I grew up in my grandparent’s home on Denman Road, and still live next door near where the early 20th century electric rail trolley system line ran between Rochester, Syracuse and Auburn. For me growing up, the trolley had stopped operating, but I have always loved taking long walks along the quiet path where the tracks had been removed. I’ve worked out many a problem walking along that former trolley line, enjoying the solitude, and wondering what it would have been like to ride the trolley. There was a bridge with a wooden floor on the road by our house that went over the trolley line. It made a rickedy sound telling you when a car was coming, sometimes only one a day back then.
There were three Stops in Montezuma where passengers could board or get off. The one most remembered today is Stop 69, also known as Willow Grove, where once mostly only camps were first located along the Seneca River, but today is a close-knit community of year-around homes north of the hamlet of Montezuma lining the riverside. Here Peter VanDitto of the well-known canal-side tavern, the Erie House in Port Byron, later owned a hotel, now the home of Pat and Joel Glimpse. The next Stop was a block over at #70 on Purser Road, and Stop #71 was across the road from my grandparent’s house. Our neighbors were Judith (fondly remembered as Jude) and Tom Purser, and their daughter, Lucille Purser Hitchcock, her son, Tom, and daughter Sarajane (Vitale).
Anita Messina from Port Byron Lock 52 Historical Society, and myself recently enjoyed time with Lucille who shared the history of the trolley as she remembers it so well. For Lucille though, the connection to the trolley started the day she was born on December 4, 1915. Nearly one-hundred years ago, Dr. Sweeting from Savannah rode the trolley to Montezuma getting off at Stop 71, to get to the Purser farm in time to help deliver Lucille. John Spellman, Savannah Historian, portrayed Dr. Sweeting, well known in the area for his patented Flag Salt Remedy potions, at one of our historical society programs with Lucille joining us that day.
When Lucille began school she didn’t have far to go on Denman Road at the Mintline, District #6, a one-room school house. Her teacher, Emma Olmstead, rode the trolley from Savannah to Stop #71, and they would then walk the rest of the distance together to the school house. By the time Lucille was ready for high school, the Port Byron School system had centralized. She traveled the trolley everyday to Port Byron getting off at the station in Port Byron, which is now the American Legion on Main Street.
But Lucille’s association with the trolley, didn’t stop there. She came almost full circle with the history of the trolley when in order to be closer to her family she moved to Port Byron in 2001. She purchased property on Rochester Street (Route 31), moving from her beautiful fruit farm in Clyde that she loved so well. It turns out the property her new home was located close by near where the trolley line entered the village of Port Byron. As she looks out the window onto her serene backyard watching the birds, she can still imagine her ride to school on the trolley. Furthermore, after the trolley system closed down, the property she bought became the site where the former trolley stop buildings were moved to and converted into cabins. Decorated with curtains, the cabins were rented to overnight travelers until well into the 1950’s.
For Lucille today she enjoys her family close by, the orphan, named Kitty she gave a loving home to, her beautiful flowers along side her house, and the fond memories of her childhood home on her parent’s farm.
There are so many questions I wished I had asked my parents about the trolley, but thankfully today we have Lucille’s memories to pass on to our families who still live close by, and to anyone who wonders what it was like back then when you took a leisurely ride through the countryside traveling from one town to the next held on the tracks motorized by a electric line.