The first trolleys came to Caldwell in 1896, but not without a fight. Trolleys were a hot button issue in this part of the world in the 1890s. ”There are wars and rumors of wars” in nearly all the places hereabout just now over the question of granting or refusing to grant the street electric-road franchises of the many companies that at present have applications innumerable before the several local governing bodies. As a rule, the people are fighting bitterly for or against the trolley in each place” wrote a NY Times reporter in 1894.
Caldwell figured prominently in these wars. The articles below from The Caldwell News (available to view on microfilm in our library) bring that long ago local battle vividly to life:
Editorial in The Caldwell News Sept. 15, 1894:
“The year 1894 will long be remembered as the year of the great trolley question. Probably never in the history of this peaceful little borough has there been so much discussion and dissension. The questions for and against are weighed in every house and on every street corner in the village with the result that the people as a whole have come out strongly in favor of the road. The opposing element seems to consist mainly of the summer residents and carriage driving community and is decidedly in the minority. While this faction doubtless has the legal right to use every effort in their power to preserve Bloomfield Avenue for their tandems and victorias, perhaps it does not occur to them that the sight of their comfortable vehicles driving by is not sufficient consolation for the numbers of people who have to walk in the dust. This point has evidently been suggested to them.
As to the question of cars running on Sunday, which has been strongly objected to by some of the aforesaid carriage driving community, they can doubtless explain why it is more a desecration of the Sabbath to ride on eight wheels than on four. However Monday will decide whether they will ride all the way.” 9/15/1894 Editorial in The Caldwell News
From The Caldwell News Sept. 22, 1894:
“Monday last was a day of more than usual stir and discussion among the citizens of Caldwell. It was generally believed that the Borough Council would take final action on the ordinance granting a franchise to the North Jersey Street Railway Company. As it was apparent before the introduction of the ordinance that a majority of citizens regarded the construction of an electric road to Caldwell with undisguised favor, it was expected that the members of Council, who were also in sympathy with the project, would record their votes in favor of granting the franchise.
After the usual preliminaries on the eve of Monday last, the members were ready for business, but before they had time to call up the ordinance, Robert H. McCarter Esq. of Newark served Mayor Harrison and the Council with an injunction forbidding further consideration of the ordinance until the merits of the claims interposed by Dr. R. Lane and other objectors shall be reviewed in Chancery.
The papers were turned over to Counselor Thomas C. Provost of Council. When the matter is argued the interests of the people favorable to the construction of a trolley road will be ably defended.
There were many present at the meeting and they were surprised at the developments made. It was not known that the opponents of the trolley had applied for an injunction. Vice Chancellor Pitney granted the writ upon application of Thomas N McCarter Esq. of Newark who has been retained for the objectors….
Judge Green’s Mission
The trustees of the Baptist Church, when they learned the object of the entertainment advertised to be held at their church on Saturday evening last, revoked the permit given to the committee having the entertainment in charge. Mr Charles R. Leaycraft thereupon prepared to receive the entertainers and the entertained at his home.
His barn was utilized as a hall and Judge Green spoke very earnestly against electric roads. His descriptions of accidents for which the trolley car is held responsible, were vivid and impressive, and his discussions of the legal aspects of the matter, was eagerly followed by the anti-trolley movement”
From The Caldwell News October 6, 1894:
“F. Merriman Wheeler, Dr. C.W. Butler and Wesley Van Geison have been selected as a committee to arrange for a meeting to be held in Montclair to form an organization for the purpose of protecting the streets of that town from invasion by the trolley people.”
The picture here showing the early Caldwell trolley is part of the library’s Gene Collerd Collection, and is included in John J. Collin’s book Remembering the Caldwells which is available to borrow from the library.