This isn't the first time this column has focused on New London's trolley history (check out former articles on a line from Norwich to Ocean Beach Park and from New London to Norwich). Indeed, there were several small passenger rail services that served New London over the years, and plenty of rail enthusiasts who keep their memory alive or advocate for a return of trolleys to the region. This week's item comes from a time well into the decline of such services.
Offered by user fmtraders, this short communication is written on the letterhead of the New Haven & Shore Line Railway, with a given address of 56 State Street. Dated April 22, 1930, the general manager of the company is writing to Harrison R. Allsworth, real estate agent for the New York, New Haven & Hartford Railroad Company. The letter itself is pretty dull, involving a rescheduling of a telephone call or meeting since the manager will be out of town, but the history behind the exchange is rather striking.
The New Haven & Shore Line Railway first started as the Shore Line Electric Railway in 1910. The line served communities along the Connecticut coast from New Haven to Stonington, absorbing several smaller trolley services in 1916. But it didn't last to the end of the decade.
One factor in the original company's demise was a horrific accident on August 13, 1917. Rather than waiting at a siding, a westbound trolley kept going on the single track and crashed head-on into another train going the opposite direction. Nineteen people were killed and dozens more injured. Blame was quickly placed on the westbound trolley's conductor and motorman, who were reportedly exhausted after working 17 hours straight. An employee strike in 1919 ultimately led the company to close its operations on July 31 of that year.
However, services resumed in 1923 when the company was reorganized as the New Haven & Shore Line Railway Company as well as the Groton & Stonington Traction Company. As with other companies, however, public transit began to transition to buses. Groton & Stonington Traction Company had given up trolleys by 1928, New Haven & Shore Line Railway Company by the next year.
Although it's impossible to say what Allsworth and the company manager were to meet about without seeing the full exchange in these letters, there's a good chance the New York, New Haven & Hartford Railroad was interested in buying up the tracks the New Haven & Shore Line Railway wasn't using anymore. Chartered in 1872, the New York, New Haven & Hartford Railway had been involved in a long process (led by J.P. Morgan) of establishing a monopoly through the acquisition of rail lines, steamships, and trolleys. Just a year before this letter, the company had ownership of 2,131 miles of track in Connecticut, Massachusetts, New York, and Rhode Island. Yet the company went into decline during the Great Depression, twice going into receivership and ultimately getting absorbed and broken up into other companies.
Meanwhile, the Groton & Stonington Traction Company merged with the New Haven & Shore Line Railway in 1939 and the subsidary of Savin Transit was formed in 1968 for New London and Norwich bus service. In later years, however, the company encountered more difficulties and made repeated requests to the Public Utilities Commission to abandon routes. The company was gone in the 1970s.
The letter has some signs of aging and wearing as well a hole punch in the top. The starting bid is $9.99 plus $1.95 for standard shipping (or $5.20 for expedited) with Connecticut residents paying 6.35 percent sales tax. The auction ends at about 10:09 p.m. on Wednesday.