Saturday, April 21, 2007

Street Cars

One day I was driving home from work and while passing Glen Echo Park, I caught sight of a trolley or street car as they were also called. So the next day on the way to work, I pulled over and took some pictures (As always, click to enlarge).

I jotted some notes down from the display as well. A little history:

The first electric trolley cars were introduced to the US in 1888 in Richmond VA. They became the dominant mode of transportation throughout the first part of the 20th century. They ran more effectively than horse carriages and with these trolley cars, people’s perception of distance and speed changed. Just about every major city built trolley lines. They carried people to work, to stores and to their homes and helped increase suburban developments. During World War I, trolleys were the fifth largest industry in the US.

Many trolley companies built amusement or trolley parks at the end of their lines. Glen Echo was one such park. This was done to increase off peak rider ship. Glen Echo Park was an amusement park built in 1898. The land was later purchased by the Washington Railway and Electric Company (WRECO) in 1903 and as a result, their number 20 line ran from Union Station in downtown DC, running west along Pennsylvania Avenue, to M Street and Georgetown to Glen Echo. The line ended at the one lane bridge at Cabin John.

In the late 1920’s, the Presidents Conference Committee (Presidents from various trolley companies across the US) voted to develop the PCC Trolley, which would provide greater acceleration, more comfort and a smoother ride. PCC trolleys were very successful and still in use today in some cities.

The trolley pictured here, #2732 is a PCC trolley that was built in 1937 by the St. Louis Car Company. It was operated by the Philadelphia Transportation Company. This is identical to the one that ran through Glen Echo Park and the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transit Authority donated this recently to Glen Echo Park where it will undergo restoration and be displayed for the public.

I never did get to ride a street car as I was born in December 1961 and the final street cars in DC ran in January 1962. Labor strife, the popularity of the automobile and pressure to replace the streetcars with buses led to their demise. Today there are various roads in the city with street car rail trails.

Wisconsin and M Streets, 1958

A streetcar and bus from the Capitol Transit Company, 1945

Streetcar map, circa 1958
Click on a flag for a picture and description.

National Capital Trolley Museum

Baltimore Streetcar Museum

Please feel free to share your street car stories in the comments section. I never got to ride a street car here in DC but I've always enjoyed riding the bus. When I was living in the city, I found riding the bus a great way to relax, people watch or just watch the scenes of daily life go by as you look out the window while riding from one place to the next. The subway, while very convenient and clean, just doesn't offer the same excitement a bus ride did.


Anonymous said...

As I mentioned, I took three busses and a streetcar to and from school for four years. I would catch the bus on Conn. Ave. in Chevy Chase, ride to Chevy Chase Circle. Then another bus down Conn. Ave. to Nebraska Ave. A bus west on Nebraska to Tenley Circle where, finally, I would run into the middle of Wisconsin Avenue to catch the streetcar down to Cathedral School. It was a pleasant experience, the bell on the streetcar would ring out periodically. It was a smooth, quiet ride as I recall. I can just imagine in today's traffic trying to get onto the streetcar platform in the middle of the Wisconsin Ave. at Tenleytown. No way!
Enjoyed your blog.

Anonymous said...

My Mom's friend sent a note to her I thought I'd share.....

What memories that picture conjured up! Please thank Billy.
In my early days, the annual church picnic took place at Glen Echo Park. We got there by the old Cabin John summer street car, an open-sided vehicle with shellacked rattan seats. It racketed along the old tracks with a sound that I can still hear. Especially charming was the clackety clack as we went over the rickety trestles. Magic!

When the "modern" cars (as pictured) came in, we still rode out to Glen Echo. What a time it was! Street cars held a deep fascination for me.

We had relatives in the 1600 block of Wisconsin Avenue and the 3600 block of Prospect Avenue. When we visited them I, as a child, would stand at the window to watch the changeover from plow to trolley or vice versa.

Just before the streetcar coming North on Wisconsin Avenue arrived, a man went down into a trough under the street so that the streetcar passed over him. There he hitched up or removed the plow. Or he waited above ground to lower
or raise the trolley, depending on whether the streetcar was going to turn left at P Street and work its way over to Prospect and then out to Glen Echo (via overhead trolley) or go on up Wisconsin Avenue (via plow).

Anonymous said...

From Dad:

In one of the pictures you show a streetcar turning. That happens to be at the corner of Wisconsin and M street across from the Riggs Bank in Georgetown. I rode them all the time, of course, when I didn't have a driver's permit.

In Georgetown they would switch the overhead lines to the underground connection. The cars couldn't make a go of it when it snowed. Also, trying to stop an auto on the tracks was a pretty mean trick when it was wet.

When I lived in Georgetown, I would take a street car to Wisconsin and Military Road, transfer to a bus to the circle and then walk to the Chevy Chase Village Hardware Store where I worked during the summer before I got a license. This was before Walkmans, iPods, etc. Talked to myself a lot and would read the Transit News which featured a column by Bill Gold (who wrote the District Line column for the Post). They were fun to ride. Nice reading and writing. I think you may have missed your calling.

Bill-DC said...

Yeah, maybe I should have studied journalism. I'm having fun with this blog though. I never thought it would be around a year and a half after I started it but I realize I run into so many little subjects each day and that keeps my interest. There are days when I struggle to write a story though, I get blocked or the words just aren't there.

Of course there is Benjamin to write about and post pictures. This enables family all over the world to see his progress.

I did get to sit in on a press conference after a sporting event (Maryland-Florida State) and I "reported" it here. Seeing that press conference and writing about it was a lot of fun.

Stay tuned....