|By Michelle Kealey|
WEST SPRINGFIELD On the last Thursday of each month for a little over a year, many local seniors have been meeting to share their stories about the history of the city during the "Bring Your Memories" class at the West Springfield Senior Center.
The class will meet for the last time on May 26 before a break for the summer.
Phyllis Bertera, a member of the Historical Commission and organizer of the program, explained that there are a lot of empty spaces in West Springfield's history that need to be filled.
She added that Bernie Lally, the city's historian, knows there are many pieces of history that once existed in the city and have since been taken down.
"We don't know why they were taken down," Bertera said.
When the class was created, Bertera was the president of the Friends of the Senior Center and thought the "Bring Your Memories" program would be a "wonderful" program that the Senior Center could sponsor.
"I talked to the Senior Center Director [Gail Freeman], and she thought it was a good idea," Bertera said. "It has been successful from the beginning."
She said that participants come and go, "but as a rule we have a wonderful group."
Bertera added that the attendance has grown, with about 30 or 35 people attending the class each month.
"Almost every meeting we have someone new," she said.
Bertera said that she plans to continue the program as long as it is successful in obtaining the information needed.
During the program, local seniors tell stories about their lives as they grew up in the city.
For example, participants have talked about their family farms, what life was like in different periods in history and what Riverdale Street was like in the past.
Bertera explained that she records the class and later transcribes the stories. Once she has transcribed them, she gives the stories to Lally, who places them in different categories with the rest of the city's historic documents.
Bertera said that she and Lally do not usually bring a topic to discuss, but they have found that people are running out of ideas.
"We have to give a subject and 'bingo' it opens up memories," she said.
During the May class, the topic will revolve around trolley cars from 1875 to the late 1930s.
Bertera explained that she was in the library recently and discovered an article written by a local resident and former trolley driver Donald E. Shaw.
In the 1960s, Shaw wrote down his memories about the trolley cars and West Springfield from 1875 when "people probably would have arrived by omnibus from the railroad depot in Springfield."
Shaw's story follows West Springfield through the time of the horse trolleys in the 1880s and early 1890s to the electric trolley cars in the mid-1890s.
His story also includes information about a fire that destroyed one of the car hubs and a fire that destroyed the North End Bridge.
Shaw's story brings readers to the time in history when the trolleys were fully replaced by buses in the 1930s.
During the meetings, participants have mentioned the trolleys when sharing their stories, but it has never been a large topic, according to Bertera.
"[We will] try to flush out more memories about the trolley days," she said. "They are warm, wonderful memories."
She added that a ride on a trolley was usually a fun time when families would venture out together.
Bertera found a timeline that showed the rise and fall of the Trolley in West Springfield. The time line is as follows:
"August 1887 Horse trolley cars came across the Old Toll Bridge.
"October 1889 The first horse trolley cars went up into Mittineague.
"January 1893 The last horse trolley cars ran to West Springfield. This marked the end of rail service
over the Old Toll Bridge, which never carried electric trolley cars.
"March 1899 Two separate Street Railway Companies were attempting to get locations over the Agawam Bridge. The Springfield Street Railway was granted the location because (1. the Town had "done business with them" since 1887, (2. a provision was made that the street railway would assume the town's share in the cost of the new Agawam bridge and (3. the street railway would build a loop line around West Springfield (what became the River Street route).
"December 1892 First electric trolley cars went up Tubbs Hill.
"December 1899 The first electric trolley cars made a complete route from Springfield to Westfield.
"December 1931 Busses replaced trolleys on the Westfield line form Springfield to Westfield.
"December 1937 Busses replaced trolleys on the Springfield to Holyoke route."
In addition to stories about the trolley cards, Bertera and Lally are looking for old photographs, postcards and newspaper clippings that show a visual history of the city.
The class will meet on May 26 at 1 p.m. at the Senior Center. The class will not meet during the months of June, July and August, and will resume in September.