Years ago, when I lived in Boston and before I owned a car, I relied on the streetcar and subway system to get around. From my house near Cleveland Circle, I could easily walk to any of three branches of the Green Line and ride its streetcars downtown. I liked using the “T” to get around, especially the above-ground sections of the Green Line, where I could watch the city passing by as I rode along.
When I get nostalgic for streetcars now, I visit the National Capital Trolley Museum in suburban Maryland. The museum maintains a collection of over a dozen streetcars, including several from Washington, D.C., and some from other countries. You can take a short ride on whichever ones are operating on a given day.
On a recent visit to New England, I traveled up to Kennebunkport, Maine, to visit the much larger collection at the Seashore Trolley Museum. Founded in 1939, the museum claims to be the oldest and largest electric railway museum in the world. Its collection contains over 250 transit vehicles, most of them urban and interurban trolleys. Most were obtained from Boston and elsewhere in New England, but there are also many examples from across the United States, Canada, and other countries.
You can browse through three car barns, visit the restoration shop, and ride 1½ miles out into the Maine countryside on restored trolleys. If you love streetcars, the Seashore Trolley Museum is worth going out of your way to visit.
A cable car runs on steel rails with a slot between the tracks. To move the car forward, the operator uses a mechanical device that extends through the slot and grips a constantly moving underground cable.
A streetcar also runs on steel rails but is propelled by an onboard electric motor. It uses a trolley pole to draw power from an overhead wire. Streetcars are often called trolleys or trams.
I won’t even get into rapid transit (subway or elevated railway) cars, light rail cars, and trackless trolleys . . .
One of the great pleasures of this museum is that you can climb aboard and explore the interiors of countless trolleys.
I came across familiar trolleys from both Boston and Washington, D.C.
The museum offers trolley tours along a rebuilt section of the Atlantic Shore Line Railway, a former interurban route.
My one criticism of the museum is that, while it has some nicely done historical exhibit panels, many of the trolleys on display lack any information at all (except on the museum website) to help you learn about them. Perhaps a nice future project for a volunteer exhibit writer . . .
Nonetheless, the Seashore Trolley Museum offers a wonderful nostalgic trip for those of us who once rode trolleys, and an entertaining and immersive glimpse into the past for trolley fans old and young.
David Romanowski, 2016