by Don Herron, as printed in the Times Herald Record; August 7, 2002
The Street Horse Railway trotted into Newburgh on December 23, 1886, advancing the city to the level of most of the country’s larger cities. The horse-drawn trolleys ran on tracks from the western end of the city to the Union Depot, by the riverfront. An additional track ran along Water Street to the north end of the city.
At that time, the city’s best shopping district, and the Street Horse Railway made shopping much easier and more accessible to the residents of the city and the surrounding countryside. The trolley was such a success that by 1891, tracks had expanded from Wisner Avenue (then called Cross Road) down Broadway to Colden Street, and north up Water Street to Grand Avenue. Another short line ran south from Broadway on Liberty Street to Renwick Street, and there were spurs to Washington Heights and the Balmville Tree. Eventually the Washington Heights spur was expanded so that it traveled south on Liberty Street to the Bluff and Bayview Terrace, with a switch at Renwick Street, which enabled the trolleys to go south to the bridge at New Windsor and west to Bridge Street.
After eight years, the trolley switched from horse power to electricity, making its initial run on June 11, 1894. The trolley company had its own independent source of power at 244 Broadway, in what is now the Zeger Hardware building. It took six weeks to convert to electric power after the last horse run on April 30, 1894. With this conversion to fast, efficient, silent and odor-free electric power, the trolley company, now called the Newburgh Electric Railway, grew rapidly. The trolley fleet consisted primarily of open cars, so in the spring, summer and fall, the weather could be enjoyed to the fullest. There were 15 of these open cars, and two large closed “winter cars.”
The main line was rapidly expanded and eventually continued to Wisner Avenue and out South Plank Road to Orange Lake, and then to Walden. In 1895, the fare from Newburgh to Orange Lake was 10 cents and it cost another dime to go to Walden.
In 1923, fares were 7 cents within the city and 5 cents more for a trip to Balmville. It cost 13 cents to go to Orange Lake, 8 cents more to East Walden and another 6 cents to Walden itself.
The trolleys operated from 6 a.m.-11 p.m. daily, and a trip to Walden would take an average of 40 minutes. Eight round-trips from Newburgh to Walden were made each day. The 11 p.m. trolley was from Newburgh to Walden, and the conductor and the motorman would stay overnight in Walden. The 6 a.m. trolley left Walden for Newburgh and was one of the primary means of transportation for employees at the Dupont Fabrikoid plant.
The trolley track from Newburgh to Walden was a single track, but three switches – at Glenwood Park, Fifth Avenue and Orange Lake – enabled the trolleys to pass each other. Upon reaching the end of the line – at Newburgh or at Walden – the motorman would reverse the electric pole to provide power for the return trip. The seats would be reversed, easily done by flipping them over, and the motorman would move his portable operating equipment to the front of the car.
The Newburgh Electric Railway was operated by the Orange County Traction, organized in 1894. Former New York Gov. Benjamin Barker Odell was its president, and by 1909 the company had established its office at 244 Broadway, near Carpenter Avenue. The large car barns extended from Broadway to Van Ness Street, with the trolleys entering and exiting on Broadway.
Newburgh was, in those days, considered one of the leading summer resorts. Vacationers from New York City and beyond came to Newburgh by train and boat, and frequently stayed at the Palatine Hotel. The trolley was a safe and convenient way for vacationers to tour the area. One could take the trolley to Glenwood Park, with its small hotel and restaurant and nearby pavilion and merry-go-round. From Glenwood, the trolley headed to the Orange Lake Amusement Park. The park had a Ferris wheel and a public beach, rowboats and canoes for rent, and a roller-skating rink. Across the lake was the fashionable Pine Point Club.
After 1925, bus service became the norm and the trolleys were gradually discontinued. The old electric trolley cars were eventually sold to a New Jersey firm, and during World War II many of the disused tracks were taken up and sold for scrap.