It's hard to imagine now that such a service not only existed once upon a time in central New Jersey, but actually flourished. In the late nineteenth century, and well into the age of the automobile, our area was well served by an interconnected network of electrified trolley lines - which today we would call "inter-urban" or 'light-rail".
|Bound Brook Trolley, postcard circa 1910|
At the turn of the last century, it was said that a person could travel from the east coast to Chicago using only trolleys, and that probably wasn't far from the truth. Somerset and Middlesex Counties had a number of lines, many converging at New Brunswick. My maternal grandfather, a machinist by trade, worked as a young man in Dunellen - and many times recounted the days when you could go just about anywhere in Central Jersey by trolley, anytime you pleased.
On the cold winter evening of January 10th, 1902, Mrs. George Daly, Miss Louise Daly, and Mrs. Mae Bellis of Bound Brook, took the trolley to New Brunswick to see the play "The Eleventh Hour" at one of the local theaters. It turns out that the play was prophetically named, as the last trolley car back to Bound Brook left New Brunswick at 11 p.m.
The three women were under the impression that the last car left at midnight, and were bewildered when they exited the theater shortly after 11 and were told that they had missed the last trolley home.
Instead of looking to hire a carriage for the seven mile ride to Bound Brook - a two hour trip - a "strange impulse" led them to seek out the house of Edward Radel, Secretary of the trolley company, and lay out their grievances.
They rang the bell at the Radel home at about 12:15. Mr. Radel, leaning out of the window expecting to hear about some catastrophe on his trolley line, instead was met with the despairing appeals of the women. As The New York Times reported the next day, Mr. Radel was touched by the plight of the young women, saying, "All right girls; I'll take you home myself. You go down to the traction office and wait for me."
Mr. Radel hurried to the office, retrieved a controller handle to operate the trolley, and made an express run to Bound Brook in record time - acting as motorman and conductor, but collecting no fares from his three passengers. He returned home alone at about 2 a.m.
If we could guarantee that kind of service today, I'd bring back the trolleys in a heartbeat. Unfortunately, I think those days are long gone!