The streetcar, or “trolley,” played a vital role in the growth of 20th century American cities. Thanks to its high-speed, efficient transportation, people could live much farther from their work than if they had to walk or rely on horse-drawn cars. As a result, cities expanded along the streetcar routes built out from their centers. Many of today’s thriving suburban communities owe their existence to the streetcar.
Streetcars served America through two world wars and a depression, but affluence and automobiles caused the end of the Trolley Era and a greatly diminished role for public transportation. As streetcars were phased out, groups formed to preserve trolleys with the goal of operating them for future generations.
One such group was the Pittsburgh Electric Railway Club (PERC), which was formed in 1946 by members of the Pittsburgh NRHS (National Railway Historical Society) chapter which had preserved a car prior to WWII. This car was lost to the scrap drive as members were occupied with their duties overseas and on the home front. Still the dream lived on.
PERC members purchased their first streetcar in 1949, added a second car in 1952 and a third in 1953. With acquisition of a site in Chartiers Township, Washington County and the wonderful cooperation of the Pittsburgh Railways Company the three-car collection motored to the site on February 7, 1954 to establish what has become the Pennsylvania Trolley Museum.
Construction of a car house building, repair of track and overhead lines followed and by December, 1962, the streetcars were once again operational. On June 23 of the following year the museum received its first official visitors after a ribbon cutting ceremony.
Since then, the museum has seen several decades of expansion. The car collection, the existing track, the car house and visitor buildings have all seen major growth. Today, the Pennsylvania Trolley Museum owns nearly 50 street and electric railway cars, 20 of which are operational on the museum’s four mile ride. Each year 30,000 visitors are treated to a hands-on, moving history lesson.
After all, that’s the main appeal of the Pennsylvania Trolley Museum: visitors don’t just “see” the past up close; they “experience” it for themselves on an unforgettable ride through the countryside. With the help of PTM’s 150 volunteers (and counting!), we are committed to keeping that experience alive for generations to come.
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