An Elopement on the Downingtown Trolley
(and an angry father chasing in a locomotive)
George Dailey was on the job as a train car inspector at Thorndale on Monday, June 20, 1910 when he got an urgent message from the railroad switching tower at Caln. The Caln tower was relaying a desperate call they received from Dailey’s oldest daughter Marie that her younger sister Anna (age 16 and George’s second oldest daughter) had just eloped with George Lee, age 18, of West Caln. The couple was going by trolley, that included two connections, from Coatesville to Wilmington, Delaware to get married.
Since the first leg of the couple’s trolley trip ran parallel to the railroad tracks from Coatesville to Downingtown, Dailey saw an opportunity to head them off when he spotted a locomotive all steamed up and ready to go at Thorndale. Quickly finding an engineer friend who was more than willing to oblige in the pursuit, Dailey and the engineer climbed aboard the locomotive and the two sped off, racing the trolley to Downingtown.
The trolley is seen here in the 1920s in Downingtown crossing the bride over the Brandywine Creek.
The locomotive won the race to Downingtown, but by the time Dailey climbed off and reached Lancaster Pike, the trolley had left and was on its way to West Chester. The angry dad telephoned ahead, but by the time the West Chester authorities reached the trolley depot, Anna and George had made a connection to another trolley and were headed to Kennett Square, and then to Wilmington. Meanwhile, George Dailey boarded the next trolley at Downingtown and was on his way to West Chester to continue the pursuit.
Anna and George reached Kennett Square, then transferred to another trolley on their final leg to Delaware. Right before Wilmington, the trolley stopped at Brandywine Springs Park and the allure of the sights prompted the young couple to get off and look around. An alert guard at the park, who was given their description from Wilmington police who were telephoned of the elopement, detained them until George Dailey arrived. Dailey, who was always one car behind the elopers since Downingtown, reached Brandywine Springs Park and took his daughter back home, followed by a vehemently protesting George Lee. When waiting at Kennett Square for the trolley to West Chester, Dailey finally lost his temper with Lee and had him arrested for “enticing his daughter from home.” Lee was eventually sent to Chester County Prison where his father, Harry Lee, a farmer in West Caln, got his son released after coming up with $400 bail. Meanwhile, Dailey brought his daughter Anna back to their Caln home despite her vows to marry Lee.
The trolley is seen here south of Downingtown heading towards West Chester in a photograph taken in the 1920s.
The eloping couple received some sympathy back home, and there were even a few instances of copycat elopers going by way of trolley to Delaware. But notwithstanding Anna’s prognostications, she and Lee did not marry. She married James Merkt in 1913 and they made their home in Downingtown for the rest of their lives. Anna died in 1971. There is no record of what further punishment, if any, George Lee received. Sadly, he died in 1918 at age 26 in West Chester from pneumonia that was contributed by the influenza epidemic that was ravaging the nation at the time.
The front and back of a West Chester Street Railway Company ticket is seen here. The trolley started running from West Chester to Downingtown in 1903. In 1906 it was extended to Coatesville. The ticket is in the collection of the Downingtown Area Historical Society.