Riverside Garage will go before the planning board on Wednesday July 19th 2017 to seek permission for approval to add an addition to the current building. The purpose of the business will change as well with the proposed new use being a brand new state liquor store/outlet.
Now those who are familiar with Riverside Garage will know this building immediately. Located at 481 High Street at the entrance to Willand Pond and opposite the Tri-City Plaza.
What people may not know is the use that this building had originally. In it’s early days it was built to house the electric trolleys that would run from the city center to Central Park that was located around the Willand Pond area.
I’m not exactly sure when the building was built as I’m still researching this.But the first electric trolley came into the city in 1890 so it’s fair to assume that it would have been around the turn of the 20th century. At that time Central Park was a thriving Summer resort and electric trolleys would run from Dover, Rochester and Somersworth. Each would intersect at Central Park and it was a recognized stop. The electric cars/trolleys would have been stored overnight in the shed that we now know as Riverside Garage and if you look at the profile of the building you can still see the bays that formed the entrance to the shed.
Seacoast Trolley Museum Great Place To Visit This Summer.
The history of the electric trolleys that ran in Somersworth fascinates me. Especially since I took a trip to the Seacoast Trolley Museum in Kennebunkport a couple of years ago.
I was hoping to find an original Dover, Rochester and Somersworth Street Railway car but alas the closest I could find was the 108 car which was a mail car that ran for the Portsmouth, Dover and York.
Having said that, the museum is a fascinating look into the past and for me the highlight was riding on a fully operational street car just like the ones that would have been found buzzing up and down Somersworth High street back in the day. Boarding the trolley and taking the mile journey was an experience I will not forget. The unforgettable and unusual sound of trolley across the tracks was like nothing I had heard before and is hard to describe to be honest.
History Of Electric Trolleys In Somersworth
You don’t have to be a railway or street trolley fan to enjoy a day at the museum as there is lots to see and enjoy. Seeing the trolleys from different states and era’s was fascinating. For me, as a writer ,it was a great way to transport myself back in time. It also peeked my interest as to how and when the electric trolley’s ran in Somersworth. What follows is a brief look at that history:
Back in 1882, Dover would see it’s first horsecars which would be the forerunner to the electric trolley. By 1889 the company was in trouble and an enterprising man called Henry W. Burgett would purchase the franchise rights from the failing horsecar company for the sum of $25,000.
Burgett would then organize and charter the Union Street Railway which would run from Franklin Square in Dover to the then village of Great Falls. (Great Falls Village would later become what we now know as Somersworth.) The first car would run on the track on August 16th 1890 and was driven by Mr Burgett himself. This was amid much fanfare and as grand a fireworks display as the city had seen in many year according to accounts at the time. Regular service would commence the following day.
Burgett Park Was Where?
Now it’s worth mentioning that while the construction of the trolley was underway another huge project was taking place on the shore of Willand Pond.
This would become a large amusement park that at the time was known as Burgett’s Park but would later become Central Park. On September 18,1890 Burgett’s Park was officially dedicated. In case you missed it, yes, Burgett Park was owned by the same Mr Burgett that owned the Union Street Railway.
The park would include a casino (dance hall), a pavilion and wide walkways as well as a power plant. That plant belonged to the Consolidated Light and Power Company, which just happened to belong to, you guessed it, Mr. Burgett.
A year or so later Burgett Park would be renamed to Central Park and it soon became a popular summer recreational area for the residents of Somersworth, Dover, Rochester and surrounding towns.
The trolleys would see some success but as often happens bad management would doom the Union Street Railway as well as Consolidated Light and Power Company into the hands of the receiver in 1894 . It would take until 1896 for disputes, etc to be settled and the company to be offered up for sale once more. This time it was brought by its bondholders for the sum of $105,000. The company’s stockholders and creditors lost more than $200,000 on the deal but the company was born again and this time was organized as the Union Electric Railway.
By 1898 the fortunes of the Union Electric Railway had been turned around and the company was one again profitable. In 1901 the railroad would be brought out by Wallace D. Lovell who had recently completed the Exeter, Hampton & Amesbury Street Railway. It would absorb both the Union Street Railways and Rochester Street . Over the following years this was a profitable company that ran what was known as the “Y” in the Summer months and every 15 minutes after 1pm. This was to accommodate the large crowds that gathered in Central Park at the time.
A Familiar Story Of Cost And Public Transport.
This was the hayday of the electric trolleys in the area. At the start of the 1920’s fares had been increased and the cost of a trip from Dover to Somersworth was 30c. This cost proved to be too high for the traveling public and with the onset of automobile ownership being felt, the railway went into steady decline.
The end of the electric trolley in the area came in 1926 when the company found itself in dire straits and owing more than $20,000 to the Portsmouth Power Company it was decided to replace the trolley with buses. The last trolley would run on September 15th, 1926 and the buses would begin operation the following day.
In 1927 the rails an overhead tracks were dismantled and taken for scrap. The ties were left to rot in the ground and the remaining cars were sold and junked by Sherbrooke of Quebec and that as they say was the end of that.
What Does The Future Hold?
I told you it was a fascinating history didn’t I? Next week I will run a story that was run in the Somersworth Free Press that details what a trip on the electric trolley from Somersworth to Central Park was like. It’s fascinating.
In the meantime I hope that you will watch the planning board meeting and discover more about the building that is being proposed there. On the plus side I am pleased to tell you that the architects have honored the past of the building and the bays that make it so distinctive will remain on the building.
*Much of the material for this article was found in the Transportation Magazine 1949. Thanks to the Seacoast Trolley Museum and the Summersworth Historical Society and Museum for additional information and pictures.