SOUTHINGTON — More than 100 years ago, the Green Line Trolley between Southington and Waterbury brought students, workers, and adventure seekers to their destinations daily. At the time, the trolley was considered the area’s mass transit system.
The Green Line, operated by the Waterbury and Milldale Tramway Co., started service in December 1914. The trolley provided transportation from the center of Waterbury to southern Wolcott, along Meriden Road to Hitchcock Lake. From there, it continued to Southington Mountain and into Milldale, according to the Wolcott Historical Society.
In the late 1800s and early 1900s, trolleys were a primary mode of transportation around Southington. Trolleys usually had the right-of-way on roads, which were often set up to accommodate them. People would take the trolley to get to work, or classes or for excursions to amusement parks— which was a particularly popular use of the system in the summers when the cars were “open air.”
“It was a simpler time,” the late Ken DiMauro, a former Southington resident and member of the trolley museums in East Windsor and East Haven, told the Record-Journal in a 2014 interview. “People from all different classes of society used to take the trolley.”
Because of the trolley’s popularity year-round, the Tramway Co. employed workers to clear the tracks whenever it snowed. If it was a “white snow,” or light storm, they would use a rotating brush to sweep the snow away from the tracks. When the snow got heavier, they’d employ plows.
During heavy snowstorms, snow was cleared manually, according to Phil Wooding, the Southington town historian.
Trolleys were accompanied with accidents. The worst came on Feb. 21, 1921, when a trolley car left the tracks going down a hill and hit a tree, causing the trolley to split open. The accident was likely due to a mechanical failure, Wooding said, but he didn’t know if anyone was injured.
A few years later, in 1924, another incident occurred due to an employee error in reading the track signals. Six people were injured when two trolleys collided head-on.
The Waterbury and Milldale Tramway Co. was the third Southington trolley company established along the Meriden-Waterbury Turnpike. The Cheshire Street Railroad Company and a company running from Meriden through Southington to Lake Compounce were the other two. Charles H. Clark, of the Clark Brothers Bolt Co. in Milldale, had a great interest in making it possible for people to get from the town to Waterbury by trolley, and was a proponent of creating the new route, according to Wooding.
At its peak, the Tramway Co. operated six cars over 9.2 miles of track in the Waterbury area. Depending on the size of the car, about 30-40 people could fit in one. Fares were about five cents, depending on where you were traveling and if it was one way, Wooding said.
The route began at the Waterbury Green and during rush hour or “express runs,” Frost Road was the point where the cars turned around and headed back to the Green, according to the Wolcott Historical Society.
On its other end was Milldale and it ended by where Route 10 crosses the area now. The bridge above Route 322, the Meriden-Waterbury Turnpike, in Milldale, was built solely for the new trolley line as the railroad didn’t want their tracks to intersect at any point.
Wooding said the trolley was probably more popular than trains for passengers at the time because of its flexibility in locations.
“The advantage of the trolleys was that they would take people from the main line of a railroad and be able to move them almost like a taxi would,” Wooding said.
The trolley was a very popular way to make trips, especially to amusement parks, Wooding said. There were stops at entertainment centers like Lake Quassapaug and Lake Compounce.
The trolleys peaked up through the first World War, around 1918, but after the war, automobiles entered popular existence and soon buses took over mass transit, Wooding said.
“I think (the trolleys) served a need at the time and just disappeared with the advent of buses,” Wooding said. The buses gave people even more flexibility and between those and automobiles, “it pretty much meant the end for trolley service,” he said.