Following the Trolley Tracks

Patch readers know all about the Electric Railway -- or do they?


I had some fantastic e-mails this week with information about the electric rail, from researchers who pointed me to sites around the web and from one reader who has made it his personal area of research! 

To start: Deb Troffater at the James Blackstone Memorial Library hooked me up with the Winter 1982 issue of the Journal of the New Haven Colony Historical Society, which has a history of the New Haven area street railways. Here are some quick facts:

  • Electric operation for a railway first came to Connecticut in 1888. Previous "mass transit" options had been horse-driven.
  • The first electric railway was the Ansonia, Derby & Birmingham line, which opened May 1, 1888.
  • New Haven got electric cars in 1892, after some trial runs between 1889 and 1891.
  • The first cars were electrified horse cars; by 1900, the trolley lines were all using the new-fangled, eight-wheeled electric cars, which had a larger passenger capacity.
  • The Branford Electric Railway opened July 31, 1900, and operated between Hemingway Avenue, East Haven, and Court Street in Short Beach. It extended into Branford Center.

As I learned from my visit to the Trolley Museum, the Branford Electric line is the oldest suburban trolley operation still running in the United States.

Regular TW5MS contributor sent me some great resources, including an article from Guilford Preservation, which offered the following facts:

  • The Shore Line Electric Railway, which opened in 1910 served: New Haven, East Haven, Branford, North Branford, Guilford, Madison, Clinton, Westbrook, Deep River, Groton, New London, Essex, Chester, Stonington, and Waterford.
  • The Shore Line Electric Railway ran until 1919; afterwards, many of the lines were purchased by New Haven & Shore Line.

Pete also used the Web to track down the historic photos on display with this article.

Reader David Sindel sent me not only information, but his own compiled map for where the shoreline track once ran. (He also linked me to the 1916 map shown above.) Here's some of what David had to tell me:

The Shore Line's primary corridor was from New Haven to Old Saybrook, serving the towns along the way, with a branch from Old Saybrook to Chester via Essex and Ivoryton. In a 1916 consolidation, the Shore Line absorbed most of the other trolley lines in the eastern part of the state. These included the New London & East Lyme (New London - Old Saybrook with a branch to Niantic), Norwich & Westerly (an amalgam of Norwich-Westerly, Groton-Stonington, and Westerly local lines), and lines to Willimantic and Putnam. The Shore Line also leased the New London and Norwich local lines and the Montville Street Railway which connected the two, thus giving it a near monopoly on trolley operations in eastern and southeastern CT.

David also told me that despite the parts of the line I'm familiar with here in Branford, the more frequently traveled line ran up in the Foxon area, because it was more direct. East Haven and Branford saw local trolley traffic from New Haven, but commuters to Old Saybrook took the northern route. The sections of track owned by the Trolley Museum are from the right-of-way sections -- most of the trolley line ran along main roads.

The is operated by the Branford Electric Railway Association, which was formed in 1947 and purchased the 1.5 miles of track between River Street, East Haven, and Court Street in Short Beach.

In 1981, the line was nominated by the Connecticut Historical Commission to be on the National Registry of Historic Places. The museum's collection includes trolley cars from all over the country and Canada, but a few are original Connecticut cars. The 1911, built in 1919, was painstakingly restored by George Papuga, a volunteer with the museum for almost fifty years. He began at the age of 11, working on that very trolley car, and he was able to use some of his volunteer work as high school credit for his shop classes. 

Another of the museum's cars, the 500, was a "special" car, used by the Connecticut governor so he could travel in style. Connecticut's current governor recently announced that he expects the State Bond Commission to approve a $1 million state grant to the museum to help construct new storage areas for the trolleys above the flood plain -- preventing the kind of damage that Hurricane Irene caused last year, and keeping our trolley history safe!

alan kravitz September 02, 2012 at 11:42 AM
Very informative. I was aware of the line but new few of the detail about its construction or ownership. Wouldn't it be nice if we had a true rapid transit link along the shoreline today? Alan


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