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Vanishing Americans

April 2024
1min read

At this writing only a few hundred miles of authentic electric trolleys (as opposed to rapid transit) survive in North America. There are a few routes each in Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Toronto, Mexico City, Veracruz, Tampico, and San Francisco. Boston’s streetcars run into a downtown subway system; there is one similar subway-surface trolley route in Newark, New Jersey. Philadelphia also still has suburban trolley service, as does Cleveland, Ohio; and Texas has a short line serving a department-store parking lot in Fort Worth. All these are, alas, streamlined affairs, and the only faintly old-fashioned cars on a regular service travel the St. Charles Avenue route, the last surviving line in New Orleans, home of the famous “Streetcar Named Desire,” whose system looked so busy on page 27.

But it is still possible to see really antique streetcars and to ride on them. In recent years operating trolley museums, devoted to the rescue and restoration of ancient equipment of all sorts, have sprung up in various parts of the country. Among the most ambitious and interesting, redolent of the sights and sounds of the trolley age, are those at East Haven, Connecticut (the Branford Electric Railway Museum, which has a memorial building given by the family of Frank J. Sprague); Warehouse Point, East Hartford, Connecticut; Kennebunkport, Maine (the Seashore Trolley Museum, with a record ninety cars from all over the world) ; the Orange Empire Trolley Museum at Perris, California; and the Illinois RailwayMuseum at Union, Illinois. There is a growing roster of others every year, although the number of old cars that can be found rusting away in the weeds or gathering dust in forgotten carbarns is pathetically small. Most of their sisters were scrapped long ago.

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