By Denise Richardson
There is certainly no secret that once the tourism season picks up in Cooperstown after Memorial Day, parking and traffic can be nothing short of a challenge in the village.
It has been a problem for decades, but a solution to help ease the congestion has been around for 25 years that has helped somewhat. That was the introduction of the motorized trolley vehicles that brings visitors from remote parking areas into the village and all the attractions.
Two such trolleys, the “Natty Bumppo” and “Deerslayer,” made their first runs Monday, June 15, 1987. According to The Daily Star, the trolleys were operated by the Molly Corp. of Ogunquit, Maine. It was hoped from the beginning that if the experiment was successful over the next three months, a local group would take over the trolleys in future years.
While both trolleys started out that day, with fares at 50-cents a ride or $1 for a day pass, only the “Natty Bumppo” finished because business was fairly slow and because the trolleys kept catching up to one another.
Passengers were encouraged to leave their private vehicles in the Cooperstown school parking lots to ride the trolley to downtown attractions that year.
“Natty Bumppo” rode with both of its rear plastic windows rolled up, giving the feeling of riding in a convertible. From the inside there was a sense of airiness with large stenciled windows, polished oak benches and brass railings.
Wanda Richards and her husband Will were riders on opening day.
“We approve,” Mrs. Richards said. “We tried it and we liked it and we’d do it again. And this morning I played queen. I waved to everybody; some waved back, some didn’t.” Will Richards wasn’t so sure. “I think it’s crazy, but it’s fun,” he said.
“The major portion of our riders today have been school kids,” said Carl Larsen, driver of the “Natty Bumppo.” Some kids on skateboards were trying to freeload a ride by hanging on to the rear of the trolley.
The Cooperstown Police were called to discourage that. This was always a problem in any village or city, dating back to the years when trolleys ran on rails as a form of public transportation. There were other opening day glitches. Larsen rang the trolley bell once and it broke.
The sound system featuring a taped account of things to see and do in Cooperstown hadn’t yet been hooked up. Larsen said he got stuck behind delivery trucks on Main Street a few times. Those delays took about 20 minutes, the time required to travel the entire planned service route.
There were hopes to bring the trolleys back for 1988, based on a fairly good response for the first season.
Because of a lack of merchant and other local support, there was no service the next year, but the trolley system was returned in 1989 for one of the village’s busiest seasons so far, when the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum celebrated its 50th anniversary.
Unlike today, the trolley did not serve the Farmers’ Museum and what was then called the Fenimore House in 1987.
Three new trolleys were purchased in 1989 by the Clark Foundation, and began service during the weekend of June 16. A new parking strategy was worked out for that year, as the Clark Foundation expanded a parking lot just north of the Fenimore Art Museum, as well as a new lot at the former Glen Garage, which the foundation bought in 1988.
A third lot was added the next year, just south of the village on state Route 28.
The Clark Foundation and the village spent about $1,600 to improve the village’s signs for this park-and-ride system, placed outside of the village on state Routes 80 and 28. In recent years, the Cooperstown trolleys have been made available as rentals for special occasions.
This weekend: First college degrees were awarded at the Oneonta State Teachers College. CITY HISTORIAN Mark Simonson’s column appears twice weekly. On Saturdays, his column focuses on the area during the Depression and before.
His Monday columns address local history after the Depression. If you have feedback or ideas about the column, write to him at The Daily Star, or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. His website is www.oneontahistorian. com. His columns can be found at www.thedailystar.com/marksimonson.