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Shore Line Trolley Museum 6/27/2015

by Chris Guenzler

After that great ride at the Essex Steam Train, Robin and I drove to East Haven and our next stop of this trip.

We arrived at the Shore Line Trolley Museum and went inside to pick up our passes for our visit.

Shore Line Trolley Museum

The Shore Line Trolley Museum, located in East Haven, Connecticut, is the oldest operating trolley museum in the United States. It was founded to preserve the heritage of the trolley car. The museum includes exhibits on trolley history in the visitors' center and offers rides on restored trolleys along its 1.5 miles track. The ride includes a tour of the museum's historic trolley collection.

The museum encompasses the Branford Electric Railway Historic District, which was added to the U.S. National Register of Historic Places in 1983. The Shore Line Trolley Museum is a non-profit organization.


The museum was incorporated in August 1945 as the Branford Electric Railway Association (BERA), a non-profit historical and educational institution. The Connecticut Company (or ConnCo), which operated most of the streetcar lines in the state of Connecticut, had been making plans since the early 1930's to abandon its "F" route, cutting it back in stages from its long-time terminus of Stony Creek until by April 1946 it ended in front of the post office in Short Beach, its original terminus when the line was opened for service on 31 July 1900. The last revenue car to operate under ConnCo auspices left Short Beach shortly after midnight on March 8, 1947, at which time BERA took possession of the remaining 1.5-mile portion of the line on private right-of-way between East Haven and Short Beach. Over the following year the museum moved virtually its entire collection at the time, including a number of just-retired ConnCo streetcars, onto its property via the existing and still-electrified track connection with Connecticut Company.

Shore Line Trolley Museum

After ConnCo severed the track connection in 1948, BERA was on its own. The 1.5-mile line started out as double track but one of the tracks was torn up and sold for scrap to raise money. Eventually 20-year bonds were issued by the museum and its fortunes improved. In 1957 an impressive visitor's center, named for traction pioneer Frank Julian Sprague and known as Sprague Station, was built out of brick at the East Haven end of the line with help from funds donated by his widow.

Over the intervening years, BERA's collection has grown to become the third largest collection of electric railway equipment in North America with a focus on equipment from Connecticut and New York City. It operates a variety of streetcars, rapid transit cars and work cars throughout the year. BERA currently does business as the Shore Line Trolley Museum which is run almost entirely by volunteers. Antique equipment is repaired and restored at the museum with the Third Avenue Railway System 220, the oldest operating streetcar in the United States.

The collection also includes a small number of "trackless trolleys" (trolley buses) and motor buses (diesel- or gasoline-powered buses). In fall 2008, construction was started on a short trolley bus line to allow the museum's trolley buses to operate. The planned line is a loop about 750 feet long, with a branch into the maintenance and storage building. The first section was tested under power in April 2009 by 1947-built ACF-Brill trolley bus 205, which the museum acquired from the Philadelphia trolley bus system when it was retired from service by SEPTA in 1981. The Shore Line Museum also owns two other trolley buses, ex-Philadelphia 210, identical to 205 (and acquired at the same time) and being used only as a source of parts, and ex-Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (Boston-area) 4037, a 1976 Flyer E800 which the museum acquired in 2009 and which is also able to operate on the line.

The museum

The Museum operates seasonally, performing the majority of its programming during the warmer months. A standard public program includes a ride on the Museum's historical railway on a trolley car, and a tour of some of the Museum's collection stored in the car barns. For groups or individuals wishing to visit the museum separate from the general public, charters are available on a year-round basis.

Visitors who enter at the Museum's visitor center at Sprague station can also explore an exhibit area that discusses some of the history and technology of the trolley. Visitors often frequently hike parts of the historic line for exercise, to explore, or for photograph opportunities.

The Museum allows guests to take the controls and operate some of the vehicles in the collection on specified "Guest Operator" weekends, after receiving instruction from a qualified instructor. Rapid transit (subway and elevated) equipment is run in conjunction with the trolleys on designated "Rapid Transit" weekends.

Other special events include an antique auto show each year, a Hallowe'en pumpkin patch, a haunted Hallow'een trolley ride to a haunted trail with the "Graveyard Express/Haunted Isle", as well as Christmas trolley rides with Santa and nighttime Holiday Light trolley rides which visit light displays set up along the railway. In addition, the Museum features an annual open house for Members only on "Members Day" where cars of the collection rarely seen often run.

Almost all of the Museum's operational, archival, business, administrative and maintenance activities are performed by volunteers. The Museum offers the opportunity to volunteer to anyone over 18 years of age who is interested in the following areas: public operations (which includes the ability to learn to operate the trolley cars), car restoration, archives, buildings and grounds, track, line (power), signal and exhibits.

Our Visit

With tickets in hand, we explored the museum station building.

The interior of the museum. Now we would take a trolley ride.

New Orleans streetcar 850 built by Perley A. Thomas in 1922 was our mode of transportation here today.

The interior of 850.

The ticket for our trips.

The view in front of the trolley.

The trolley control stand. Now sit back, relax and take a ride at the Shoreline Trolley Museum with me.

This was our trip to the east end of the museum's track.

The view west.

Views of our trolley here.

This was our ride back to the car shop where we explored the grounds.

Click here for Part 2 of this story