• D.C. to Boston by trolley in the 1930's

  • General discussion about fallen trolley and interurban lines in North America, past and present.
General discussion about fallen trolley and interurban lines in North America, past and present.

Moderator: Aa3rt

  by kaitoku
 
Reading a blog entry about the recent revival of downtown streetcar service in some American cities, a poster claimed that back in the 1930's, it was possible for an adventurous traveler to travel entirely by trolley from Washington D.C. to Boston, by transferring between lines, and overcoming two short gaps. Was this really possible? Thanks in advance.
  by BaltOhio
 
You could theoretically do it from Wilmington, Delaware, to Boston, taking a ferry across the Hudson at New York. But not all the way from Washington. From DC, you could get as far north as Towson and Overlea, on the north side of Baltimore, using the Washington, Baltimore & Annapolis interurban line to connect those two cities, but there was a long gap from there to the Wilmington area. You could, however, get from Harrisburg, PA, to Boston. There were some well-publicized trolley trips between New York and Boston, but I doubt that anyone ever tried the Wilmington or Harrisburg trips.
  by kaitoku
 
Thanks, BaltOhio. I find these alternate and meandering route options fascinating. Get an old official guide and some maps and timetables, and you can take a fun trip (of the imagination). However, one can still do these types of trips here in Japan. For example, the 167 miles between the cities of Nagoya and Himeji, normally traveled by bullet train or Japan Railways narrow gauge (1076mm) train, can also be done by taking the standard gauge lines of 3 different "private" railways, which btw, started out as interurbans. It will take you a lot longer to get to your destination, though.
  by 3rdrail
 
The 1930's would be the time to take a long connected trip like that. I would imagaine that you might even get more mileage by planning one from Boston westward.
  by BaltOhio
 
I might mention that almost all the legs of a Wilmington-Boston or Harrisburg-Boston trip would be local street railways, operating in or alongside streets (maybe with brief spots of private-right-of-way), and through the middle of every town along the way. An exception might be the Public Service (NJ) Company's "Fast Line" interurban between Trenton, NJ, and New Brunswick, NJ, and the Shore Line Electric between New Haven and Old Saybrook, CT. But it would be a long, grueling journey. The New York-Boston trips, such as they were, were made by chartered cars.

While we're at it, it was also possible to go from New York to Indiana, Illinois, and Kentucky by trolley and interurban except, I think, for one break.
  by Aa3rt
 
kaitoku-I'd asked the same question you've posed on an earlier incarnation of this site. My question was prompted by a postcard on eBay of a trolley car in Shawmut, Maine.

(I'd been searching on "Shawmut" looking for items listed for the Pittsburg & Shawmut and Pittsburg, Shawmut and Northern Railroads.)

Supposedly, Shawmut, ME was the most northeasterly spot in the US with trolley service and it was stated on the postcard that one could ride from that point to Washington, DC via trolley. This elicited a number of responses, and as BaltOhio has already mentioned, there was some question of river crossings in the New York/New Jersey area.

One of the respondents mentioned a book or magazine article written by some adventurous soul who took his bride on a honeymoon trip via trolley covering these lines in the early 1920's IIRC.

Unfortunately this information was "lost in the ether" when the previous version of this site went down. :(

EDIT: After my initial reply I decided to try the trusty "Google" search. The book is titled "A Trolley Honeymoon From Delaware to Maine" by Clinton W. Lucas, printed in 1904, about 20 years earlier than I'd initially thought. More information here:

http://www.archive.org/stream/trolleyho ... a_djvu.txt
  by kaitoku
 
Thank you very much Aa3rt for the info and link.
One of the respondents mentioned a book or magazine article written by some adventurous soul who took his bride on a honeymoon trip via trolley covering these lines in the early 1920's IIRC.
Mr. Lucas certainly had a very understanding (and tolerant!) spouse. Lucky fellow.
  by Leo Sullivan
 
Thanks for that link, I had no such idea that there was such a book or that a trip from Wilmington to
New York was recorded anywhere. Had he made the trip three years later, he would have been able to
continue all the way to Fairfield Maine (correctly noted as farthest north), the line from York to Kennebunk opened in 1907.
That year also saw the opening of the line through from Springfield to Worcester connecting there with the
line from Worcester to Boston, one of the fastest lines in the country. Being able to go via
Springfield cut several hours off the trip but was, of course less scenic than the Shore line route and
connections.
LS
  by jtbell
 
3rdrail wrote:The 1930's would be the time to take a long connected trip like that. I would imagaine that you might even get more mileage by planning one from Boston westward.
Unfortunately it looks like there was a gap west of the Berkshires, between Hoosick Falls and the Albany / Troy area. There was another one between Johnstown / Fonda and Little Falls NY. But from Little Falls it was possible to go all the way to a bit beyond Sheboygan, Wisconsin!

You'd probably have to back up a bit to the 1920s. A lot of the Midwestern interurbans shut down in the early 1930s.
  by 3rdrail
 
I wonder though, if you were to travel via NYC from Boston westward how far you could get, including minor breaks such as ferry crossings, etc. I tried to find a comprehensive national map of interurban lines at their peak and as of yet can't come up with any. Does anybody know of one available ?
  by Leo Sullivan
 
Baltohio is right Paul. Somewhere a few miles west of Harrisburg Was the western limit but, if you didn't mind walking from there to the West Penn, you could connect all the way through to Wisconsin (with a gauge break).
LS
  by 3rdrail
 
I suppose also that with all the smaller local trolley lines, many of these were isolated from one another. Do you know of a good map available showing trolley/interurban lines at their peak in the U.S., Leo ?
  by delvyrails
 
I find the quickest way to get the scope of interurbans and trolleys is to study the state maps in the classic "The Electric Interurban Railways of America" by Hilton and Due. Apparently, no one has produced anything as comprehensive as that volume from 1960.
  by 3rdrail
 
I'm surprised that somewhere along the line (pun intended) that someone hasn't put together a national comprehensive map of electric railway operations, either for fans or by industry groups such as A.E.R.A. for information and publicity purposes. I'd buy one ! :-D
  by walt
 
One of the problems with the "interconnection" situation in the East was that the East had many more cheaply constructed interurban lines than did the midwest. And many of these properties were just barely interurbans. Hence the major gap between Wilmington, Del and Baltimore ( or the northern part of that region) described earlier. And while it was possible to travel by trolley from the Boston area ( or even Maine) to Wilmington, Del., it would not have been possible to do so using one interurban car, even a chartered car, because of differing guages, particularly in Pennsylvania, and the fact than many of the connections a passenger might make would involve changing cars, with no physical track connection between the "adjoining" properties. The area from Western Pa. into the midwest was much different in this regard in that most of the interurban network serving Ohio, Indiana, Michigan and Illinois was standard guage, and was physically connected. And, of course, there was extensive interchanging of freight cars between and among many of these properties, and even some through passenger service covering more than one railway. This was not the case in the East.