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Random Subway Memories from Curlew Street

September 11th, 2010

Subway tracks from Lexington Avenue bridge near Curlew Street (1940's). [PHOTO: Rochester Municipal Archives]
Jim Hall, age 62, of Farmington NY, recently stumbled upon RochesterSubway.com and was immediately taken for a ride down memory lane. So much so that he decided to share with us a few of his fondest memories of the Rochester Subway—his final ride on the very last day of service, and of his grandfather who was a streetcar conductor during the Great Blizzard of 1900! Jim says he and his two older sisters were brought up with a healthy fear of the subway because he was told of a tragic story where a ‘boy lost both legs’ being a bit too close to the tracks. As Jim points out, “it seems strange these days that memories stick with you.” But they certainly do. And the fun part is, we never know which ones will stand out in our mind a half century from now. Here’s Jim’s subway story…

Jim Hall would often stay at his Grandmother's house where he and his siblings would watch the B&O trains roll past the front window. In this satellite photo the B&O Railroad line runs north/south, while the Rochester Subway ran northwest/southeast under the railroad tracks and Lexington Avenue. The right-of-way is still clearly visible.“My memories of the Rochester Subway were at my Grandmothers house on Curlew Street in Rochester New York, where we had the best of both worlds with a branch of the B&O Railroadexternal link in her front window across the street, and just up the street, the subway. When I was very young and my grand parents were sitting for us, my sisters and I would wait patiently for grandpa to come home on the subway, walking from the subway station up the street. We were always at our grandparent’s house seeing as they were close to our home on Lexington Avenue, and we were always looking out the windows—looking for new exciting things to tease our young minds. “Go run to the window!” was one of my favorite past times there. And seeing the back yard light up as the streetcars’ mast to the electric connection (pantographexternal link) would spark with a flicker of light. One time we raced to the windows to see a moving snow storm as the snow blowing turbine went by, and made all the tree’s near the subway shower with a vale of white.

Red and cream colored Rochester Subway car 50 at Rowlands Loop, 1951.As kids back then we were interested in the subway very much and had a chance to ride on the last day of service in Rochester. We boarded the last train at Lexington Avenue and Curlew Street station, down a long slanting staircase to a waiting platform next to the tracks. We were told exactly where to stand for over there were the tracks where the little boy lost his legs as he got too close to them. Our eyes were wide open. We’d always look to see if we could find any blood on the tracks—or maybe a missing limb.

Here's a look inside of a Rochester Subway car. This one is empty. The car Jim would have been riding on the last day of service was undoubtedly full. [PHOTO: Wallace Bradley Collection]As we traveled on that red coach that day, the inside was full of advertisements of the times, from Camel Cigarettes to riding the subway to where ever you wanted to. To our amazement the subway ducked under city streets in a blur of smells and light and we knew the ride would be ending soon. We were all eyes on the conductor. And he was doing his best to give his all in those last moments of having a job—giving a blow-by-blow of our location at every stop.

As the change bounced in the box, and the car sped forward, we saw other streetcars with their belly full of passengers. Rail Fanning was popular back then and many people were out taking pictures that day as well. Some men got off and took pictures of the subway car. The conductor did his best to show off for them.

Memories are funny things. I remember my sisters and I came across a real live hobo once back near the tracks one day—we left him alone. We were just spy-ing on him. Being at the location we were at, that same Curlew-Lexington Avenue platform was also a part of the barge canal way back in history. Seems that site was noted for canalers that liked to fight and play chicken with thier boats. (I will have to look in my mothers records of that time as well, her grandparents lived on Emerson Street, and she walked along the subway to thier house. Again, I’m not sure what years the subway was in operation, but if it was around during Edgerton Park being the site of the fair back then I have accounts of the fair there as well). Seems I come from a lot of old memories handed down from my parents… My father loved ice skating at Cobbs Hill and always took the subway out.

People walk along the snowy sidewalk on North Water Street after a snowstorm. This storm was 1914 (not the 1900 storm that Jim's Grandfather battled). The piles of snow between the sidewalk and the road are higher than people's heads. Sleds and wagons on sled runners are parked on the sidewalk. Visible business signs include Brewster, Gordon & Co., grocers, 39 North Water Street; Robertson & Sons, shoemakers, 38 North Water Street; Morrison Press, book and job printing, 60 North Water Street. [PHOTO: Rochester Municipal Archives]In an interesting note, my Grandfather on my father’s side of the family was a streetcar conductor for many years. Everyone knew Badge #834 and how he had to retire at age 60 due to failing health. During a snow storm* in the year 1900 the snow fell so fast that twenty-seven inches fell in one day. My Grandfather was noted in Rochester rail history for he stayed at his post all day that day, pushing through the snow with his streetcar, only to have to be pushed back to the barn by car #401. Throughout the storm he delivered his passengers to their homes, while many had to wade through the snow hip-deep. Anyone who went looking for a loaf of bread that day would be out all day trying to get it. And many people were stranded with no way home but the streetcars.”

Thanks for the stories Jim! Your free Rochester Subway poster is on it’s way. You’ve earned it 😉

*Febuary 28 – March 2: Snowstorm hits Rochester with 43.1 inches of snow.

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This entry was posted on Saturday, September 11th, 2010 at 2:02 pm and is filed under Rochester Subway, Rochester Subway Stories. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

36 Responses to “Random Subway Memories from Curlew Street”

  1. It’s great to remember those days when we were young in Rochester. Thanks for trip down memory lane for us.

  2. Cathy Hermann says:

    I too grew up on Curlew St. in the 60s and 70s and remember the subway and the RR track that ran right behind our house. This is a great article.

  3. Carlos Mercado says:

    Just when I think I’ve seen every subway photo there is, a new one pops up – Lexington Ave. & Curlew St. Looks like the camera is pointed towards General Motors. My first time in Rochester was in 1953,as a seven-year-old, but I did not know about the Subway and my parents never told me. An early instance of child abuse! The interior shot is of a 2000 series car.

  4. admin says:

    @Carlos, I knew someone would point that out! Yes, you nailed it… The interior photo is of car 2000 after it was rebuilt in the winter of 1927. It is a Wallace Bradley image. I couldn’t get my hands on an interior shot of the newer 46-series cars. If anyone has one and wouldn’t mind sharing it I’ll post it here.

    Anyway, the image of the red & cream car 50 above it is a 46-series car. The 46-series are the ones Jim rode on the final day of service.

  5. Jim Hall says:

    For the old people of Curlew Street, I was the little boy that backed his grandmothers car into the house across the street. Back then I didnt know a gas pedal from a braak, being 7 or 8 at the time.

  6. admin says:

    HA… Jim, that’s awesome! I’m 30-something and I still get them confused.

  7. Jim Hall says:

    I know what you mean, she was a elderly lady that had parking lights installed, and was confused. She had to leave it in gear, reverse and she said push that peddle. Next thing I know I was shot across the street into the porch area of a house, straight across from 318 Curlew St.
    Back then it was a awesome time in my life with the subway, railroad and being young.

  8. Cliff Jones says:

    Thanks for the well written memoir. (and the pictures!)

    I missed the subway era, the stairwells were still in place but they were barred with a chain link fence under lock and key.

    All I knew of them was my mom said “bad men live down there.” I didn’t believe her.

    Been a huge rail fan all my life. Unfortunately I came along in time to watch the demise of all the greats.

    When I was 6 the fellows switching in the B&O yard over by the airport took me aboard their engine an let me drive for bit.

    My dad and I were out watching trains somewhere every weekend, we frequented the B&O yard a lot, the engineers knew I was a huge fan.

    Someone documented the railroad’s lines of engines, I found a picture of the actual engine I drove, and it looks like it may be in Rochester when the pic was taken.

    If anybody can identify the stacks in this pic, or confirm this is or isn’t in Rochester, let me know…


    Cliff Jones
    Veteran, New York

    ps My wife and I are going to the tour of the subway this Sunday, the 19th. Wouldn’t miss it for the world.

  9. Jim Hall says:

    Hello Cliff:
    I have a old diesel spotters guide and I am going to look up you B&O switcher. I enjoyed watching the B&O from a bedroom window. Later Grandma took us to Brown St. to see the Pullman cars she thought we being retired. She was a traveler, and told us all about the insides, how the china sparkled, and beautiful wine glasses on each place. As kids we had imaginations that could paint pictures, imagine better times, as well as simple lives trying to make ends meet. They told us about Victory Gardens, being on welfare during the 1920’s and making ends meet from nothing.
    I will be looking for your engine make and let you know. That same yard is populated by a lot of colorful engines now, and I love to see them, but how ?

  10. Jim Hall says:

    hello all:
    The above picture on this page, seems to be pointed to the southwest, just to the right of is the entrance to the subway. Over to your shoulder should be the lexington inn and now bar. Down the street was Ludington Cement, maker of all the cement for the subway.
    I cant see the foot bridge located farther down.

    How many foot bridges on the subway?

  11. admin says:

    I’m taking a wild guess here but I’d say your photo is most certainly from Rochester. I’m not sure about the smoke stacks in the background—could be the RG&E Beebe Station but it’s hard to say. However, the water tower in the background looks a lot like a water tower that is still around today. It’s between 490 and Jay St. on the Rochester Police Dept. campus. If it’s the same water tower and the photo is from the B&O tracks, you’d be standing just north of 490 looking east towards downtown and that engine is heading north.

    This is the water tower I’m thinking of. And on Google Maps.

  12. Jim Hall says:

    (Note for Cliff Jones on the engine he was on)
    Seems B&O used a lot of EMD type engines back then. Seems the engine he drove was a EMD SW8 with AAR type A trucks that they all had. The SW8 model came in three kinds of all different horse power. IF he was in the yard at Brooks Avenue he had a ride of a life time and I envy him. Most of all he had a father that loved watching trains, no many of us do it, but I take my hat off to you an your dad.

  13. Jim Hall says:

    Why that was a better time during the subway years?
    Where else could you live in the city and be to work in 15minutes, while your counter part was in traffic waiting?

    Where if it snowed that night and you just hopped the subway while your counter part was still shoveling? (Not late for work at Kodak)

    Where else you could be ice skating at Cobbs Hill with your date, and not far from your home in the 9th Ward?

    Dare tell me more ?

  14. Cliff Jones says:

    Too bad you can’t read anything on that water tower, it does look compellingly like the one you mapped, but I’d still like to confirm just what smoke stacks (and tallish white building w/windows) those could be nearby. Beebe would seem farther to the east than this shot implies.

    I do know this engine spent time in Baltimore as well, not long after the railroads took the final blows in the late 60’s. By 1970 at the latest this and it’s sister 9402 (they were usually attached end to end, and were when I drove them) were gone from the Rochester scene.

    @Jim, you said it! The light rail/interurban system in the US was the greatest ever built. Rochester has a particular irony in that the passenger rail infrastructure in this land was systematically destroyed by design, with General Motors and Firestone the chief culprits.

    Those two were actually found guilty of conspiracy to destroy light rail by a congressional investigation in the early 60’s. They were each fined something ludicrous like $1,000 each. We, of course, lost an efficient and elegant way of life.

    Irony, since the GM plant out at the north west terminus was probably the bulk of the meat and potatoes for Rochester’s system.

    I am envious of all you who had the opportunity, albeit long gone now, of living in a world such as existed back then, in Rochester and a lot of places.

    I’m also sort of ticked off, in retrospect, that humanity can be so stupid as to throw away an efficient MOSTLY PRIVATE infrastructure, build a horrific replacement at taxpayer expense, then complain for decades about suburban sprawl, the lack of centralized anything, having to maintain and feed a car or two…

    Life at a slower pace is better, healthier and more rewarding. It also puts more people to work. Can’t have any of that, now, can we… :\

  15. Jim Hall says:

    With the end of the subway in 1950’s and the birth of the Rochester Transit System, we all were around for the Fast Ferry service to Canada. Seems Rochester hatches some real bloopers that live a few days and then die. Rochester was banking on that ferry, with the modernization of Lake Avenue to the center of the city, to a renewal of the Port of Rochester, that was so good to see. I still wonder what is next. But a fast transit system would help Rochester, not digging up down town to put the canal back in the city. Only history is 20-20 hind site and all.
    (stepping off the soap box)

  16. Jim Hall says:

    Is there any other ‘throw-back’ items from the subway to the bus system that we know of.

    1.Cream and Red-also the early RTS bus system colors

    2.Train number, the small numbers in the lower left window of both bus and street car?

    Is there any more throw backs? Routes of the street cars and bus system the same ?

    start scratching your head

  17. admin says:

    @Jim, many of our modern RTS routes follow the old streetcar routes. Look closely at the 1928 Rochester Subway map and you will see the streetcar routes. Same hub and spoke system. Lake Ave, Clinton, Portland all the way up to East Ridge and Culver… all the same.

    Also, the new Mortimer Street Terminal designs kind of resemble the old trolley barns. That one’s a stretch but it’s all I can come up with 😉

  18. Jim Hall says:

    My next question the ‘car barns’ of the subway?
    Where were they?
    (I know RTS buses were stored in the same area the present RedWing Stadium is today in long buildings)
    (Sorry the same area was a open air location for meat packers in the city, where reefers were opened and meat hung there)
    Many old memories-right along with cigar store indians on state street and the Navy Surplus store in Main St. in Rochester.

  19. admin says:

    There was a big one at the north end of the line by General Motors. I know there was also one near the East Main Street Station. This postcard shows some rolling stock lined up outside that one.

    Also, the former Jillian’s (now Stantec) on Mill Street in High Falls used to be a trolley barn and streetcar power station.

    Any others? I don’t have my subway book handy. Carlos?

  20. Don says:

    Some nice memories there – thanks for sharing!

    Re the B&O switcher, I think you have some problems there. The 9402 (an SW-900, not an SW-8) and its sisters did not have MU (multiple-unit) capability. If you ran one of two switchers coupled together, it was probably one of the older NW-2 models (which looked quite similar to the SW-900’s). Most commonly Rochester had 9549-9551, although 9547, 9548 and 9550 also showed up and at some point almost any combination of those could be found. 9402 and others in that series could only be operated as a single unit.

    I’m trying to place the photo but can’t off the top of my head. Beebee station was served by the NYC and was quite a ways from the B&O, ditto the Yawman & Erbe plant, now “Water Tower Park”, which is adjacent to I-490 and is home to the police department. It MIGHT have been out west of Lincoln Park, possibly RG&E Station 9, Pfaudler, and GRS? but can’t quite make that work either. Note the tank car in the background.

  21. Cliff Jones says:

    Don: Thanks for the comments. I have to believe the photo is elsewhere, eg not from Rochester. Could be wrong but I sure can’t place it positively.

    Wow, now you have me wondering something: have I confused the engine number with some other number from distant memory?

    No doubt those pics are spot on as to the appearance of the things, although the small details would have easily escaped me.

    hmmm. 928-6240… was the phone #, so not that. I’ll look into the range of numbers you have supplied, and thank you immensely for that information!

    I doubt my mother would remember the # but she just might. Dad is long gone, 1979.

    BTW do you know what they replaced the switchers with during the CB&O days? I seem to recall some kind of low hood RS type on the scene.

    Anyway, thanks again, what an astounding hit of luck, you finding this thread and adding such valuable info. This internet thing is incredible.

  22. Jonathan B says:

    I currently live on Canary Street and have always been fascinated by the history of the canal and subway which ran right near my home. I saw one picture of the ‘Hotel Lexington’ with the canal running past and two rail bridges. Is this the same building at the corner of Curlew & Lexington that now houses the tavern called the ‘Straight Home Inn’ (think it used to be the Lexington Inn)?

  23. jim hall says:

    Hello Tenth warder!
    The lexington inn was always a facinating place for me, seeing my grandparents lived on curlew street. Legend says that the lexington inn back in the days of the Canal, was a real hot spot for canalers, seeing they spar’d often with thier boats and played a similar game of “Chicken” back then. You can imagine how they did it.

  24. jim hall says:

    Hello all!
    Being in the 9th or tenth ward of Rochester most of my life was a amazing felling. I went to Holy Rosary School, went to Aquinas Inst., and knew when the Emerson St. dump caught fire in the summer(Gee they put edison tech on it) and enjoyed all the sites and sounds of the neighborhood. Between watching trains from the windows of my grandparents house, to waiting for grandpa to come home on the subway, to having the last day ride on the subway. All sweet memories that come and go, but it was a simpler time, wishing for it to come back.

  25. jim hall says:


    ??? Is there a way of getting a copy of ‘THE NEW YORK STATE RAILWAYS BY SHELDEN S. KING any where other than a public library ? (decimal 385.09747)
    (Why I ask is that the book is a great reference to for the railways we talk about all the time in this area of the site ?)

  26. Cliff Jones says:

    Hello again, Jim.

    I remember the Emerson St dump fire, too. I was young and impressionable, I remember clearly my mom and dad explaining the fire was underground, and they would NEVER be able to put it out.

    Seeing as people carried a lump of charcoal ‘burning’ in a leather pouch across the alps 4,000 years ago and were able to start fires with them days later, I imagine somewhere down there a few hot spots remain to this day.

    I didn’t know they built a school on top of it! Perfect! Who got rewarded for that genius move? =P

    To this day, my wife and I refer to that fire, even though she is from Long Island and never saw it. We use the term when an ashtray full of cigarette butts starts smoldering, we have a few narrow but deep ash trays and if we let them get too full, little glowing embers crawl throughout the contents deep down inside.

    When one of us see it we’ll say “hey Fern, you got the Emerson street dump goin’ over there…”

    Have you searched amazon (or anywhere on line) for the book? Even if only a used copy you should be able to find some way of getting your hands on it.

    I used to have a ton of railroad books, huge coffee table sized with the history of a road, maps, schedules, you name it. I had several books on each railroad actually. 6-7 on the Pennsylvania, a few each on Erie, DL&W/Erie Lackawanna, Lehigh Valley, B&O and probably 2 dozen great books on the New York Central.

    My grandfather was pretty well up the chain of command on the Central, in Cleveland. We were there when the river burned and got to go on the NYC main line bridge the day after.

    I also have some “insider” stuff he gave me, several lanterns, switch stands (one of them 12 feet tall) cast iron whistle signs and tons of official paperwork stuff, forms, schedules etc.

    I went to college, my dad died, my mom moved and to make room sold all my books without telling me about it.

    Oh well. You win some, you lose some. For example I never got to ride the Rochester subway.

    I wish for the return of simpler times, too. A friend of mine has a relative who moved to Uruguay. He says it’s just like living in Rochester in the 1950’s. Sounds intriguing.

  27. jim hall says:

    The Emerson street dump again was a site every kid on my neighborhood wanted to visit. I did later when my next door neighbor played Pony League baseball out there and I shagged baseballs for that summer. NO one wanted to walk in the dump, but I came out with 3 good one baseballs.
    Edison Tech will be always be in my mind seeing the dump was put on part of it. So in the spring and they find a refigerator coming up on the 50 yard line, I will laugh forever.
    From my window watching of the B&O rail line, I saw my fill of “F” units, and later when I worked at EI Dupont on Driving Park, it was Alco’s and Switchers to move the coal cars.
    Once more when I go back to that area, I can still smell fried fish on fridays from a place on Dewey Avenue, or go by Cye’s Drug store or Critic’s for a sundae, or my first beer at Sellito’s Bar.
    Darn I feel old !

  28. jim hall says:

    Please put on your thinking cap and answer me this one small question, where was the “Race between Steam and Electricity” done?? It was between Rohester and Eastern, and NYC Railroad Auburn Line. I have a picture of the post card and I know that R&E won, but where did it happen?

  29. admin says:

    Jim, I flipped thru all of my books but all I could find was the same info that’s already printed on the card. It’s some where between Canandaigua and Rochester. You should send an email to someone at the NY Museum of Transportation. One of those guys will know.

    I have this postcard in my collection and it’s one of my faves…

  30. Cliff Jones says:

    The trolley is the “orange blossom special.” I have a copy of the book about that line, signed by the author. One of my favorite books of all time.

    The NYC line paralleled the trolley line like this for a few miles north of Canadaigua, if I’m not mistaken. The train would have switched to Lehigh Valley tracks just east of Victor, in order to follow the trolley route. From Victor northward LV and then NYC again paralleled one another on and off.

    So this picture could be anywhere along the trolley line, but since it mentions the Auburn line it would have to be in or just north of Canandaigua.

    You can’t tell which direction they are traveling, unfortunately. So either this was near the start, running toward Rochester or near the end headed to the finish line in Canandaigua. I’d guess the former, you’d think after running many miles they wouldn’t be so neck-and-neck.

    The orange blossom’s tracks came into Rochester along what is now the expressway headed east (past the Erie canal lock remnants) on to the can of worms. There was a segment of NYC trackage in the same corridor. The west end was at the subway terminal where the Rundel Library is now.

    The tracks were sacrificed to make way for the expressway. Recall the subway was popular and people asked for investment from the city, but they just let it deteriorate.

    Because Eisenhower was slathering big bucks for the construction of 4 lane expressways. Rochester could get a ton of “free money” (don’t get me started) to tear up the tracks and pave the corridor, of get no money, have to invest out of the budget to keep the subway up and not have the ‘modern’ link with the Thruway, and eventually interstate highways.

    No-brainer for the city, really. But strictly a policy move on the part of the fed. They subsidized the railroad’s primary competition, roads for freight and airports for passengers.

    These films were made by thew railroads in order to get the people to put pressure on the railroads to deregulate. If they had done so in the 1950’s we’d still have NYC, Pennsylvania, Erie Lackawanna etc etc.


    At the end the president of the NYC makes a pitch. The better pitch is this film from an Illinois based association of railroads:


    The last 1/3 of that one explains the plight. Can’t get any clearer.

    BTW they did eventually destroy the railroads with over regulation. And typical of government, when they took over the northeastern railroads in the form of conrail, they lifted the regulations that the private railroads had been begging them to remove for almost 30 years.

    The government didn’t regulate itself as hard headed and heavy handed as they did the private companies.

    Pisses me off no end every time I think about it.

  31. jim hall says:


    I was asked to direct my question to James Dierks of the NY Museum of Transportation and he thinks the photo was not right, seeing that the real photo is at the Valentown Museum and the post card might be done from two different shots.

    He also quotes:
    The train is on the Auburn branch of the NY Central RR, and the interban trolley care is on the Rochester and Eastern Line. The location would have to been just east of what is now Route 251 out on the west of Victor NY. Back then Route 251 was call Swamp Rd. The train and trolley are both traveling westbound heading toward the Swamp Rd crossing. In fact, the photographer may be at the crossing.

    I am a curious sort and have walked many miles of the Rochester and Eastern, as well as the Peanut Brach in my area and like to know more of my local history.


  32. admin says:

    Jim, thanks for sharing that info. Sounds like a visit to the Valentown Museum is in order! I’ve never been there but I think it’s in Victor.

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  35. Jack Lamphier says:

    I have several memories of riding the subway. When I was an 8th grader or freshman (1941-2) at West High School we would utilize the subway to get to Edgerton Pk for our away game against Jefferson High. We would grad a Genesee bus on its return downtown, at a stop near West, get a transfer and get off around Broad St. Enter the Subway there at the surface entrance. I think the Edgerton Pk, exit was just that. It was a considerable walk to the field and stadium. I did this several times and was enthralled by the subway.

  36. Jack Lamphier says:

    My final memory of the subway was from June 1946 and my final day at West High. The only day I ever “skipped” classes, and did it because any semblance of studying was over for the year, we were graduating in a few days. Myself, my best buddy and a couple of girls, decided to ride the subway end to end. Roch. Products to Rowlands in Brighton. We did it, and completed an entire circuit.
    When I got home, at supper, my Dad asked, “How was school today”. Need I say more.

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