A brief history of the Pennsylvania Trolley Museum

The Pennsylvania Trolley Museum started as the dream of a few people in the early 1940s when streetcars began to be replaced by buses and automobiles. The Museum has evolved over the past 60 years from a handful of volunteers and three trolleys to approximately 600 members and over 50 historic street railway vehicles preserved at its museum in Washington, PA. It is unique in that visitors actually experience the Trolley Era first-hand by riding the Museum's beautifully restored streetcars for a scenic four-mile ride into the past. It collection includes historic streetcars from Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia and even the famous “Streetcar Named Desire” from New Orleans.

The Museum’s beginnings go back to 1946 when the Pittsburgh Electric Railway Club was organized. Between 1949 and 1953 three cars were acquired for the collection and the group searched for a suitable location to preserve and operate them. In late 1953 the group formally organized as a nonprofit corporation and purchased a 2,000-foot section of the Pittsburgh Railways Company's Washington interurban trolley line near Washington's County Home in Chartiers Township. On February 7, 1954 these three cars were moved under their own power from Pittsburgh to the Museum's new home. During the next nine years museum volunteers constructed storage tracks and a carbarn to protect the trolley cars, and set up a diesel generator to provide the 600 volts DC power necessary to operate the cars. Its corporate name became Pennsylvania Railway Museum Association, Inc. to reflect its being a museum.

The Museum opened to the public in June of 1963 using the trade name Arden Trolley Museum (Arden being the name of the neighborhood and nearby railroad station), and provided visitors with short demonstration trolley rides plus an informal tour of the collection. Two years later an eighty-foot 1923 railroad baggage/passenger car was acquired and outfitted as a gift shop/museum exhibit area. A shop building was built in 1975 to provide an area for car restoration and additional indoor storage for the trolley collection, and in 1988 a restoration parts storeroom was added to the building. The Museum's Visitor Education Center was added and opened to the public in November 1993. It allows the public to begin their visit in a pleasant, climate-controlled area housing exhibits, restrooms, a theater and a gift shop. Between 1979 and 1995 the Museum's volunteers extended its operating trolley line up the scenic Arden Valley along the right of way of the abandoned Arden Mines railroad spur. The Museum completed this one-mile segment of track with the opening of a trolley turning loop in August of 1995. The original line was extended East with a second turning loop opening in 2004. The second loop allows for single-ended streetcars to be regularly used and this extension has brought the operating line to a full two-miles long allowing its visitors a scenic four-mile long round trip trolley ride.

Since 1993 the Museum's interpretive efforts have expanded greatly. To better reflect its mission, the trade name was changed to Pennsylvania Trolley Museum (and became its corporate name as well in 1998). Regular guided tours and changing exhibits in the Visitor Education Center (opened in 1993) have become a standard part of the visitor experience. An Executive Director, with extensive railway museum experience, was hired in 1993 to help the Trolley Museum reach its full potential as an educational historical institution. The Museum also employs a Visitor Services Manager who manages special events and ensures the visitor has a quality experience. A bookkeeper and museum store leader round out the paid staff.

In 2002 the Museum opened a one-half mile extension of its demonstration trolley line which links it to a twelve-acre site that is well suited for future development. In 2005 a 28,000 square-foot Trolley Display Building was opened to the public allowing most of its trolley car collection to be protected under cover and on display. Other recent projects include the construction of a new electrical substation to covert commercial alternating current (AC) to direct current (DC) that powers the streetcars and a solar energy system was installed last year to harness some of the sun’s energy to help power the streetcars. The Museum has grown tremendously since its humble beginnings, due largely to the efforts of its volunteers and staff and with wide support from the community. During 2009 over 150 people contributed over 28,000 hours to operate the Museum and over 21,000 people visited the Museum from around the world. The Museum has traveled a long way in its fifty-seven year history!As automobiles and buses replaced streetcars more than a half century ago, a small group of people with a dream came together to form an organization dedicated to collecting, preserving, exhibiting and interpreting the the trolley era.

Last modified on December 1, 2010