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HISTORY LIVES: Heyday of the trolley


Heyday of the trolley. On a sunny day in May 1898, Doylestown’s Main Street was gaily decorated as crowds awaited the arrival of the first trolley car. Initially run by the Bucks County Electric Railway Co. and later by the Philadelphia Rapid Transit Co., the trolley line ran 12 miles between Doylestown and Willow Grove. (Additional lines to Newtown and Easton were later established.) By 1904, nearly 100 cars arrived in and left Doylestown daily. Bucks County was once served by 120 miles of trolley lines, powered by electricity; and Doylestown became the central link in a countywide network of street railways. So numerous and popular were the “electric street railways” nationally that it was possible to change from one trolley line to another and travel down the entire East Coast.

An inexpensive means of travel to work or school, to shop or visit from town to town, “No other means of transportation comes so near the hearts of the people as the trolley car, as it is upon this vehicle that every man becomes the equal of another. It has been called the poor man’s carriage.” (The Intelligencer, August 1904)

Attended year-round by a conductor and a motorman, in winter the cars were heated by coal stoves and in summer the breeze blew through the open windows. Small amounts of freight were also carried in the form of fresh milk, daily newspapers, and U.S. Mail.

Sadly, this popular mode of transport disappeared with the advent of the automobile, which offered more convenience.

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