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E-mail puts us on track; Trollies pre-dated the WRTA run.

Byline: Betty Lilyestrom

COLUMN: LEICESTER NOTEBOOK

For those of us who didn't grow up in Leicester, it's always a surprise when someone whose family has lived here forever mentions a bit of history contradicting our assumption that the pleasant suburban community we know sprang from primarily agricultural roots..

By now, we've learned that those agricultural roots were very early eclipsed by a number of small manufacturing operations, some of which were so innovative they made Leicester a well-known name in the carding industry. And we've accepted the fact that a Leicester minister operated a rescue operation for runaway slaves from his manse at the edge of the Town Common.

But we don't buy every historic story we hear - for example, that folks have seen ghosts in Leicester's Spider Gates Cemetery, despite the fact that it was reported just last week on Boston's public television Channel 2.

The latest surprise we found difficult to believe was triggered by an e-mail from Larry Todd of the Leicester Historical Society, reporting that the society's meeting at 7 p.m. Nov. 15 at the Leicester Senior Center will feature a talk by Ken Ethier of Auburn on "The Trolleys of Leicester."

Trolleys of Leicester? Is that possible?

For the answer to that question we turned to the person we always consult for verification of things historic in town: J. Donald Lennerton Jr., who heads the Leicester Historic Commission. The commission is no kin to the Historicial Society, though both are deeply involved in Leicester history. The society's mission is to make history known; the commission's is to preserve it.

"Of course Leicester had trolleys," Don said. "We had them for many years, from the1800s until as recently as 1945."

Don said he is too young to have seen the trolleys in operation, but that he learned a lot about them from his father, who not only saw them, but rode on them - sometimes a bit illegally.

"He told he that he and his buddies used to watch to see when the driver or brakeman wasn't looking and then they'd try to hop on and hitch a ride," he sad. "He also told me that one of their favorite Halloween pranks was to spread oil on the rails to make the trolley slide off."

Leicester was part of a joint trolley operation that provided transportation as far as Spencer center, where passengers could transfer to another trolley operation that served communities to the west.

In 1895, the Leicester-Spencer operation joined the Worcester trolley system and became a part of what was then the Worcester Consolidated Street Railway.

The Consolidated operation went through several name and route changes over the years and had become the Worcester Regional Transit Authority by the time it decided to abandon trolleys in favor of buses in 1945.

By that time, the western and central portion of the Leicester route had been eliminated, and all that was left was the section from Colliers Corner to the Leicester line in Cherry Valley. But that section became a historic part of the authority's trolley operation because the last trolley ride on that farewell day was from Cherry Valley.

Don Lennerton said the maintenance operation for the Leicester-Spencer portion of the system was located on Main Street near Sargent's Pond, next to the historic Rawson Brook Cemetery, where many Revolutionary War veterans are buried. The largest maintenance building was located on the site now occupied by the Castle Restaurant and was flanked by car barns, a hose house and a sand house that held material to treat the rails in winter so the trolleys could make the hill.

Don said the trolleys had trouble with other hills in town, including the section of Main Street from Mannville Street to the center of town. For that reason, trolleys headed west had to go around by way of Winslow Avenue and Paxton Street. On the return trip, however, the trolleys took the downhill route past the Common on Main Street.

Many of the trolley rails have been dug up and carted away, Don said, including most of those from the western part of town that were reportedly dug up because the metal was needed for the war effort.

Don said he was there to watch the digging up of the rails in Cherry Valley, hoping to get a section of rail to add to the town's collection of historic memorabilia.

"I wasn't able to do it," he said. "I tried to take a four-foot section of rail, but there was no way I could lift it. I did get my souvenir, though. I got a spike."

He said he thinks there are still some trolley rails under the pavement in other parts of town.

The name Leicester" has become a part of the transit authority's historical records. In 1985, 40 years after the trolley operation ended, the authority held a 40th anniversary celebration to help people remember. The authority, in cooperation with the Worcester Area Transportation Co., decorated a theme bus with a painting of a trolley and a 40th anniversary message and drove it over all the streets where the trolleys had operated.

The press release issued by the authority for the anniversary begins: "Worcester's last street car clanked in from Cherry Valley 40 years ago. Street car #594 ended an era which began in 1891." A part of the anniversary was the publication of a 48-page book, written by Stephen Carlson and Tom Harding, which traces the history, in word and photos, of transportation in the Worcester area from the early horsecar days to the end at 1.36 a.m. Jan. 1, 1946.

The Carpenter's Workshop Coffee House will hold its final program of the season from 7 to 9 p.m. Nov. 13 at Greenville Baptist Church, featuring the Ray Tierney Band.

Refreshments will be available for a donation.

The coffeehouse presents programs on the second Saturday of each month from May through November.

State Sen. William T. Moore, D-Uxbridge, and state Rep. John J. Binienda Sr., D-Worcester, will sponsor a holiday dinner for local seniors at noon Nov. 17 at the Leicester Senior Center, 40 Winslow Ave. The event will include a free turkey dinner with all the fixings.

For reservations, which must be made by noon tomorrow, call (508) 892-7016.
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Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Nov 11, 2010
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