Unique New England Museums: The Seashore Trolley Museum

 

By Carla Charter

KENNEBUNKPORT, ME.- The Seashore Trolley Museum, the first street car preservation museum in the world, is celebrating its 80th anniversary this year from July 5th to 8th Events will include a Trolley Parade on July 6. “Everything that runs on its own will be in the parade,” said Katie Orlando, Executive Director of the Seashore Trolley Museum

“The museum began in 1939 when several college students from Eastern Massachusetts came to Old Orchard Beach on a Rail Fan trip.  At that time, busses were replacing trolleys.  They were riding around on several street cars including the Biddeford-Saco 31. The Biddeford-Saco 31 was being scrapped so the students raised the purchase fee of $150.  The only stipulation was that they had to get the street car out of the area, as there were concerns about it becoming an eyesore,” she said.

A farmer in Kennebunkport rented the students a small piece of land and they brought the trolley there.  This land which was part of the Overland Atlantic Shoreline Railway Line which travelled from Biddeford, to Kennebunkport to Cape Porpoise from 1902 to 1907, Orlando continued.

Since then the museum has expanded to preserve the history of transportation as well.  It currently houses 197 trolley cars also known as street cars, 80 busses, 70 rapid transit cars as well as other pieces of transportation history including a hand pump railroad car guests can take a ride on.

“The vehicles come from all over the country and all over the world. We have a fair amount of vehicles from rural Maine, Massachusetts and Canada as well as from Chicago. We have four Double Decker buses, one from Scotland and three from England. We also have a trolley car from Nagasaki Japan the 196. It is so small it fit in a shipping container. The windshield is up to our volunteer’s chest. We also have pieces from Australia, New Zealand, Italy and Germany as well,” Orlando said.

 

The oldest vehicle at the museum is the Omnibus, an 1860 Sheriffs wagon from Suffolk County Massachusetts, used to transport prisoners. Their oldest street car was once owned by the City of Manchester, New Hampshire and used to transport trolley car company owners between stops. The museum’s newest piece is a set of blue line cars from the Boston MBTA which were retired from service in 2009.

Volunteers have built and continue to maintain a private heritage railroad on the property, which is one-and-a-half miles long  each way.  Currently two trolleys are running on the track however more will be added as the tourist season progresses, Orlando said.

The museum has ongoing restoration projects as well. “We have 11 restoration projects we are currently working on. One of the most interesting projects is the Narcissus which ran on the Portland Lewiston Line. It is the most complicated restoration we have ever done. Theodore Roosevelt rode the Narcissus twice when he visited Maine. In the early 1970’s the Portland Lewiston Line closed. The Narcissus was purchased by a private family who used it as their summer house. The donors fully funded our restoration project after they found out about the Theodore Roosevelt connection,” Orlando said.

Another interesting project, Orlando continued, is the Boston 6131. “We have $150,000 left to fundraise to complete this project.   The Boston 631, called a ‘people mover’, is significant because it ran in Boston Center and transported people to Fenway Park and Boston Garden. It ran for quite some time. Once it was retired from streetcar service, it was used as a sand car.

Trolley cars are now making a comeback in the United States, according to Orlando  “We now have a lot of cities which are converting back to street cars because they are cheaper and cleaner for the environment. Almost every year they are making a comeback in another city.  Our museum volunteers have skills not a lot of people have and they share these skills with other museums and communities. We as well as several other museums have helped communities in getting this type of transportation restarted.”

The history of street cars cannot be underestimated. “ “Trolley car lines created today’s suburbs as well as todays amusement parks. This includes Canobie Lake Park in Salem New Hampshire, which was originally a trolley park. They have a hugely significant role in our history.”

The Seashore Trolley Museum is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. with the last trolley car leaving the station at 4:05 p.m. The museum always welcomes donations and volunteers. It offers training for those interested in becoming trolley car operators. More information about the Seashore Trolley Museum can be found at www.trolleymuseum.org