Albany’s Horse-Drawn Trolleys

1893’s Street Railway Journal said that Albany was “one of the first cities in the United States to rise to the dignity of passenger transport by means of a street car system.” But street car didn’t yet mean electric trolleys; the earliest trolleys in Albany were actually horse-drawn, run by two different companies.

The first company was the Watervliet Turnpike and Railroad Company, formed April 15, 1862 as a successor to the Watervliet Turnpike Company (formed in 1828). The original Watervliet turnpike ran from the Albany city line to Buffalo Street (now 15th Street), at the edge of the now forgotten Gibbonsville. The line was operated from 1854 with horse-drawn omnibuses, under the auspices of the turnpike company; the Turnpike and Railroad Company was the first to lay down track. It built a line from South Ferry Street up Broadway to the Lumber District and ran its first car on June 22, 1863 (according to Howell’s “Bi-Centennial History of Albany”). It extended its line from Broadway up to Albany Rural Cemetery. By 1886 it had 7.5 miles of double track from South Ferry to Green Island, and a mile of single track from Broadway to the Lumber District, employing 27 cars, 150 horses and 75 conductors, drivers, and trackmen. The line served North Albany, the Cemetery, the Old Men’s Home, Island Park and the Watervliet Arsenal. The Board of Directors included such Albany luminaries as James Jermain, Dudley Olcott, and Rufus King.

It was quickly followed by the Albany Railway Company, incorporated Sept. 14, 1863, and work began that winter to build a horse railway from Broadway through State, Washington, and Central Avenue to Knox Street. The first car ran February 22, 1864. The following year the line was extended to West Albany and a new line built down South Pearl to Kenwood. Another extension was built in 1866, on Pearl Street from State to Van Woert. In 1873, a line was built from North Pearl up Clinton Avenue, through Lexington to Central. In 1875, they built a Hamilton Street line to Lexington, later extended to Quali and then Partridge. In 1886, the company had 18 miles of single track, four miles of double, 44 cars and 215 horses. The Board included names like Manning, Pruyn, Ten Eyck, and Van Vechten. Around 1888, both companies began changing over to electric power.

In 1891, the Watervliet Turnpike and Railroad Company was bought up by Albany Railway Company, which now had exclusive rights in Albany. Changing to electricity required the construction of new car barns and power stations. It wouldn’t be until 1899 that the Albany Railway, the Troy City Railway and the Watervliet Turnpike and Railroad Company merged to form the United Traction Company, which ran the trolleys for many years.

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