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.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

More on the 1916 Trolley Strike That Brought Violence to Pelham

All was ready.  Screens had been installed around the motorman's vestibule in the trolley car to protect the operator from stones and broken glass.  A police officer was on board with the few passengers brave enough to chance a trip between Mount Vernon and New Rochelle through Pelham.  The trolley strike of 1916 was underway.  There had been threats of violence.  

The little car began its trip that day, Saturday, October 21, 1916, down Fifth Avenue in the Village of North Pelham and onto Wolfs Lane in the Village of Pelham Heights.  As the trolley car bounced along Wolfs Lane, a crowd of fifty to seventy-five strikers could be seen in the distance.  As soon as the crowd appeared, the police officer reportedly leaped off the trolley car and fled across vacant lots to safety.  It was an ominous forshadowing of the violence about to befall the trolley car and those within it.  What happened that day?

Though difficult to imagine today, for a brief time during the Great Street Car Strike of 1916, the little Town of Pelham was the center of a maelstrom of violent labor unrest.  Trolley line workers throughout the region were on strike when management decided to break the strike with loyal company employees and non-union employees. Yonkers, Mount Vernon, Pelham, and New Rochelle were at the center of this maelstrom of violence that resulted in injuries to trolley car riders in Pelham and even a pitched battle with police on the Pelham and New Rochelle border. 

I have written before about the Great Streetcar Strike of 1916 and the violence that occurred in Pelham.  See Mon., Oct. 19, 2015:  Rioting Strikers Attacked Pelham Trolley Passengers and Fought With Pelham Police in the Great Streetcar Strike of 1916See also Wed., Dec. 23, 2009:  Attack on the Toonerville Trolley Line by Strikers in 1916.

Today's posting to the Historic Pelham Blog tells a little about the effects of the Great Streetcar Strike of 1916 and the violence that resulted in the little Town of Pelham.  Presented below is the text of an extensive article that appeared in The Daily Argus of Mount Vernon, New York detailing violence that occurred in Pelham during the lengthy strike on Saturday, October 21, 1916.  It makes fascinating reading for students of Pelham history.

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.

*          *          *          *          *

Strikers From New Rochelle Descend There on Saturday -- Trolley Company Insists That the Police There Gave no Protection and Insinuates Cowardice -- It is Said One Jumped.
Cars Stone -- Chief Marks of Pelham Manor is Said to Have 4 or 5 Men -- No Arrests Made Despite the Violence -- Trolley Company Will Not Resume Traffic Until Assured of Adequate Police Protection.

Pelham Manor, Oct. 23. -- A mob of between 50 and 75 striking trolleymen from New Rochelle made good their threat to stop street car traffic between Mount Vernon and New Rochelle on Saturday afternoon at 4 o'clock.  While the police of Pelham Manor, headed by Chief Marks, who claimed the trouble was taking place in Pelham Heights and therefor he had no authority to interfere, witnessed their tactics, the crowd savagely attacked the cars and their crews, hurling stones through the windows.

The Pelham Manor police who up to that time had been riding on the cars got off and gave no protection, it is alleged.  Passengers on the cars were in a shower of splintered glass and it was reported that Roberta Manning and Mrs. E. Wright, both of 15 Glendale Place, Brooklyn, were cut, but the Westchester Electric Railroad denied this later.

The railroad company accuses the police of neglect of duty and insinuates cowardice.  One policeman is alleged by the company to have jumped off the car he was detailed to guard and to have left the scene via vacant lots when he saw the crowd of strikers approaching.  The company had not decided today, pending detailed reports and affidavits from the crews, as to what action would be adopted.

Not only were two Mount Vernon - New Rochelle cars stoned, but the Pelham Manor car was damaged.  All three cars were discontinued in service.  With the motormen behind the screened vestibules, the cars were finally run through the gauntlet of stones and sticks into Mount Vernon, a sanctuary.

Since then no cars have been run between Mount Vernon and New Rochelle, but the company announced today that it is ready to resume their operation as soon as adequate police protection is supplied.  The Pelham Manor line also has not been in service cince Saturday afternoon.

No arrests were made here, altho the trolley company officials claim that Chief Marks and four or five men, as well as Chief Holden of, of Pelham Heights with one other policeman, were witnesses of the happenings.

After leaving here the crowd of strikers returned to New Rochelle, where on Mayflower avenue the men at 5:15 o'clock bombarded a Webster avenue car, breaking six windows and denting the car.  The crowd evidently was after William Smith who had remained faithful to the company, but Smith came through unhurt.  Three New Rochelle policemen drew their guns and started after the crowd, but the strikers ran away.  As the police were pursuing them, they saw another crowd approaching the car from the opposite direction and had to give up the chase to protect the company's property.

In Saturday's demonstration by the strikers, the three cars were on Colonial avenue at the same time.  One car was bound from Mount Vernon to New Rochelle.  It had been escorted safely to the village line, where it ws boarded by a Pelham Manor policeman in accordance with the agreement made by Chief Marks to furnish protection from the city line of Mount Vernon to the city line of New Rochelle.  Colonial avenue is a continuation of Sixth street, Mount Vernon.

Coming in the opposite direction on a return trip from New Rochelle was another car, on which was also a Pelham Manor Policeman.  The Pelham Manor car which was being run thru Pelham Manor and Pelham Heights during the day had turned from Wolf's lane into Colonial avenue.  It also carried a Pelham Manor cop.  The crowd of strikers had come from 'church corner' in this village, seeking the trolley cars which the men had learned were being run thru here between the two cities.

The crew of the car from Mount Vernon, consisting of Motorman McGrath and Conductor Gavin, claimed
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(Continued from page one)

that when the policeman with them saw the crowd coming he alighted and left, across lots.  Motorman McGrath run [sic] the car through the crowd and continued on his way to New Rochelle with a number of broken windows as the result of the rocks thrown from the crowd.

The crowd gathered around the two other cars, threatening the crews.  One of the conductors was Martin Woodbee, a striker who had returned to work.  Motorman Clough, on the other New Rochelle, was also an ex-striker, and the crowd was 'after' them.

When the Pelham Manor police stood still and refused to lift a hand to check the disorder, Leonard Monroe, chief clerk of the trolley company, went in an automobile for Chief Holden, of Pelham Heights.  Holden is alleged to have asked:  'What can I do with only one policeman?' and it was with reluctance and only after he had been told that rioting was in progress in his own village that he finally went with Monroe.

Even with another police chief on the scene the disorder continued and finally Monroe ordered the crews to run their cars across the Mount Vernon line, and they obeyed.

Chief Marks said today that the trouble happened in Pelham Heights and he was without jurisdiction.  He said there were 75 strikers in the crowd, and that they had been driven out of New Rochelle.  He met them at the 'church corner,' near the village line, and ordered them to keep on moving, he said, and they finally went into Pelham Heights.

'That is a lie,' said Chief Marks, in referring to the report that one of his men had deserted a car.  'A window had been broken on Pelhamdale avenue, near Witherbee avenue, and he jumped off the car to see if he could find the person who threw the stone.  Then he went back on the car.  It was Officer Ring, and he did not run away.'

An effort was made to communicate with Chief Holden, but without success."

Source:  MOB STOPS THE TROLLEY CARS IN TOWN OF PELHAM, The Daily Argus [Mount Vernon, NY], Oct. 23, 1916, No. 8197, p. 1, col. 1 & p. 6, cols. 4-5.


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