By MARISA SHAARI
For Montclair Local

The cold and chill of the winter season is upon us. While the forecast may not call for snow (yet), I thought it would be fitting to find a winter-themed photograph for this installation of "History and Heritage."

While searching through the Montclair Public Library’s database of historic images for winter scenes in Montclair, I came across this interesting photograph of a trolley car covered in ice. 

Did you know Montclair used to have multiple trolley car lines? 

Many are aware of Montclair’s vibrant transportation past, as evidenced by its six train stations and multiple bus lines. Several bus lines originated as trolley lines (electric street railways) in the late 19th and early 20th century, a time when trolleys were one of the most efficient and affordable forms of transportation.

On July 24, 1898, the first electric trolley made its way down Bloomfield Avenue, run by the North Jersey Street Railway Co. Prior to this, travelers used horses to travel and transport goods between Newark and Montclair. 

The Bloomfield Avenue trolley, designated Route 29, began at Newark Penn Station, traveled up Bloomfield Avenue and journeyed 10 miles through Bloomfield, Glen Ridge, Montclair and Verona, to its final destination in Caldwell. 

The Number 29 trolley headed eastbound on Bloomfield Avenue, as depicted in a postcard. COURTESY MONTCLAIR PUBLIC LIBRARY/MONTCLAIR HISTORY CENTER
The Number 29 trolley headed eastbound on Bloomfield Avenue, as depicted in a postcard. COURTESY MONTCLAIR PUBLIC LIBRARY/MONTCLAIR HISTORY CENTER
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Trolley service between Newark and Caldwell actually began in 1896, but the trolleys were pulled through Montclair by horses, as the town refused to grant permission to lay the rails until 1898.

A building at the corner of Bloomfield Avenue and Bell Street served as a trolley-car barn during the electric streetcar’s heyday. Later, after trolley car service was phased out, a bowling alley called Bellclair Lanes occupied the building. It served as a popular family entertainment spot in Montclair for a few decades. 

Valley Road also had a trolley line, running from Upper Montclair to Orange, completed in 1898, with additional track running along Orange Road and onto Elm Street opening in 1900. 

The Valley Road trolley ceased service in 1928. Trolley Route 29 along Bloomfield Avenue lasted the longest, running until 1952, when the trolleys were abandoned in favor of buses.

Route 29 (Bloomfield) and nearby Route 21 (Orange) have a place in history as the last two street trolley routes in New Jersey, running until March 30, 1952. 

Although the trolley lines fell out of favor, their spirit lives on, as NJ transit kept some of the original route numbers as bus lines. Now NJ Transit Route 29 bus runs along Bloomfield Avenue, carrying passengers between Newark and West Caldwell. 

Though the trolleys were replaced by modern buses, electric streetcars have a much lower environmental impact. Some are calling for the return of the trolley to the nation’s city streets. Wouldn’t it be fun to see trolleys in Montclair again?

To see more historic photographs of Montclair, visit Montclair History Online at digifind-it.com/montclair/. In partnership with the Montclair History Center, the library offers over 13,000 digitized photographs, maps, city directories, deed books and more for your research enjoyment. To use other archival resources available for research, contact the library to make an appointment to use the local history room, localhistory@montclairlibrary.org, or call 973-744-0500, ext. 2235. 

Marisa Shaari
Marisa Shaari
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Marisa Shaari is the local history librarian at the Montclair Public Library.