Warren County Historical Society presents…
the Digital Version Rewind…
May 15, 2016.
A Night of Terror in Glens Falls – The Trolley Riot of 1902
The trolley system in the area began in 1891. It stretched from Hudson, New York – below Albany, north to Warrensburg, and as far west as Fonda and as remote as Northville. One could ride from Sandy Hill (now Hudson Falls) to Glens Falls for a nickel.
Signage along the bike trail in Queensbury. The bike trail follows the path of some of the trolley tracks .
The trolley system is highlighted on a sign along the bike trail. The text of the sign follows:
HUDSON VALLEY RAILWAY
The Hudson Valley Railway reached Lake George in 1901 and Warrensburg in 1902. In early years, Hudson Valley Electric Cars made fourteen daily round trips between Glens Falls and Warrensburg. The Hudson Valley’s network of track and overhead electric lines to power its cars, extended north from Troy and split into separate routes serving communities in Washington and Saratoga Counties. The lines joined again at Glens Falls and continued to Lake George and Warrensburg.
The Hudson Valley Railway’s large interurban cars carried passengers from one end of the line to the other, stopping at communities along the way. A short distance from here, the tiny French Mountain station sheltered passengers awaiting the next car. Smaller Hudson Valley trolley cars travelled around downtown Glens Falls several times each hour on a route called the Belt Line.
The Hudson Valley Railway was abandoned in 1928, a victim of private automobiles and a growing highway system.
The trolley system in Glens Falls was hit by a strike on August 13, 1902 when union workers parked their trolley cars and walked off the job. The strike lasted 85 days.
While the union workers were on strike, the trolleys continued to run and were being operated by non-union personnel, known as ‘scabs’ to the striking workers. Things came to a head when the union strikers took it upon themselves to stop all trolley traffic.
The following information was taken from the Glens Falls Messenger, October 10, 1902. As awful as the headlines sound, the story was found on page 3 of the issue, and not worthy of front page headlines:
NIGHT OF TERROR IN THIS VILLAGE
MOB RUNS RAMPANT AND
HOLDS UP FIVE CARS.
COMPANY K AGAIN OUT
THE MILITARY OCCUPATION OF STREETS
AND TROLLEY CAR LINE.
A VERY SERIOUS RIOT SATURDAY NIGHT.
Mass Meeting Called by Central Trades and Labor Assembly Preceded by Mob Demonstration – Disturbance Began Saturday Evening at 8 O’clock and Until Daylight Sunday Morning the Rioting Continued – Cars Attacked – Motormen and Conductors Assaulted – Many Arrests Made – A Score Injured – All Quiet Sunday Save the Stoning of a Car in South Glens falls – Cars Not Operated throughout Last Evening – the Streets Policed by Company K Men – Everybody Made to Move
This was the lead-in to an article in the Glens Falls Messenger on Friday, October 10, 1902. The actual article begins with this:
“Since the last publication of The Times, forty-eight hours ago, Glens Falls has passed through an experience which will ever be remembered as a blot upon the history of the municipality.
Riot has occurred.”
It seems that five trolley cards were held up on the streets by a ‘howling mob.’ The operators of the cars were driven from their posts; and a score of men and boys were injured. “Fortunately death has not been a result.”
A dozen arrests were made after two days and two nights of ‘terror,’ and more arrests were expected!
The worst of the riots was on Saturday, October 4, 1902. It was, according to the paper, persistently reported that, “a disturbance was to occur.” To that end, a group of men were brought in who had the instructions to “create a riot.”
Trouble began shortly before 8 pm on Warren Street. The paper reports that a street parade ‘was had’ that was made up of members of labor unions of the village (Glens falls) and included a band that led the marchers. They formed in Bank Square, marched up Glens Street, counter marched back to Bank Square, then marched down Warren Street to Lime Street and counter marched as far as McGregor Park.
When on Warren Street, the paper reported that a large crowd followed the parade and 3,000 men and boys were on the street.
Moving down Warren Street, trolley car 107 was stopped and waiting to meet another car. When the marchers passed, they ‘jeered and hissed the motorman and conductor.’ The men and boys following ‘yelled themselves hoarse and the noise was deafening.’
When the front of the line countermarched back down Warren Street, trouble began when they again reached car 107, sitting on the track. It was then that ‘a venturesome spirit’ seized the trolley rope and pulled the pole from the wire. Then, other hands grabbed the rope and pulled until it was at right angles with the car. It was apparent that the crowd was attempting to break the trolley away from its fastenings.
The rope being pulled broke and bedlam broke loose. The crowd had grown to enormous proportions. “As far as the eye could reach a solid mass of humanity extended up the street, many women being in the crowd. And the mass was vocal with the hoarse, swelling yell of an angry mob.”
The paper reported that, “A thousand contradictory statements (were) made as to what actually followed the first aggressive move. Efforts were made to induce the motorman and conductor to desert the car, and, it is stated, the men were roughly pulled and threatened. The conductor finally disappeared in the crowd, while the motorman was led away, either by force or because he thought it wise. Later he was taken in charge by the officials of the trolley company and the police.” The excitement continued to grow each moment, and the crowd grew more and more frenzied.
More Cars Attacked
It was unfortunate that when the frenzy was at its height, three more cars entered the picture. Southbound trolley car 163 appeared, followed soon by trolley car 110.
The crowd immediately surrounded car 163 and the motorman and conductor were verbally threatened with personal injury. The police entered the picture and spirited the two men away to the police station and locked them up for their own safety. The conductor, Robert Loan, was severely injured in the fiasco.
The crew of trolley car 160 was likewise saved by the police and locked away for their safety. Unfortunately, the crew of trolley car 110, the last to arrive on the scene wasn’t as lucky. When the car stopped at the switch, the ladies who were riding were told to get off, which they did.
The crowd quickly surrounded the car, banging on it and yelling. The driver tried to back the trolley up, but to no avail. Then the crowd began peppering the car with onions, turnips, rocks, and apples until every window was destroyed.
Trolley car 60 sitting on the tracks in downtown Glens falls.
The conductor was rescued by the police. The motorman attempted to hold off the crowd with a revolver, but he was struck several times in the head and fell to the ground. He was taken to a local doctor and later sent to the hospital, seriously injured. With the four cars stopped and the crews off the scene, the crowd quieted somewhat and began to disperse.
A short time later, another trolley car – number 34, came down Glen Street and was also greeted by the crowd. Rescued by the police and locked away with their colleagues for their own safety, the motorman and conductor were safe.
The last two trolleys from Warrensburg, stopped at Monument Square and the crews were safe in the railway offices on South Street.
A large group of men gathered around the village office where the trolley crews were safely locked in jail and made an attempt to get them out. Police were forced to fire revolvers and several men were hurt.
Soldiers from Company K were called out to the Armory. They moved quickly up Warren Street and took possession of the trolley cars. The soldiers were greeted with a shower of stones.
Some of the Company K detail went up Ridge and Glen Streets followed by a large crowd who derisively yelled and hooted, even calling the soldiers obscene names.
The paper reports that Warren county sheriff addressed the crowd with the following:
“Boys, I am here as sheriff of Warren County to preserve order. There will be trouble if you don’t clear out. I don’t want trouble, but you will be responsible if there is any. If you have no business here clear the streets. If you have homes, go to them.”
Captain Mott of Company K gave the order to push the crowd back. The crowd spontaneously and respectfully moved back with the exception of one man, “who needed a broadside blow from a Sergeant’s gun to his head in order to come to his senses.
The trolley crews were brought out and instantly surrounded by soldiers. Their appearance immediately was a signal for a fresh burst of howling derision, but a significant number of pointed gun barrels checked any aggression by the crowd.
The police and soldiers had a difficult time as they moved the non-union crewmen. Power was cut to the trolleys, poles were cut down, and even the tracks were greased to prevent the trolley cars from working.
A bunch of arrests were made, and the next day, the town was under martial law for a while. Military guard policed most of downtown.
The leaders of the strike ‘stoutly disclaim(ed) all responsibility for the disturbance Saturday evening.’ Trolley service was restored in a few days, and they ran without incident – except in South Glens Falls on the first day back in service when a car was stoned and the conductor injured.
A trolley waits at the Warrensburg terminus. Photo courtesy of Warrensburg Historical Society.
The Trolley strike continued for almost another month, but perhaps the demonstration of Friday, October 10th got both sides talking. The strike lasted until after the first of November in 1902. Trolley service in the area lasted until 1928.
This article was prepared by Stan Cianfarano for the Warren County Historical Society. A copy of the article from the Glens Falls Messenger from Friday, October 2, 1902 is available at the Society’s offices at 195 Sunnyside Road. Thanks also go to Frieda Toth, who wrote about the trolley system in Warren County (New York): Its People & Their History Over Time, Chapter 10.