May 1, 1888 – The First Electric Trolley in New England
On April 30, at 11 o’clock, until one o’clock in the morning of May 1, 1888, the inhabitants of Birmingham and Ansonia were in high feather in consequence of the completion of the electric railroad which has been for the last year or two Derby’s chief lion and the institution the praises of which have sounded throughout the country1.
Last night the prominent citizens and members of the press were given to understand by the superintendent and other officers of the new corporation, the Derby and Ansonia railroad2, that a trial trip would be had and it was hoped that everything would go off in good style. And it did as the readers of the Sentinel will see. It was an unusual circumstance to start the electric road in this age of steam. But the surprised inhabitants of Derby made up their minds that they should give electricity a chance.
About thirty of the citizens of Derby and Ansonia were ready to start the trail trip.
It was a handsome, cream colored four wheeled car, 16 feet in length and handsomely upholstered. The car was lighted by four incandescent lights in the interior and one on the rear end.
The car was under the control of Elmer Morris of Chicago, who has been intimately connected with the construction of the road. Only a little over one-third of the power was put into use and the start was made in very fine style. Trough Derby Avenue a speed of twelve miles and hour was obtained and the trip, all of three and three-fourths miles, was done in about 20 minutes.
Everybody that was awake and present at that time voted the trip an unqualified success. They boys were very proud of the new road and fired firecrackers to show their good will toward the new enterprise.
Those on Trip
Among those who were on the trip were: J. M. Emerson, editor of the Sentinel; Morgan J. Flaherty, also of the Sentinel, and C. L. Case of the New Haven Palladium; Morris Drew, W. B. Blackman, W. W. Blakeman, George B. Clark, B. W. Porter and W. A. Moore of Freeport, Ill; J. G. Redshaw, Samuel Redshaw, Chief of Police Ellis, H. Holton Wood, John P. Wallace, George O. Schneller, James B. Kennedy, superintendent; George Kennedy, foreman; Joel Wheeler, warden and Burgesses Drew and Redshaw, F. M. Drew, treasurer.
The charter of the road was granted three years ago and the cost is about $75,000. There are four motors on the road, three for passenger service and one large and heavy one for freight3.
It was a grand surprise to all.
Especially to residents of Derby Avenue.
The trip was commenced April 30th and ended May 1.
The crowd in waiting at the terminus in Derby was small but select.
Those two cannon crackers awoke the west side residents, who wondered what all the fuss was about.
The happiest man around town today is Supt. Kennedy. The trip showed that he did faithful work upon the road bed last summer.
The First Electric Car
The first operation of the Electric Street railroad Monday night was a most satisfactory effort. Not only was the application of the power to the movement of the car safely and successfully made, but a rate of speed was developed that indicated that when the machinery is “unlimbered” there will not be the least difficulty in running the cars with a rapidity that will equal the highest expectation. Furthermore the car was passed over with an unexpected smoothness over the rail, bowling along with much friction, it is true, but with little of the jerking, jarring sensation that is attendant upon the first operation of new roads. This part of the trial was a lofty attestation to the thoroughness and permanency with which construction was carried forward last summer and shows that the freezing and thawing of the winter has disturbed the roadbed but little.
This first trial will dispel all doubts as to the practicability of the operation of a street railroad in our midst by electricity. Very soon, also, will it be demonstrated that freight can be moved with equal facility. It is already proven that the grades on the road are easily surmountable, even with the smaller dynamos working under unfavorable conditions in a heavily loaded car. From this success greater possible results can readily be reasoned, and we may now look forward with confidence to the successful use of a new and powerful factor in local development.
The electrical road is purely a local enterprise. It was built with local capital and its owners and managers are residents with us.
1) It was claimed for many years that the Derby-Ansonia system was the first in New England, and only the second in the country, behind Scranton, PA. The first part appears to be true, but it appears there were a few other systems, such as Richmond, VA, that predated Derby-Ansonia.
2) The name of the line was called the Derby Street Railway and Lighting Company, though the sides of the cars were painted “Derby & Ansonia”, or “Ansonia, Birmingham, & Ansonia”.
3) The electric locomotive was the most unique feature of the new trolley line, and is considered the first electric locomotive in US history, and possibly the world. The locomotive is still kept in running condition by the Shoreline Trolley Museum.
Note: This original article was reprinted in the Evening Sentinel on the forty fifth anniversary of the first run, on May 1, 1933, page 6. At the time James D. Kennedy of Derby, his brother George Kennedy of Scranton, PA, and Frederick Drew of Ansonia were still alive.