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A Look Back: The Days of the Trolley Car

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Looking Back in the old local newspapers, I discovered that in the 1900s, trolley cars were found in larger towns and cities. Now in my mind, this was a safe way to travel within the town. Boy, was I wrong!

There are reports of wagons and trollies colliding, horses and trollies, people falling off the trolley… wow. We had a local person, J.M.C. Bargar, who was visiting his daughter in Ithaca that was in one of these accidents, and I thought I would share his story here

In September of 1920, Mr. and Mrs. Barger left their home on Woodward Avenue, here in Springville, to go and visit their daughter Mrs. VanVolkenburg in Ithaca. After having a visit with them they boarded the Trolley #49 and were heading back, along with students from Cornell and other local patrons of the trolley, around 40 people.

Now you have to remember this was before seatbelts, airbags and safety equipment. Windows could be open fully, you could stand up if you choose, which according to report,many were, or even walk about (if you had good balance) or sit. Items could be laid on the seat or underneath the seat.

The trolley, nearing the top of a steep hill on Eddy street, near the university entrance arch, started to roll backward down the grade and slowly gained momentum until it was hitting speeds of at least 70 miles per hour. The motorman in the back, Bernard J Wefer, struggled with the brakes, but the car kept gathering momentum. With people standing and moving, he was pushed off the moving trolley onto the pavement.

The trolley derailed and plunged into a tree, in front of the private residence of Mr. and Mrs. Claude Baldwin. The impact left the tree standing nearly in the middle of the car, which was split lengthwise. This was the worse in history for the town. The rear and interior of the car were completely demolished, and the seats were jammed together in a mass of wreckage.

David McGowan, who was a passenger on the trolley, jumped from the car before it reached the end, and broke his arm. He then walked three blocks to Dr. I.M. Ungers office and notified them of the wreck. The doctor then raced to the scene.

Reports from several passengers state that the motorman had tried to stop on the street before to take on more passengers and the brakes failed to hold. As the car slipped and gained speed, the doors were closed and they begged the conductor to open them and when he did, several jumped out as fast as they could. Those on the front and rear platform who did not care to risk a jump were being pushed off the car by those behind them that did. Those that did jump had their clothes torn and many broke their arms or legs.

Over 16 people were injured. J.M.C. Bargar was one of the first to be removed. His leg was broken and he was unconscious. Later it was determined that he had broken his neck, died at the scene. His wife, Nettie Bargar, had her back injured and was in the hospital for several weeks. She finally came home two weeks later with her sister to help take care of her and took several more weeks to heal before she was able to walk again.
Mr. Bargar attended the Boston Conservatory and was a proficient musician. He played the Church organ for the Plymouth M. E in Buffalo and for the Methodist Church here in Springville.  He also graduated from the College of Pharmacy of the University of Buffalo. He was the owner and pharmacist of the Bargar’s Pharmacy from 1904 until the time of his death in 1920. Not only was his father a pharmacist, so were his 5 brothers. He was a large part of the community as he was a member of the Springville Lodge, the Odd Fellows and the Lanafore club. He is buried in Maplewood cemetery.
You can come down and read in our archives of great achievements, as well as tragedies that happened in our local newspapers and books that we have at the Lucy Bensley Center, located at 23 N. Buffalo St.
We are open on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., as well as the second and fourth Sunday, 2 to 4 p.m. Send us an email at lucybensleycenter@gmail.com or call us at 592-0094 for an appointment to come and see us.
Bring your family history and treasures by to show us. Don’t forget you can hear some great music on Tuesdays and Thursdays, 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. at the Concord Mercantile located at 17 Franklin St. All organizations are seeking volunteers, even a few hours a month. Consider what you can do for us and let us know.

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