In 1905 these trolleys began service between Warren, PA, and this South Main Street terminal in Jamestown, NY. Trolleys ran local service on this line as far as Frewsburg. After the economic crash in 1929 operations were discontinued.

Past Glories: Part II

The Trolley

by Juan Wilson 

The Fenton Historical Society in Jamestown has produced three excellent publications that document some of the past glory of the Chautauqua region. This article is the second of a three part series featuring these books which cover phenomena almost extinct today: Steamboats, Hotels and Trolleys.

American cities adopted the horse drawn trolley as a means of mass transit in the last quarter of the l9th century. By 1884 Jamestown had inaugurated horse cars between the Boat landing and Windsor Street at Second. The horse barn and terminal waiting room were near Main and Third Street in what became known as Sherman House. Equipment consisted of thirteen wooden cars and forty-two horses.

Soon after service began, A. N. Broadhead was elected to the Board of Directors of the Jamestown Street Railway. He later became its president and began his long history of influence on transportation in the region. But it was not until the development of the electric motor that the trolley car, as the vehicle of mass transportation, became an integral part of American life. New York State permitted the Jamestown Street Railway to go electric in 1890..

That year a powerhouse was built, and wires strung. The motorized trolley quickly replaced the horse drawn trolley with its speed, power and low maintenance. By the next year several new lines were added including a track along Lakeview out to the cemetery, a branch along Fairmount Avenue to Lakewood, and another branch along Second Street to Falconer. Fourteen new electric cars were in service. The cars were closed to the weather, with long benches and carpeting. All runs began and ended at Sherman House, on Third Street between Main and Cherry. Sherman House had a large waiting room and transfers to any location could be made there.

In mid-1893, A. N. Broadhead attended the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago. This enormous fair had influence on the style of urban planning in America for decades. Broadhead came away with an idea to build a recreational facility that would be the destination of people traveling on his trolleys. The Jamestown Street Railway built a line to the Village of Celeron and announced the purchase of land there to be transformed into a park. The Phoenix Ferris Wheel was purchased by the trolley company and operated by a street car conductor. Other amusements were provided as well, including a theater and a zoo.

A turn of the century view of a trolley at the end of the Celeron Park Pier at it meets a steamer boarding passengers for a trip to Mayville. many travelers mixed trolley and steamboat trips on their outings around Chautauqua Lake

Broadhead also bought a two decker trolley car that had been promoted by C. L. Pullman at the Chicago fair. Broadhead appropriately named it the Columbia. Seeing its recreational and promotional value, he put it on a loop between the plush hotels of Lakewood and Celeron Park and finally the Steamboat Landing in Jamestown.

The Columbia became the most famous and popular trolley car in the Chautauqua region. On the first deck one entered from the side in the center of the car with a closed compartment fore and aft. One was richly upholstered in green for the ladies, the other appointed as a men's smoker. Upstairs was an open seating area. It was said that the combination of an uneven roadbed and the well sprung construction of the Columbia contributed to an exciting "ocean-swell" ride on the upper deck. Celeron Park was very successful. The demand for additional lines continued. A branch was built up the steep hill of Forest Avenue to Newland. There was expansion in every direction through the turn of the century.

In 1903 the Broadhead family began securing franchises through villages and towns on the west side of Chautauqua Lake. A new railroad was formed, The Chautauqua Traction Company. The Broadhead plan was to build a line along the west side of the lake to Chautauqua Institute and beyond to Mayville.

Power houses were built in Mayville and Stow. At that time the west side of the lake was so remote that bricks for the Stow powerhouse were carried by ferry from Bemus Point. Soon afterward service connected Lakewood to Ashville and from Ashville north to Stow, Chautauqua and Mayville. Other recreational trolley parks were created. The most popular on the west side of the lake was Sylvan Park about a mile and a half north of Stow.

As early as 1887 steam locomotives of the Jamestown, Chautauqua and Lake Erie Railroad worked their way north and south, past Bemus Point, along the east side of the lake. By 1902 the line connected Jamestown to the Lakeshore & Michigan Southern R.R. in Westfield. The Jamestown, Chautauqua and Lake Erie Railroad (JC & LE RR) was commercially unsuccessful. Towards the end of 1913, the poorly run company was ripe for Broadhead to take over. Once in hand, it was renamed the Jamestown, Westfield & Northwestern Railroad (J.W. & N.W. RR or simply J.W.). It was quickly converted to electric. A power cable was strung over the lake from the Stow powerhouse to Bemus Point to feed the line. New steel inter-urban trolleys were purchased.

The view of a car entering Midway Trolley Park from the roller rink. The park was built and owned by the railroad. The run from Jamestown was about half an hour and several "picnic" cars would leave Jamestown on saturday mornings for a day at Midway.

The park at Midway was never much used, although it had been purchased as a picnic ground by the old J.C. & L.E. RR and it did have a steamship dock. The steam locomotive service was irregular and the steamboats took as much as two hours from

Jamestown. After 1913, once regular electric trolley service began, Midway expanded with a merry-go-round, a roller rink and other attractions. It became the most popular destination other than Celeron Park, and was a significant source of income for the railroad. In fact, it is one of the few activities started then which is still in operation.

Besides mail and passenger traffic, dependable freight was becoming an important service of the interurban railway system. The Erie Railroad, that ran through Jamestown, was no longer the only track into town. Competition came from rail connections in Westfield and Mayville that could reach every small village around the lake.

Car #81 was built in 1916 and added to the Jamestown Street Railway. It is seen here on West Third Street and Fairmount. In the 1920's and 30's trolleys would wait at Jones and Gifford for Art MEtal Plant emplyees needing a ride home.

The golden years for the trolleys were between World War I and the mid twenties. In 1914 ten new large double truck steel cars were added into service in Jamestown. They were bought used from the New York Interborough Railway in Yonkers. Two years later ten new cars arrived from the St. Louis Car Company. By 1918, the Jamestown Street Railroad had seven lines running over twenty trolleys on regular schedules. Special trains were used to handle extra loads at the factories and to Celeron Park.

The Broadhead family had bought the remaining active steamships and they controlled all the transportation on and around Chautauqua Lake. The commuter, freight and recreational use of this mass transit were coordinated well and were popular and profitable. Then came Henry Ford and the Model T.

In the early 1920's few city households had automobiles. But the roads were improving and automobile traffic was increasing. Jamestown Street Railway even purchased its first three buses in 1922. They bought truck chassis from the Pierce Arrow company and had the trolley car builder, Kuhlman Car Company of Cleveland, build the bodies.

By the late 20's more households had automobiles and on grade intersections of car and trolley traffic was becoming a bottleneck. It was also easier and cheaper to add gasoline driven bus service than tear up streets and lay track. With buses, routes could be changed or abandoned as traffic demanded.

The trolleys were becoming an unprofitable novelty. In March of 1926 the Chautauqua Traction Company abandoned the line from Ashville to Mayville. The Falconer line was cut from a ten minute to twelve minute schedule. Throughout the system there was retrenchment through rerouting and rescheduling.

By the mid 1930's, in the heart of the Depression, trolleys in cities the size of Jamestown were a dying business. The Jamestown Motorbus Company was a subsidiary of the Jamestown Street Railway, and was running more buses than there were trolleys on Jamestown streets.

In 1937 the Buffalo Transit Company bought the Jamestown Street Railway for its bus lines and immediately applied to the pubic service authority to abandon all the rail services. This was granted and buses were brought to Jamestown to replace trolley service. In the middle January in 1938 the trolleys in Jamestown headed to the carbarn for the last time.

A trolley approaches the luxurious Sterlingworth Inn at the foot of Chautauqua Avenue in Lakewood. After the Inn burned the tracks were taken up.


There was still the Jamestown, Westfield and Northwestern RR running up the east side of the lake. This was known as "America's Scenic Route". It ran from the Union Passenger Station in Jamestown to Westfield with six scheduled round trips a day. Mail and freight service also ran on the line.

The terminal and carbarn in Jamestown was moved to the Boat landing to reduce cost of downtown real estate. The Jamestown-Westfield service struggled through the 30's. Finally, in 1940, The Broadhead Holding Company sold the J.W. to a New York City group.

The Schenectady-Saratoga line stopped operations the day before Pearl Harbor, leaving the J.W. as the last interurban trolley system in New York State. The war and its demand for fuel rationing forced people back onto the trolleys.

Businessmen rode the trolley to Westfield to catch the Pullman connections east and west on the New York Central Railroad. New commuter runs were scheduled between Bemus Point and Jamestown. Ads in the local papers appeared for roller skating excursions to Midway and trolley trips to the Point Chautauqua Golf Course.

Trolley crews were accommodating in letting passengers off in front of their lake cottages instead of the designated stations when they were coming out from town. For a time, while the war raged in distant places, the trolleys again enjoyed popularity.

Trolleys on East Second Street of the falconer Line once ran every ten minutes.

Then the war ended and gasoline was cheap again. As a result of deferred maintenance and wear throughout the war, the trolleys and track were in bad condition. In 1947 scheduled passenger service was halted. Buses replaced them and two diesel locomotives pulled what freight traffic was left. The electric trolleys ran no more. With increasing derailments and equipment failure, the freight service was discontinued in 1950 and local rail operations came to an end here.

Interior of wooden trolley showing chanderier lighting and leather seats.

On the west side of Chautauqua Lake there are several stations still standing that belonged to the Chautauqua Traction Company. One is in Ashville, opposite the General Store. Incidentally, before the auto was mass produced, there was a plan to extend service from the Ashville station through Blockville and into Panama in order to alleviate the long coach ride from Ashville station for tourists bound for Panama Rocks. Another standing station is the impressive entrance building to Chautauqua Institute. Further north at Light House Point is a grocery store housed in what was a trolley station. Finally, in Mayville, with a beautiful vista of the lake, is the station that now serves as a Railroad Museum.

Recently non-profit organization Chautauqua Rails-To-Trails has been converting old railway right of ways to trails for new recreational purposes--hiking, biking, skiing, horseback riding and snowmobiling. For more information, check out their website:


Click here to read "Past Glories III: The Hotel

We congratulate the Fenton Museum for its superb publication "Chautauqua Lake Trolleys" which was the source for this article.. We urge those interested to visit the Fenton's gift shop and purchase a copy. You may reach them at:

 The Fenton Museum

Fenton Mansion

67 Washington Street

Jamestown, NY, 14701

(716) 664-6256

Hours: 10 am to 4 pm Monday through Saturday