By Michael Schreiber SUMMER 2008
A century ago, streetcars, or trolleys, were the principal means of local transportation in Connecticut. Many of the state’s cities and towns were connected by electric railways.
Long distance travel by trolley was also common. It was possible to travel by electric railway from Maine to Delaware or New York to Wisconsin. Printed trolley guides were available for help in planning a long-distance excursion. The Trolley Press of Hartford published such a guide. Its 1914 edition, Trolley Trips Through New England and Hudson River Valley, gave details on how to take a pleasure trip by trolley from Times Square in Manhattan to Springfield, Massachusetts. The following excerpt provides a flavor of the guide and what such a trip held in store in 1914:
You wish to ride thro New England, the great Playground of the East. Our first great “Trolley Way” runs all along shore to New Haven and offers the coolest, cleanest, breeziest way “out of town.” …Those who leave by Subway should alight at the 180th Street and board the “Westchester” there. This line represents the last word in electric construction, and will repay inspection. The cars pass thro MT. VERNON to NEW ROCHELLE. Board here the “Stamford” car. We are “on our way.”…The line now passes ROTON POINT, [which]has a great reputation as a picnic resort. … ROTON POINT PARK has been generously accorded the credit of being the prettiest spot on the Connecticut coast. Mr. and Mrs. Trolleyist, stop over …. Here are a spacious sandy beach, …a good restaurant…athletic field, dancing pavilion, roller coasters, bowling alleys, …[and]some 500 bathhouses.
You can still get a taste of the trolley era at the Shoreline Trolley Museum in East Haven, which operates the Branford Electric Railway, a National Historic Site. The museum operates a portion of the old “F” trolley route of the Connecticut Company, which from 1900 to 1947 provided service from downtown New Haven, through East Haven, and into Branford. The museum immediately assumed operation of the line when the Connecticut Company ceased to run the route, making this the oldest continuously operating suburban trolley line in the United States. Today, your ride will take you from the museum site in East Haven, along picturesque salt marsh, to Short Beach in Branford and back.
Upon your return, enjoy a guided tour of the museum’s collection of nearly 100 vintage transit vehicles. In addition, the museum archives contain nearly 30,000 photographic images, more than 4,000 books and documents, and about 1,000 small artifacts such as tokens, hat badges, and ticket punches. Admission includes unlimited rides during your visit.
The Shoreline Trolley Museum, 17 River Street, East Haven, is open daily, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., June, July, and August; weekends in spring and fall; and at other times for special holiday events. To confirm hours of operation and for more information call (203) 467-6927 or visit www.bera.org.