Brooklyn Trolleys & Streetcars

General discussion about fallen trolley and interurban lines in North America, past and present.

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Brooklyn Trolleys & Streetcars

Postby pennsy » Tue May 16, 2006 5:28 pm

Hi All,

Brooklyn has had many, many trolley lines, all gone. Probably the busiest tracks were under the Elevated BMT on Broadway. This would be from the Queens border to Bridge Plaza. This is where the trolleys entered the tracks going over the Williamsburg Bridge.

As the tracks went west from Queens, many individual trolley lines, from both north and south, merged with the Broadway tracks and headed for the Williamsburg Bridge, and Manhattan. Originally, the individual lines would all go over the bridge, and go underground at Delancey Street, Manhattan, drop off their passengers, pick up returning passengers, and go back over the bridge and back to their original routes.

As time went by, this practice came to an end, and the individual trolley lines and routes would terminate at Bridge Plaza. Passengers would then walk to the shuttle which would take them across the bridge, as before.

Today, it is all bus routes. However, the elevated BMT lines survive.
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Postby pennsy » Fri May 19, 2006 3:21 pm

Hi All,

Probably one of the best rides on a trolley, streetcar, I ever had was on the old Church Avenue line. This line ran all metal PCC's. I used pick it up at the end of Church avenue, as it turned from Hegeman ave. and took it to Borough Park, 39th st. Quite a ride down Church Avenue. First time I took it, I noticed the motorman only used his hands for throwing switches. His feet operated the accelerator and the brakes. I remarked to him once, " where is the steering wheel ?' He got hysterical on that one, but explained it to me, all about what the tracks do.

When the trolley crossed Ocean Parkway, a main thoroughfare in Brooklyn, it would go underground, under Ocean Parkway. The cars had to go around and wait for the red light to change. When the Church avenue line closed and buses took over, they filled in that tunnel, underpass. What a loss that was. Another great trolley line lost to history.

Lots of great memories of trolley rides and the sights to be seen en route.
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Postby bellstbarn » Fri May 19, 2006 4:34 pm

Alan,
You raise a good question about the Williamsburgh Bridge trolley shuttle. I, for one, am not so certain that the bridge became shuttle-only. Perhaps faulty, my recollection from about 1947-8 is a mixture of some through routes and the shuttle. One memory is of luckily missing a Grand Street car one wet (wintry?) day as he began his run at the Plaza. Our motorman busily shoveled sand into his sand box. We caught up to our leader, who had slid into a lumber truck as he was going down grade to the English Kills bridge. We looked at the badly-damaged car, then walked back to other streetcar riding from Williamsburgh.
I presume that back issues of the New York Division E.R.A. bulletin give dates for each car line's service over the bridge.
The B39 bridge bus gives service 24 hours. Probably it derives its patronage from people who don't care to ride the J train or find the Allen Street destination more convenient than Essex Street. A few months ago, I noticed some sort of sign on Broadway, Brooklyn, near the handy McDonald's, to the effect that the bridge bus was extended to Marcy Avenue, but I could not determine the loading point.
Joe M.
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Postby pennsy » Fri May 19, 2006 7:14 pm

Hi Joe,

I am surprised that you forgot all about Orchard St. You could find and buy anything there on the pushcarts. My dad once bought a pair of reading glasses off the pushcarts by trying on one pair after another until he could read the fine print. I also remember the "salesmen" trying to pull you into their stores, etc. etc.

How about buying sour pickles out of the barrel ? Or better yet, how about all of those Delicatessens along Delancey st. and the side streets ?

On the bridge itself, just upstairs on the main deck, on weekends, you had people with their musical instruments playing, singing, dancing etc. etc. A real party atmosphere. Nice wooden benches all over just for the people to sit and relax and discuss politics.

I seem to remember only wooden trolleys and streetcars there. No PCC's. I would imagine that parts of the trolleys were steel. They were cold in the winter, and hot in the summer. But they got you where you wanted to go, reliably, and for a nickle.
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brooklyn trolleys and streetcars

Postby russp » Thu May 25, 2006 4:54 pm

According to the NY ERA Brooklyn streetcar route history project, the Williamsburg Bridge shuttle began service on October 11, 1904 and the last day of operation for this route was December 4, 1948, so it shared the Bridge with other car lines.
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Postby pennsy » Fri May 26, 2006 10:25 am

Hi,

I would imagine the sharing started when there were too many lines going over the bridge. The shuttle was an afterthought. I would imagine that today it is all buses and the tracks have been paved over. No more Belgian Blocks. What I used to love about going over the bridge with the trolley was that you could see right through the ROW and look down at the East River. Quite a sight and at night, really scary. I also remember at certain times of the evening, the trolley car would stop in the middle of the bridge, the door would open and some track workers would board the trolley. That had to be a rough job, and scary as well.

Great old memories.
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Postby pennsy » Sat Jun 03, 2006 1:18 pm

Hi All,

Probably one of my favorite rides on a trolley was on the old Church Avenue line. I would take it from Church Ave. at Hegeman Ave. all the way down Church Ave. to 39th St in Boro Park. All for one fare each way.

The cars were all metal PCC's and gave a great ride. The ROW was mostly Belgian Blocks surrounding the tracks, and asphalt up to the curbs. A really fast ROW. You would board and exit the PCC from the street level, climbing about three steps to the motorman's position.

Great sights along the route, including the intersection of Church Ave. and Flatbush Ave. This is where the action was. and on the southeast side of the street was Erasmus Hall High School. This is the High School of Barbra Streisand and Neil Diamond fame. On the North east side was Maxwells. This was the Coffee Clatch place to end all places. The Senior Citizens would come there in the AM, read the papers, have coffee and spend the day, or most of the day chatting with their contemporaries. And of course, that is why the place is no longer there. You could never get a free table there. A church on the south west corner was famous for being as old as Brooklyn and having some Brooklyn founders buried there. Across the street, on the North west side was a movie house, and the latest movies. Lots of traffic, lots of people, lots of mass transportation available.
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Postby RussNelson » Sat Jun 03, 2006 6:37 pm

I remember, as a child in the 1960s, travelling through Bay Ridge (on 5th Avenue??) and seeing the trolley tracks poking through the asphalt. In some places you could see switches.
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Postby pennsy » Sun Jun 04, 2006 8:51 am

Hi Russ,

Lots of places like that. I still believe that if there ever were a steel shortage, or a need for scrap steel, they would just have to dig up all those old tracks that were asphalted over and they would have all the old steel they could ever want. I will even venture a guess that if they ever had a need for Belgian Blocks, the same would apply.

Did you ever roller skate over those Belgian Blocks ??? Made your feet feel really weird.
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Re: Brooklyn Trolleys & Streetcars

Postby bellstbarn » Tue Jun 10, 2008 7:21 pm

Remember paired or hyphenated streetcar routes in Brooklyn? The June, 2008, issue of the New York Division Bulletin (E.R.A.) has arrived with an informative article by Bernard Linder, "Brooklyn City merged with BMT." After the B&QT took over in 1929, various efficiencies were instituted. Mr. Linder lists sixteen trolley routes that were combined during the 1930's, and I remember some of their names as if it was yesterday. Here's the list: Sumner-Sackett, Bushwick Avenue - Cypress Hills, Smith-Coney Island, McDonald-Vanderbilt, Utica-Reid, Grand Street - Junction Blvd, Myrtle-Court, and Hamilton - Bay Ridge Avenue. The ones in bold are those I recall. Smith-Coney Island and McDonald-Vanderbilt were my favorites because sleek PCC's moved smoothly along those routes. Prior to the fare increase of July, 1948, I recall the Board of Transportation still collected an extra nickel for using the combined routes through Bartel-Pritchard Square.
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Re: Brooklyn Trolleys & Streetcars

Postby pennsy » Tue Jun 10, 2008 11:54 pm

Yup, I would take the Utica-Reid trolley from Utica Ave. at St. Johns place to bridge plaza, Williamsburg bridge, connect with the bridge shuttle, and over the bridge I went. At Delancey St. Manhattan, I could get to Orchard st. and all those lovely sour pickel barrels. I had an Uncle that had a shop there that sold eggs, nothing else, lots of eggs, eggs, and more eggs.
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Re: Brooklyn Trolleys & Streetcars

Postby JimBoylan » Wed Jun 11, 2008 10:59 am

What's the difference between "Park Row" and "New York" as destinations for Brooklyn cars?
I have a 4-sided wooden destination sign block, apparently marked for the McDonald Ave. route. The 4 choices of destination are "Coney Island", "Gravesend", "Park Row", and "New York". "Park Row" must have been the end of the Brooklyn Bridge close to New York City's City Hall, but where was "New York"? Was it the Delancy St. end of the Williamsburg Bridge?
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Re: Brooklyn Trolleys & Streetcars

Postby bellstbarn » Wed Jun 11, 2008 8:02 pm

As an attempt to answer Jim about the "New York" destination:
I found a 1901 photo in Stan Fischler's "Confessions of a Trolley Dodger from Brooklyn," page 128. The photo shows streetcar 2700 of the Brooklyn Rapid Transit. Single walk-around pole, open platforms, two maximum-traction trucks. The side route sign in the clerestory says "Putnam Halsey." Suspended from the roof of the front right of the platform is a small board with the destination "New York." In all probability, it was a Putnam Avenue car going over the Brooklyn Bridge. This car was built three years after the creation of Greater New York, but maybe there was a changeover time from the destination "New York" to "Park Row." The car was certainly not going over the Williamsburg Bridge, which opened at the end of 1903. The sign in the photo is not a box. It merely hangs from the roof of the platform.
Best wishes in your sleuth work!
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Re: Brooklyn Trolleys & Streetcars

Postby fordhamroad » Fri Jun 13, 2008 4:53 pm

-I liked the PCC's a lot, took the Smith-9th whenever going downtown (Brooklyn) for shopping etc. There was a model RR store on the block behind A&S -- anyone recall its name? Also took the PCC's daily to High School, McDonald ave line to Bishop Loughlin. (Sorry no Barbra Streisand).
-also took the trolleys from Prospect Park down to Coney Island a lot, for the rides, or just to go swimming. Sometimes, for fun, we would jump on the back and ride the anticlimbers, just hang on. Of course the motorman would get annoyed, stop the car and come back to chase us away. We ran up the block. He couldn't leave the trolley. If he was very mean or particularly outspoken, we jerked his cord and sent the trolley up in the air. He had to stop to put it back on the overhead line, and then he was very outspoken. Dangerous sport, if auto traffic was heavy, but most drivers hung back if they saw us.
-the most exciting trolley moment was sneaking into the carbarns on 9th Ave after midnight. A couple of kids would avoid the watchman and browse around the empty cars, look at some of the old stuff in the corners. We were warned by the older kids to avoid the sand pit, you could get buried if it slipped. If they spotted us, we ran pretty fast, out into the city night. Never did any mischief or graffiti, those days. Just lookin.
-but, the best experience was getting one of the old red Fifth Ave. cars and riding it all the way downtown and across the Brooklyn Bridge, glimpses of the city, the river. Ultra neat. Or you could take the car the other way to the 69th st. ferry. Then cross to Staten Island. Then ferry back to Manhattan, walk up to Brooklyn Bridge, and so home again. Good city to be twelve in.


Roger
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ghost rails at Park Circle

Postby jaystreetcrr » Mon Nov 16, 2009 10:59 pm

Recently the city has been doing a lot of work around Park Circle at the southern end of Prospect Park, putting in traffic islands to make it safer for pedestrians, and in the process they uncovered a lot of old trolley rails. I was hoping to get a chunk of one but by the time I came back they were all cut away or covered over. However, at the southern end of the grassy island in the middle of the circle you can see stubs of the rails sticking out. The 68 Coney Ave. line went right through the circle in later years.
Another good place to see old rails is the junction of Church Ave. and McDonald Ave. While not much of the railheads are visible you can see the traces under the asphalt. Oh for a jackhammer......John Wright
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