A Capsule History of the Development

of the Trolley System in Albany

Albany's trolleys became significant after the Civil War. Before 1862, Albany's citizens most often lived within a mile of the business districts and therefore walked to work. On April 15, 1862, the Watervliet Turnpike and Railroad Company was authorized, by Albany's Common Council to lay track for a horse-drawn trolley along the Watervliet Turnpike and Broadway in Albany. This route ran from South Ferry Street in Albany through the community of West Troy (now Watervliet), with a branch track on North Ferry Street to serve Albany's lumber district.1 All the roads officially designated as turnpikes had rail lines built on them between 1862 and 1901,2 which would alter the shape and size of Albany forever. In 1862, the fare was set for 5 cents in the city and 10 cents for out of town.3 It is interesting to note that there were stipulations in 1862 that the horse-drawn trolley could not exceed 6 m.p.h. and that the horse must be walked around curved track.4

The Albany Railway Company continued broadening the trolley network to all parts of Albany. In 1864, the Common Council gave permission to lay track on Clinton Avenue from Broadway west through the city and the first expansion of track was laid. The next was Clinton Avenue to Lexington Avenue (then Snipe Street).5 In 1874, the Pine Hills line was developed. It ran from the west side of South Pearl Street at the corner of Beaver Street, through Beaver Street to Grand Street, to Hudson Avenue, to Philip Street, to Hamilton Street and through Hamilton Street to Lark Street. This route was to continue through Lark Street to Madison Avenue, up Madison Avenue to New Scotland Avenue. It was completed in 1876.6 Much of that complex network has now vanished due to the construction of the Empire State Plaza, while some is merely covered by pavement. By 1876, the Albany Railway Company had laid track for the horse-drawn trolley as far as the hamlet of Kenwood in the town of Bethlehem, and Albany continued its stretch. In 1885, the Albany Railway Company was given permission to lay track on Lark Street between Madison and Washington Avenues.7

On June 17, 1889, both the Albany Railway Company and the Watervliet Turnpike and Railway Company were granted permission by Albany's Common Council to erect poles for electric wires.8 In 1890, the protocol of calling of stops had begun, instead of stopping at every corner which had previously been done with the horse drawn trolley.9 At that point in history, electricity was a new, cheaper source of power for things, including the street lamps which were formerly powered by gas or oil. In 1892, the Albany Railway Company laid a double track extension from North Pearl Street along Clinton Avenue to Broadway, all to connect with tracks from the Watervliet Turnpike and Railroad Company. This short line of track was most important as a turnaround point for many lines. Until recently, the buses used that short turn around point as well.10 It was also included on the State Street route.

On November 29, 1899, the Albany Railway, the Troy City Railway, and the Watervliet Turnpike and Railway Company merged to form the United Traction Company for one thousand years. It was to be headquartered in Albany.11

In 1901, the Schenectady Railway began to enter Albany.12 That year also saw a violent trolley strike that became extremely bloody.13 Late in 1905, the United Traction Company and a major part of the Schenectady Railway were bought by the Delaware and Hudson Railway.14 In 1906, the final line of track was laid. The last major expansion of United Traction's Albany Division was the Pine Hills Line from Allen Street to Madison Avenue to Western Avenue and Manning Boulevard. As the tracks had stretched in and around the center of Albany, so had the neighborhoods. People no longer needed to live so close to their workplaces.

1915 saw the final extension of the trolley track laid and the gradual introduction of the suburban motor bus.15 On May 4, 1925, the Capital District Transportation Company formed to operate local buses16 with fares and transfers that were to be the same as the trolley's. It began with three buses. From the mid-1920's to the mid-1930's, more and more trolleys disappeared, replaced by more and more buses. Shortly before World War II, the Common Council of the City of Albany received letters favoring discontinuance of trolleys and their total replacement by buses. But due to the war effort, gasoline was in short supply so a full compliment of buses could not be employed until after the war.17 Following World War II, gasoline was plentiful and on May 6, 1946 the Common Council of the City of Albany granted permission to substitute buses on the five remaining electric trolley car routes: #2 West Albany, #3 "A" Belt, #4 Pine Hills, #5 Delaware Ave and #6 Second Avenue.18 In 1890, 200 trolley horses (street car horses) had been auctioned off to be replaced by trolley cars. These electric trolley cars were sold for scrap metal in 1946.

Mass transportation in and around the city has gone from horse trolley, to electric trolley, to buses and cars. With all the progress made in Albany's mass transportation, the original turnpike and trolley routes have changed very little in the past century.

With the advent of buses and the retirement of the trolley system in Albany, an exciting era of transportation came to an end.


1 David Katz and Tony Opalka, A History of Local Rail Transit in the City of Albany (1862-1946) and Certain City Neighborhoods (Albany: 1977), p.3.