manor car was truly the 'Toonerville Trolley.'  His statement as follows set at rest all other claims:

'The trolley in Pelham was my direct inspiration to start an imaginary trolley line of my own.  Years before I had poked some fun at a real trolley line in my home town of Louisville, Ky.  Here and there I ran across a funny trolley line in various parts of the country something or other in connection with my first ride on your Pelham line gave me the urge to start the 'Toonerville Trolley' at once.  In fact the first 'Toonerville Trolley' cartoon drawn was made late that night after returning from my visit to Charlie Voight.'

Maybe the 'Toonerville Trolley' has outlived its usefulness, but it will always be cherished by those who knew it and its little idiosyncrasies and pay it tribute as one of the outstanding institutions of Pelham Manor, which contributes its part to the homeliness of the delightful residential community.

The 'Toonerville Trolley' will always occupy a corner in the hearts of those who cherish the memory of days when 'Mack' was traffic officer at the Red Church corner; Edward Penfield took the time away from making famous paintings to act as street commissioner of Pelham Manor; days when Jim Reilly's blacksmith shop was the meeting place of the Grand Jury members; days when it was a social asset to belong to the volunteer fire department; days when . . . Oh, well, they were the days.

'The Toonerville Trolley' fails to meet all the trains,' you say.  Don't bring that up, we were being sentimental, not practical."

Source:  Has 'The Toonerville Trolley' Lived Up To The Reputation Established For It By Cartoonist?, The Pelham Sun, Vol. 22, No. 39, Dec. 18, 1931, Section 2, p. 1, col. 2.

Trolley car that ran from Pelham Station along Wolf's Lane with a short stint on Colonial Avenue then along the length of Pelhamdale to Shore Road where it turned around and repeated the trip.  The two trolley operators standing in front of the car were Skippers Dan and Louie. 

"Toonerville Folks" United States Postage Stamp Issued on October 1, 1995.

*     *     *     *     *

As promised above, below is a bibliography including links to a few of my many previous postings that touch on the topics of horse-drawn railroad cars, electric trolleys and Fontaine Fox's "Toonerville Trolley" comic strip inspired by the Pelham Manor trolley.

Bell, Blake A., Pelham and the Toonerville Trolley, 82(4) The Westchester Historian, pp. 96-111 (Fall 2006).

Bell, Blake A., Pelham and the Toonerville Trolley, The Pelham Weekly, Vol. XIII, No. 11, Mar. 12, 2004, p. 10, col. 1.

Tue., Apr. 19, 2005:   Pelham Manor Residents Fight Construction of the Toonerville Trolley Line

Fri., Jun. 17, 2005:  "Skipper Louie" of Pelham Manor's Toonerville Trolley

Tue., Sep. 20, 2005:  Pelham's "Toonerville Trolley" Goes to War

Tue., Oct. 11, 2005:  The Toonerville Trolley Pays Its Bills -- Late!

Thu., Mar. 09, 2006:  Photographs of the H Line and A Line Trolleys on and Near Pelhamdale Avenue.

Thu., Jul. 06, 2006:  Who Was the Skipper on the Pelham Manor Trolley the Day Fontaine Fox Rode the Line and Was Inspired?

Wed., Aug. 9, 2006:  The Saddest Day in the History of Pelham Manor's "Toonerville Trolley"

Tue., Sep. 19, 2006:  Toonerville Trolley Cartoons Available For Free Viewing Online.  

Mon., Mar. 05, 2007:  An Ode to the Toonerville Trolley and its Skipper Published in 1921.

Mon., May 28, 2007:  Brief Biography of Henry De Witt Carey, 19th Century Pelham Justice of the Peace.

Thu., Jul. 30, 2009:  Pelham-Related Trolley Franchises Granted in 1897.

Mon., Aug. 17, 2009:  Efforts by Pelham Landowners in 1900 to Halt Construction of a Trolley Line on Shore Road.

Thu., Aug. 27, 2009:  October 19, 1898 Report that the Tracks of the Toonerville Trolley Line Had Been Laid in Pelham.  

Wed., Dec. 23, 2009:  Attack on the Toonerville Trolley Line by Strikers in 1916

Wed., Dec. 30, 2009:  Opening of the Extension of the Pelham Manor Trolley Line in 1910 -- The Toonerville Trolley Line.

Tue., Jan. 05, 2010:  More on the Extension of the Pelham Manor Trolley Line in 1910 -- The Toonerville Trolley Line.

Wed., Mar. 05, 2014:  Trolleys Come to Pelham in the 1890s.

Below are materials I have posted in the past relating to the development and operation of horse-drawn rail cars in Pelham.  

Tue., Sep. 1, 2009:  Pelham News on February 29, 1884 Including Talk of Constructing a New Horse Railroad from Bartow to City Island.

Tue., Dec. 01, 2009:  Brief History of City Island Published in 1901.

Wed., Dec. 2, 2009:  Accident on Horse-Car of the Pelham Park Railroad Line in 1889

Thu., Dec. 31, 2009:  1887 Election of the Board of Directors of The City Island and Pelham Park Horse Railroad Company.

Mon., Jan. 4, 2010:  1888 Local News Account Describes Altercation on the Horse Railroad Running from Bartow Station to City Island.

Fri., Jan. 22, 2010:  1884 Account of Early Origins of Horse Railroad Between Bartow Station and City Island.

Tue., Jan. 26, 2010:  1887 Election of the Board of Directors of The City Island and Pelham Park Horse Railroad Company.

Tue., Feb. 2, 2010:  Information About the Pelham Park Railroad at its Outset.

Wed., Feb. 3, 2010:  Early Information Published in 1885 About the Organization of the "City Island Railroad", a Horse Railroad from Bartow Station to City Island

Wed., Feb. 24, 2010:  Attempted Suicide of City Island's Long-Time Horse Car Driver.

Thu., Feb. 25, 2010:  Photograph of Patrick Byrnes and Article About His Retirement of the City Island Horse Car in 1914.

Fri., Feb. 26, 2010:  1913 Decision of Public Service Commission to Allow Reorganization of City Island Horse Railroad for Electrification.

Mon., Mar. 1, 2010:  Flynn Syndicate Buys the City Island Horse Car Line in 1907 to Incorporate It Into Electric Trolley Line.

Tue., Mar. 2, 2010:  1901 Report Indicated that The Flynn Syndicate Planned to Buy the Pelham Bay Park & City Island Horse Car Line.

Wed., Mar. 3, 2010:  1879 Advertisement for Robert J. Vickery's City Island Stage Line, A Predecessor to the City Island Horse Railroad.

Thu., Mar. 4, 2010:  Beginnings of Horse Railroad - News from Pelham and City Island Published in 1884.

Fri., Mar. 5, 2010:  Construction of the City Island Horse Railroad in 1887.

Wed., Mar. 10, 2010:  1899 Article About City Island's New Bridge Describes History of Area and Includes Wonderful Images.

Fri., Apr. 02, 2010:  More on the So-Called "Horse Railroad" that Once Ran from Bartow Station to City Island.

Mon., Apr. 26, 2010:  Public Service Commission Couldn't Find Marshall's Corners in 1909.

Tue., Apr. 27, 2010:  New York City's Interborough Rapid Transit Company Sued to Foreclose a Mortgage on the Horse Railroad in 1911.

Wed., Apr. 28, 2010:  Efforts by the Pelham Park Horse Railroad to Expand and Develop a Trolley Car Line on Shore Road in 1897.  

Thu., Apr. 29, 2010:  City Islanders Complain and Force the Operators of Their Horse Railroad to Agree to Replace Antiquated Cars in 1908.

Fri., Apr. 30, 2010:  "Truly, An Illuminating Little Passage in the History of New-York!" - Efforts to Develop Shore Road Trolley Line in 1897.

Mon., May 3, 2010:  Efforts To Reorganize the Operators of the City Island Horse Railroad and Monorail in 1914.

Tue., May 4, 2010:  Questions Regarding the Trolley Franchise from Bartow Station to the Tip of City Island Arose in 1915.

Thu., May 13, 2010:  More on the Early History of the Pelham and City Island Railroad.

Mon., Jul. 18, 2011:  City Island Horse Railroad Temporarily Shut Down in 1892 Over Cruelty Concerns

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