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Naked Emperor: Trolleys in Yonkers

Updated on November 30, 2017
William F. Torpey profile image

Graduated NYU in 1964. Worked in NYC for 2 years in public relations then as reporter and editor before retiring from The Hour newspaper.

No. 1 Trolley Warburton Line Shown near Getty Square

One of the trolley cars that took you all around Yonkers, N.Y., before the buses replaced them in 1952. The No. 1 trolley traveled on Warburton Avenue to Hastings-on-Hudson, and back to Getty Square where you could transfer to other lines.
One of the trolley cars that took you all around Yonkers, N.Y., before the buses replaced them in 1952. The No. 1 trolley traveled on Warburton Avenue to Hastings-on-Hudson, and back to Getty Square where you could transfer to other lines.

Trolleys Take to the Rails in 1886

The trolley, in 1886, replaces the only public transportation in Yonkers, a horse-drawn stagecoach operating between Getty Square and Mount Vernon.
The trolley, in 1886, replaces the only public transportation in Yonkers, a horse-drawn stagecoach operating between Getty Square and Mount Vernon.

Warburton Ave. Looking North, Philipse Manor Unseen at Left

The Yonkers I Knew -- With Trolley Tracks. Only the Soldiers & Sailors Monument is visible on the grounds of Philipse Manor.
The Yonkers I Knew -- With Trolley Tracks. Only the Soldiers & Sailors Monument is visible on the grounds of Philipse Manor.

Metro North Train Station in Yonkers

Yonkers Metro North train station near Larkin Plazal, where the Saw Mill River recently was 'daylighted' as part of the city's revival.
Yonkers Metro North train station near Larkin Plazal, where the Saw Mill River recently was 'daylighted' as part of the city's revival.

Washington Street, Norwalk, Connecticut

A postcard image circa 1910 of Washington Street, South Norwalk, Connecticut, where I moved to from Yonkers in 1952. Norwalk's trolleys were long gone by then. Yonkers trolleys were replaced by buses in late 1952.
A postcard image circa 1910 of Washington Street, South Norwalk, Connecticut, where I moved to from Yonkers in 1952. Norwalk's trolleys were long gone by then. Yonkers trolleys were replaced by buses in late 1952.

"Clang, clang, clang, went the trolley ... ding, ding, ding went the bell ..."

The words of that old familiar song bring memories to me of the wartime 1940s in Yonkers, N.Y. -- known by its natives in those days as "The City of Gracious Living." That city, more hilly than the "city by the bay," boasted trolley cars until the early '50s when buses took their place.

Those were the "good old days" despite the ravages of war, the blackouts, the rationing of sugar and gasoline, and the black-starred telegrams I sometimes helped my late brother deliver by bicycle to kin of fallen G.I.'s.

Those were the days of soft music, great movies, fresh-from-the-farm food -- unadulterated by cross-breeding (tomatoes), whipping (butter), decaffeinating and freeze-drying (coffee), rolling (turkey), injection of water (ham) and treatment by chemical additives (bread) -- and, for most of us, the only high we experienced was when the Brooklyn Dodgers, the Yankees or the Giants made it to the World Series.

'Iron Monsters'

But, back to the trolleys! Many of us who grew up with the iron monsters look upon them now not only nostalgically, as we do, but also as an excellent form of transportation. In summer, the cars were often open-aired, operated on a full, convenient schedule and took you just about anywhere you wanted to go in the city from the subway in the Bronx to the city lines at Hastings-on-Hudson and Mount Vernon.

And they were fun; as kids, we often rode them all over town when there wasn't much else to do. It kept us out of trouble more than once.

We think of the trolleys quite a lot these days -- just about every time we find ourselves sitting patiently behind another car on Route 7, the (Merritt) parkway or the (Connecticut) turnpike. And, more often lately, on many of the (Fairfield) county's side streets. Here, at The Hour newspaper, it's an adventure trying to pull in and out of the driveway (on Route 7.)

Public Transportation

In fact, we've been preaching the benefits of public transportation for years, but not only buses. Logically, one should fit the mode of transportation to the goal, or destination, desired. A train or plane fits the bill for most long trips; private cars, limos, taxis, buses, bicycles, monorails, or even golf carts do the trick in other situations.

With today's limited-access "parking lots (the Merritt, I-95)," hasn't it become clear the automobile isn't the panacea it once was?

In the face of daily stagnated traffic, can anyone truly watch the naked king roll down the turnpike every morning without seeing that he has no clothes?

I wrote this column for The Hour newspaper of Norwalk, Conn. It appeared on June 27, 1987 as an "Editor's Notebook." At the time, I was a reporter and editor at The Hour, where I spent 32 years, from November 1968 until I retired on June 1, 2000.

Should Cities Consider Making Use of Trolleys and Monorails?

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Chip Taylor Sings 'Yonkers, New York'

Getty Square, Yonkers, New York

Getty Square, the hub of Yonkers trolley cars in the early 20th Century.
Getty Square, the hub of Yonkers trolley cars in the early 20th Century.

1941 Photo of 'Hitler's Face' on the Palisades

The "Hitler" face, c. 1941 on the Palisades of New Jersey as seen from the Hudson River. See upper left side of the rockslide. Another rockslide obliterated the face after WW II. (Photo by the Yonkers Ferry Corporation).
The "Hitler" face, c. 1941 on the Palisades of New Jersey as seen from the Hudson River. See upper left side of the rockslide. Another rockslide obliterated the face after WW II. (Photo by the Yonkers Ferry Corporation). | Source

The Changing Scene in Downtown Yonkers

The Trolley Song Performed by Judy Garland

Bing Crosby: A Favorite of My Family and Many in Yonkers

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    • William F. Torpey profile image
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      William F Torpey 3 years ago from South Valley Stream, N.Y.

      The trolleys were lots of fun, RonElFran. Everybody rode them, not just people who couldn't afford a car. Because everybody rode them they ran often on a good schedule so you rarely had to wait very long. In Yonkers you could take the trolley to Getty Square (the hub) and transfer to another line so you could go just about anywhere in the city ... to the Bronx, to Mount Vernon, to Hastings-on-Hudson , etc. I wish they were still around. New York City considered bringing some trolley lines back in the '80s (for east and west routes only) but the city never followed through on the idea.

    • RonElFran profile image

      Ronald E Franklin 3 years ago from Mechanicsburg, PA

      I've never lived in a place that had trolleys. From your description, it seems they were great for kids to get on and just ride. That's so different from the bus - when you get on a bus, you do it to get someplace. I wish there had been trolleys around when I was growing up.

    • William F. Torpey profile image
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      William F Torpey 5 years ago from South Valley Stream, N.Y.

      Thank you, Rosemary. You may find some of my other hubs of interest. There's a link to them near the top right of this one. They cover many topics, including some about Yonkers, politics and great songs and singers (with videos.)

    • profile image

      Rosemary 5 years ago

      Glad I found this hub. Never heard of a hub before. Very interesting. Thank you.

    • William F. Torpey profile image
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      William F Torpey 5 years ago from South Valley Stream, N.Y.

      It's good to hear from someone who remembers the Yonkers trolleys, Edmond. They sure were fun. I didn't know about the Indian face until I found a Website run by the Palisades Interstate Park (which I can't find just now.) But here's a site I think you'll find interesting: http://www.njpalisades.org/album4.htm

    • profile image

      Edmond Spaeth 5 years ago

      Thanks for this nostalgic piece about the trolleys that traversed the hills of Yonkers, NY. I, too, remember riding the trolleys from North Yonkers all the way to the Bronx and many places in between. It was a delightful way to travel. I am told by an old Yonkers pal that there still is one of the Yonkers trolleys on exhibit at the Brantford (CT) Trolley Museum for all to see. Also, remember being told about the "Hitler" face on the Palisades. There was also an Indian face that I remember being visible from the Yonkers-Alpine ferry-another fun ride for Yonkers folks.

    • profile image

      Francine Eisner 5 years ago

      Thank you William! I have asked to join that group. I'm sure that I'll learn a great deal from them.

    • William F. Torpey profile image
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      William F Torpey 5 years ago from South Valley Stream, N.Y.

      Yonkers has gone through tough times since I left the "City of Gracious Living" in 1951 (although I went back to Yonkers for six months in 1960.) But I grew up with the trolleys and will always love them. I wish they would make a comeback. I've visited quite often lately, and the old feel is still there -- despite the many changes. You can learn a lot about Yonkers if you visit some sites on Facebook (including this one:

      http://www.facebook.com/#!/groups/IGUIyonkers/

    • profile image

      Francine Eisner 5 years ago

      Hi there, everyone. I am a registered nurse with a little job in Yonkers. I've become very interested in the community, and I've been walking everywhere. Today I went to a little coffee shop on Palisade Avenue called Michelle's, and they had photos of the trolleys. Now I have developed a fervent desire to learn everything I can about the old trolley system, which closed down the year I was born. I'm very pleased to have found this hub! My warmest regards to you all.

    • mandymoreno81 profile image

      mandymoreno81 6 years ago

      I think some forms of public transportation like trolleys will see a return with increasing fuel and energy prices.

    • William F. Torpey profile image
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      William F Torpey 7 years ago from South Valley Stream, N.Y.

      I'd love to hear more about them, LondonGirl, if you ever write a hub about them. I dream of seeing the return of the trolley cars, but in daylight I daydream of monorails everywhere!

    • LondonGirl profile image

      LondonGirl 7 years ago from London

      We have quite a few new tram schemes here in the UK - south of London, and Manchester, spring to mind. I like them.

    • William F. Torpey profile image
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      William F Torpey 7 years ago from South Valley Stream, N.Y.

      I like trolley-buses, Tony, but I grew up with trolley cars and I really love them. I wish they would make a comeback. The trolleys in Yonkers, I believe, were pushed out primarily by the automobile lobbies. The excuse was that upgrading the trolleys would be too expensive, but the trolleys ran mostly down the middle of the road. Increasing auto traffic found them disruptive, although in some residential areas they ran down the side of the road. Not only were they a wonderfully pleasant ride (open air in the summer), but, as you say, the did not spew out foul odors. While the trolley-buses swished along, the trolleys made that fantastic clang, clang, clang.

    • William F. Torpey profile image
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      William F Torpey 7 years ago from South Valley Stream, N.Y.

      I do like trams, LondonGirl. I also like trolley-buses and monorails as well as trolleys and trains (especially the old sleepers.) I also think we should be using more golf carts for short runs, not to mention bicycles and mopeds and such. However, I do not like motorcycles. Our roads, I think, are too dangerous for those bikes, and too many young people are injured or die riding them.

    • tonymac04 profile image

      Tony McGregor 7 years ago from South Africa

      WhenI was nobbut a lad in Cape Town there were what were called "trolley buses" which were buses, like the diesel driven buses we see today, but they were elcetric, and drew their power from overhead cables much like trams. They were silent, smooth running and comfortable, they didn't smell or push out clouds of noxious fumes. And they were immensely popular with commuters.

      But for some economic reason which I don't pretend to understand, they were withdrawn and replaced with diesel driven buses.

      I will never forget the sound of the trolley buses passing my aunt's house in Cape Town - all one could hear from them was the sushing sound of their tyres on the tarmac.

      Thanks for this interesting Hub, William.

      Love and peace

      Tony

    • LondonGirl profile image

      LondonGirl 7 years ago from London

      How about trams? Are you a fan of those, too?

    • William F. Torpey profile image
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      William F Torpey 7 years ago from South Valley Stream, N.Y.

      And thank you, Micky Dee. There are few things in this world that I love more than trolley cars. I wish they'd make a comeback. Your comment also gave me an opportunity to replace the nonfunctioning video with an even better one (with Judy Garland.) Thanks, again.

    • Micky Dee profile image

      Micky Dee 7 years ago

      Thanks again Mr. Torpey.

    • William F. Torpey profile image
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      William F Torpey 9 years ago from South Valley Stream, N.Y.

      I guess you could call it nostalgia, jormins, but I look back to '40s and '50s with great fondness. They were days when everyone knew everyone in their neighborhoods, when people all loved the same music, including Bing Crosby, and great movies, when people shared public transportation and were not isolated in cars, when crime wasn't on the front burner. Despite the pain of World War II, there was a common bond shared by everyone on the homefront. It was, indeed, "The Greatest Generation."

    • jormins profile image

      jormins 9 years ago from Chicago, IL

      I do have to admit I love all the new technology we have in modern times but I feel like my generation is missing something. Hard to put my finger on it but I think there was just more character in everything in our recent past. Shows like Band of Brothers and Mad Men are two of my favorite shows because they give a nice window to the past.

    • William F. Torpey profile image
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      William F Torpey 9 years ago from South Valley Stream, N.Y.

      Thanks, G-Ma Johnson. I wish they'd bring back the trolleys to New York!

    • G-Ma Johnson profile image

      Merle Ann Johnson 9 years ago from NW in the land of the Free

      California still uses Cable Cars in San Francisco..they are fun...G-Ma :O)

    • William F. Torpey profile image
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      William F Torpey 9 years ago from South Valley Stream, N.Y.

      I'm really pleased that you enjoyed the column, Kenny. Those days were truly grand.

    • Kenny Wordsmith profile image

      Ashok Rajagopalan 9 years ago from Chennai

      Those were the days! I suffered from pangs of nostalgia reading this hub, but enjoyed it too! Though I haven't seen a trolley car in my life. It's a different kind of nostalgia, like wanting to live in Sherlock Holmes's England!

      Thank you, William.

    • William F. Torpey profile image
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      William F Torpey 9 years ago from South Valley Stream, N.Y.

      Thanks, Ralph. Believe it or not I just talked to my old editor, and friend, the other day and commented that I wished we could have dressed up the old columns then with art work. I'm sure any future grandchildren will love the trolleys, as I do. Trolley 850 from New Orleans on the video is at the Branford, Conn., Trolley Museum. I've been there, and it's a great place for children -- and adults.

    • Ralph Deeds profile image

      Ralph Deeds 9 years ago from Birmingham, Michigan

      Your HubPages version with the video trolley rides added adds a dimension which you couldn't capture in the original print article. Great hub. If I ever have grandchildren, I'll have them read the article and watch the videos.

    • William F. Torpey profile image
      Author

      William F Torpey 9 years ago from South Valley Stream, N.Y.

      Glad you liked it, Rik. I appreciate your comment.

    • Rik Ravado profile image

      Rik Ravado 9 years ago from England

      Nice piece - like your style!

    • JazLive profile image

      JazLive 10 years ago from Decatur

      An experienced writer - Yeah! Welcome to the HUB Community :)

      Gettin' Better by the Tic' Toc' -- JazLive