Highland will launch public art project in 2018 honoring historic trolley

Highland artist Jim Fawcett with his trolley design. (photo by Lauren Thomas)

The Town of Lloyd and its hamlet of Highland will soon join the ranks of other local communities that have celebrated what makes them unique by hosting a themed public art exhibit. Each town has referenced something iconic about their past or present in their displays: Esopus chose tugboats, Woodstock did guitars, Saugerties had lighthouses and Kingston paid tribute to the resident peacocks at Forsyth Nature Center.

For Highland, it’ll be trolleys, to honor an important part of Highland’s history: the trolley that last ran between Highland Landing and New Paltz nearly a century ago.


The Town of Lloyd Historical Preservation Society (TOLHPS) is sponsoring The Trolley Street Art Project. TOLHPS is currently on a break for the summer, but come September, plans for the project will resume, with installation of the trolleys on the streets of Highland expected to happen in late spring or early summer of 2018. “We haven’t quite finalized everything yet,” says Vivian Wadlin, vice-president of the historical society, “but we want to get the artists thinking about it.”

The project will work in much the same way as the public art projects have in other local towns. A business in the community will sponsor a model trolley for a fee and choose an artist to create a design for it. The artist will receive a small stipend and materials. A location will be found for the completed trolley and it will stay on view through the summer, into early fall, when the artful trolleys will all be auctioned off with proceeds benefitting the renovation of a building that will become a permanent home for TOLHPS.

Local woodworker and sculptor Jim Fawcett, whose studio is on the trolley’s original path, was commissioned to design the 25-inch-long street art trolleys. Fawcett is known for his whimsical and idiosyncratic wood works and his annual entries into the Kingston Artist Soapbox Derby. His trolley design was sent to a model-maker, who made a prototype for Usheco fabricators in Kingston (the same company, notes Wadlin, that made the tugboats for Esopus and the peacocks for Kingston). Two dozen or so trolleys have been vacuum-molded out of a type of plastic, at this point in halves, ready to be glued together and painted.

Anyone can participate who would like to, says Wadlin. “You don’t have to be a professional artist. In fact, I think we have a couple of auto body shops that want to do a trolley. And that makes perfect sense; they’re the guys that can do all that pin-striping!”

Once the trolleys have all been painted, they’ll be sprayed with a clear coat so they’re truly weatherproof, she adds.

Wadlin will sponsor a trolley herself, as publisher of the About Town guide to local business and events. Like all the sponsors, she can either determine the artist she wants to design it or come up with a design herself and look for an artist to execute it.

The Trolley Street Art Project will initially be focused only on Highland, but if all goes well, the project may be opened up to New Paltz the following year, says Wadlin, if there’s any interest there, because the trolley line went from Highland to New Paltz.

The trolley operated by the New Paltz-Highland Traction Company ran from the early 1890s to 1925. It was the only “inter-city trolley” in Ulster County, according to Wadlin. The cities of Poughkeepsie and Kingston each had a trolley that ran within their city limits, she notes, but the Highland-New Paltz trolley went from the Hudson River to the Wallkill River.

A number of its passengers were tourists, who debarked from steamboats at Highland Landing, destined for stays at boarding houses along its route, and to New Paltz, the stepping-off spot for Shawangunk Mountain resorts.

Other riders were locals, who used the trolley as a way to get to work. There was even a shuttle trolley, of sorts, from Poughkeepsie, known as the “bud” car. (“I don’t know where that name came from,” says Wadlin, “but my mother-in-law called it that, and she was the town historian!”) The bud car was “a cute little thing, pulled by a little engine, and it would come across from Poughkeepsie over the railroad bridge — now Walkway Over the Hudson — and then meet in Centerville with the trolley that came up from the river. People would get off the bud car and get on the ‘real’ trolley to go the rest of the way to New Paltz.”

It must have been a great thing for people in Poughkeepsie, says Wadlin, noting that there was no Mid-Hudson Bridge until 1930. People that lived on this side of the river but worked at the psychiatric center in Poughkeepsie could also use the bud car to make it across to work.

Milk was even delivered via the trolley, as was mail: two or three times a day, says Wadlin.

In her extensive vintage postcard collection — more than 200 of which were featured in a book about Highland she co-authored a few years ago — there is one referencing the trolley that she particularly likes. It bears a request from a student at the Normal School in New Paltz to her grandmother in Highland, asking Grandma to send her the fountain pen she left behind by the next mail delivery on the trolley, so she could take her test at school.

The trolley was also a boon to romance. “A lot of people would come from Poughkeepsie to New Paltz to go to The Casino — now P&G’s — where they’d meet up and dance and catch the last trolley home across the river,” explains Wadlin.

The Casino opened in 1900, soon becoming the place to go for Saturday night dances on the second floor of the open pavilion, with views of the mountains beyond. The terminal station for the trolley line for Highland was located just across Main Street. The crowds became so large at one point that special late-night trolleys were added to accommodate the guests and take the musicians back to Poughkeepsie.

Artists and sponsors interested in participating in The Trolley Street Art Project may e-mail Wadlin at viv@abouttown.us. She’ll compile a list of names and when all the details are finalized, she’ll send out an e-mail blast to all who contact her with information on how to get involved. More information will also be available at www.tolhps.org.



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