March 18th, 2015
At the turn of the 19th century the major form of transportation for long distances was that of the railroad. Short distances relied on horse drawn wagons or carriages with automobiles just beginning to make an appearance in the new century. Most communities of any size had some form of trolley system established to assist in transporting people from one town to another. Such was the case of the Lewisburg, Milton and Watsontown Passenger Railway Company. The LM&W was chartered on September 3, 1897 and was the first trolley system in Northumberland County. It had a capital stock of $150,000 with a par value of $50 per share.
The line was completed and ready for operation early in February 1898. The line eventually connected Lewisburg to Watsontown. The line followed the river road north from the east bank across from Lewisburg to Milton. It entered Milton on South Front Street and ran north to Broadway. A short stretch of private right of way was located at the Philadelphia and Reading Railroad to avoid a grade crossing which existed until 1914 when an underpass was constructed on Front Street. At Broadway the line turned east on Broadway to Arch Street, then north on Arch to Locust Street; west on Locust to North Front Street and followed North Front Street to the end of town. It then went north along the river road to the outskirts of Watsontown where it terminated due to the Pennsylvania Railroad’s refusal to let the line cross the old canal, which the railroad owned. The Pennsylvania Railroad took out an injunction forbidding trespassing on the canal bed. This block persisted for only a few days and ended when the court set aside the injunction. It appears that the company had to meet a time limit to gain the franchise into Watsontown as it is recalled how the tracks were laid at night after the bridge was built over the canal and a trolley was waiting nearby to run over the new line, thus gaining the right of way into Watsontown. The line ran north on Main Street to Ninth Street, being extended later to the north borough line.
For a ride from Milton to Watsontown, passengers spent five cents and made the trip in twenty minutes. The Lewisburg run made the same time at the same fare. The trolleys made regular runs at surprisingly frequent intervals. Two cars were used on the line. From Broadway, one car would go to Watsontown, the other to Lewisburg.
According to The Record and Star dated April 8, 1898,
“The first car crossed the canal bridge at Port May and passed through town shortly after four o’clock on Monday afternoon [April 4, 1898]. As it came somewhat unexpected there was no special demonstration, but a few flags were unfurled to the breeze when it started on the return trip. Tuesday morning the car began regular trips, beginning at 6 o’clock and arriving and departing every hour with unvarying regularity. Our people recognize it as a great convenience and the patronage indicates that the steam road is having very slim traffic between here and Lewisburg. The service is excellent now, but it is understood that as soon as a switch is put in near Muddy Run, another car will be used and trips made every half hour, thus doubling the accommodation.”
In May of 1898 James B. Cooner (1852-1927) began employment as one of the conductors on the trolley line and was said to “fill the bill to perfection, making a handsome, gallant and accommodating ticket and nickel receiver. About 1902 Louis H. Mountney (1862-after 1930) became superintendent of the LM&W and continued in that capacity before going to Mauch Chunk prior to 1910.
In 1898, the company came under control of the Railways Company General, which operated and manipulated electric lines and public utility companies in Michigan, New York, Pennsylvania and other points. The Railway Company General planned to build a trolley line from Harrisburg to Williamsport by connecting various small trolley lines in the area. In 1906, the company began making preparations to construct the trolley line into Lewisburg, but due to plans by another trolley firm, Lewisburg and Mifflinburg Electric Railway Company, controversy ensued. The major obstacle to LM&W was crossing the river by some other means than the newly constructed river bridge since transportation companies were legally prohibited from using the structure and the legislature would have to amend the law taking precious time.
The problem was resolved in 1910 after RCG relinquished control of the LM&W line to Whittaker and Diehl of Harrisburg who acquired the line. They entered into a contract with the Pennsylvania Railroad to operate a passenger service from Montandon to Mifflinburg on the PRR. A stretch of track between Lewisburg and Montandon was electrified with a Simples System, but was abandoned within a year. A storage batter car was then installed and commenced operation August 1, 1911. It was an immediate success. The railroad between East Lewisburg and Lewisburg was re-electrified with an overhead wire so cars could operate between Lewisburg and Milton. The battery car never left the railroad.
The company’s original equipment consisted of six cars, four closed and two open. The line consisted of ten miles of track laid with 60 pound standard gauge rail. The company’s power equipment consisted of Hamilton Corliss engines and General Electric dynamos. The cars were equipped with General Electric motors and Peckham trucks and were built by the J.G. Brill Company, Philadelphia. Over the years numerous cars were purchased to replace those that were literally “shakin’ apart” by the rough rails. The last purchase of electric cars was made in 1918. These were three steel single truck non-Birney cars. They were over 32 feet long overall and were equipped with Peacock Staffless brakes. They were designed for one man operation and were built by Brill Company, Philadelphia. A car barn was built on Locust Street in Lewisburg to store the trolley cars when not in use.
With the advent of the automobile, the LM&W came upon hard times. Revenues declined and reached an unprofitable point. In 1922, the company laid out a new park just north of Milton opened June 17, 1922. Inclement weather kept many away, but 3,040 fares were rung up on both divisions during the day; a helpful boost to diminishing revenues. In yet another attempt to reduce expenses, the company purchased a rail bus to replace the battered cars. The bus was built by the Mack Truck Company and was numbered “20.” It was the last piece of equipment purchased by the company before abandonment. In order to turn the rail bus around at Montandon and Mifflinburg, the PRR constructed a Y at the two terminals. The PRR also handled all major repair work on the rail bus at its station at Renovo, Pennsylvania.
In 1928, a public notice announced that application had been made to the Public Service Commission to establish bus service and abandon street railway operations. A public hearing was set for July 26, 1928, and the application was granted. On August 1, 1928, the trolley made its last run. It finished as it started, by running just to the east end of the railroad bridge at Lewisburg. By doing so, the company saved the payment of rent for the use of the bridge for another month by not using the structure for one day. A small red bus made the trip from Lewisburg to the other end of the bridge connecting with the trolley. The West Branch Bus company operated a transportation service between the three communities for eleven years, finally abandoning the service on September 9, 1939.
The abandoned trolleys remained in the barn on Locust Street after the line was abandoned. In September 1938, the roof of the car barn caved in on top of the cars and they were removed and sold as junk. The cars were cut up as they were removed from the barn. The office and barn were dismantled in 1949.
As is bound to be, accidents happen. One of the first occurred soon after LM&W began running its service. On May 5, 1898 the car leaving Watsontown at 3 o’clock jumped the track near the fair grounds and turned over on its side. A lineman riding on the outside fell under the car and broke his leg and arm. The remaining passengers were uninjured, but were severely shaken up. A more severe accident occurred on May 22, 1920 when a LM&W car was involved in one of the few fatal accidents in the company’s history. A couple from Washington, DC were traveling in their new automobile when it was believed that the man, Charles Kibbey (1872-1920), who was following a detour south on Water Street, turned into the bridge with the idea that it was open to highway traffic. The trolley bound for Milton left Lewisburg at 11 o’clock and came up behind the Kibbey car at great speed and ground it to fragments beneath its wheels. Blanche Kibbey (1874-1920) died instantly and her husband suffered injuries from which he died on May 27, 1920. The motorman and conductor of the trolley were exonerated by a coroner’s jury.
[The Record and Star, April 8, 1898, pg 8; May 6, 1898, pg 8; The Milton Standard, August 11, 1967, pges 27-30.]
Last Modified: 11.26.14