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.

Monday, November 28, 2016

When Did the Last Trolley Car Make its Final Trip in Pelham?

A quirky "funeral" cortege passed through Pelham on that day long ago.  Bedecked with crepe, the somber procession traveled slowly from the New Rochelle border on Boston Post Road until it reached Pelhamdale Avenue where it turned there toward Colonial Avenue.  

Sadly, few cared.  

Among the few who cared was a handful who understood the significance of the procession.  Others, however, were along for the ride.  They didn't care.  They just wanted to ride the trolley car rather than walk to their destinations. . . . . 

The "cortege" that day was the last trolley car ever to make a trip on Pelham streets.  The date was December 16, 1950.  Thankfully, the press of those days recorded the event for prosperity -- even if only briefly.

Did our forebears truly understand the significance of that day?  Of course.  A photograph confirms that on the final ride of the trolley through Pelham streets, an important sign hung on the car's side.  It read:  "A STREET CAR NAMED EXPIRE."  

A Streetcar Named Desire, of course, was a play written by Tennessee Williams.  Tennessee Williams was one of a handful of the foremost American playwrights of the 20th century.  His play, A Streetcar Named Desire, opened on Broadway on December 3, 1947.  It closed more than two years later.  The work received the Pulitizer Prize for Drama in 1948.  For the next few years, it was an important part of American lore, Broadway legend, and artful drama.  

Everyone that day knew of "A Streetcar Named Desire."  That, of course, is why someone -- no one knows to this day who -- hand-lettered a sign to hang on the side of the A-Line trolley on its last ride through Pelham.  The sign read:  "A STREET CAR NAMED EXPIRE."

The author of the sign showed wit.  Apparently, operators of trolley lines throughout the United States agreed.  

For years thereafter, as trolley cars ended their runs across the United States., the last cars to run often carried a familiar sign that read "A STREET CAR NAMED EXPIRE."  Among many examples was the supposed last trolley car in Los Angeles that ran in December, 1952.  It carried a sign reading "The Street Car Named Expire."  So did the last trolley car that ran in Indianapolis about a month later in early January, 1953.   

Once again, Pelham found itself among the nation's leaders. . . . . .

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Below is the text of a number of brief items relevant to today's posting.  Each is followed by a citation and link to its source.

"Last Trolley Ends It All

New Rochelle, Dec. 16 (U.P.) -- This suburban town's last trolley car made its final run today.  It carried a sign that read:  'The Streetcar Named Expire.'"

Source:  Last Trolley Ends It All, Brooklyn Eagle, Dec. 17, 1950, 110th Year, No. 346, p. 3, col. 5.  

Photograph of the Last Trolley To Pass Through Pelham
from New Rochelle to Mount Vernon Proceeding West from
New Rochelle, Through Pelham, to Mount Vernon.  In Pelham
the Trolley Passed Along Boston Post Road to Pelhamdale
Avenue and Then Onto Colonial Avenue to Wolfs Lane and
to Mount Vernon.  Caption for the Photograph Appears 
Immediately Below, Followed by a Citation and Link to
its Source:  NOTE:  Click on Image to Enlarge.

"LAST LONG MILE looms for carbarn-bound 'A' trolley as it starts final leg of run to oblivion, appropriately decked in crepe and prophetic sign, 'A Street Car Named Expire.'  There were few mourners at obsequies here Saturday morning, the principal ceremonies having taken place in New Rochelle. -- Staff Photo."

Source:  LAST LONG MILE, The Daily Argus [Mount Vernon, NY], Dec. 18, 1950, p. 23, cols. 3-5.  

"So from 1930 to 1950 automobile and bus commuters entering New York from Westchester and Fairfield, counties traversed by Route 1, rose by roughly 167 percent, while railroad commuters rose less than 4 percent.  By the end of 1950 a trolley emblazoned as The Streetcar Named Expire made its final run on the Boston Post Road, west from New Rochelle to Pelham, to be replaced thereafter by buses." 

Source:  Jaffe, Eric, The King's Best Highway - The Lost History of The Boston Post Road, The Route That Made America, p. 221 (NY, NY: Scribner, 2010).

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