Seashore Trolley Museum
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The Seashore Trolley Museum, located in Kennebunkport, Maine, United States, is the world's oldest and largest museum of mass transit vehicles. While the main focus of the collection is trolley cars (trams), it also includes rapid transit trains, trolley buses, and motor buses. The Seashore Trolley Museum is owned and operated by the New England Electric Railway Historical Society (NEERHS), a non-profit organization, which also owns the National Streetcar Museum.
The events that led to the formation of the museum started in 1939, when a group of railfans learned that the Biddeford and Saco Railroad was purchasing motor buses to replace its fleet of trolley cars. More and more trolley companies were doing this as the technology of buses had developed to the point that they were reliable and economical.
The rail fans decided to find out if they could purchase a trolley to preserve it for posterity. The railroad was willing to sell them a car (#31, a 12 bench open trolley) for $150. However, it would have to be moved to another location due to local ordinances that prohibited retired trolleys from being used as houses, even though this was not the rail fans' intention.
Theodore Santarelli was one of the founders and the true father of the museum. He graduated from Harvard University and led the museum until he died in 1987.
At about the same time, another group of rail fans purchased a trolley from the Manchester and Nashua Street Railway. The two groups merged, and the Nashua trolley was brought to the Log Cabin Road site.
World War II caused the museum to be put on hold, as many members served in the armed forces for the duration. This also brought about a temporary revival of trolley services in many cities, as rubber and gasoline were rationed for the war effort.
After the war, conversion of trolley lines to buses resumed, and created a period of rapid growth for the museum's collection.
In the 1950s, a diesel-powered electric generator was used to allow the cars to move under their own power. Car 31 was moved into a small building so that it could be repaired and restored.
As of 2010, the museum has over 260 vehicles. While most are from New England and other areas of the United States, trolleys from Canada, Australia, Japan, Germany, Hungary, England, Scotland, Italy, and several other countries are also in the collection. Ironically, one of the motor buses the museum owns is Biddeford and Saco #31, the bus that replaced trolley #31 in 1939. The bus was donated to the museum by the bus company. The Seashore Trolley Museum continues to acquire new vehicles for the collection. The museum is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Memorial Day to Columbus Day-open daily, First weekend of May-Memorial Day, Columbus Day-last weekend in October-open weekends.
Exhibits and features
The main building at the museum, the Visitor's Center, combines a ticket booth, a museum store with an extensive collection of rare and out of print books and DVD's as well as many toys and souvenirs, a snack bar, and an exhibit room with trolley and transit-related artifacts.
The trolleys that have been restored to operating condition are shown on display in three car barns. There is a restoration shop with an elevated observation gallery so visitors can see how the vehicles are maintained and restored. Additional storage barns and tracks, which are not accessible to the general public, contain vehicles that are awaiting restoration. A few of the restored trolleys are operating on the demonstration line at one time.
Restored trolleys are used on the museum's demonstration railway, which follows the route of the Atlantic Shore Line, a trolley line that ran on the current museum property and connected Kennebunkport to York Beach. Since the line was abandoned in the 1920s, museum volunteers have rebuilt a mile and a half (about 2 km) from scratch. Seashore owns the right of way to Biddeford which is about 5 mi (8.0 km) from the Visitor's Center. A demonstration route leads a mile and a half to Talbot Park (which is a loop to turn around the trolleys) and back to the Visitor's Center.
The Collection of National Streetcars is what the museum is known for, but they also have international cars from Budapest, Berlin, London, Nagasaki, Sydney, Blackpool, and more.
The collection of trolley buses includes vehicles from all over the country, and the world, of which about twenty are in operating condition. Restoration on as many as six to seven cars is underway at all times and there is also discussions under way to extend the trolley bus line and to rehabilitate the existing line.
The museum has many themed events throughout the operating season, (May - October) including dog day, sunset ice cream rides, community appreciation day, Veteran's appreciation day, antique auto day, pumpkin patch trolley, transit day, children's story time and special Prelude rides the first two weekends in December. The Exhibit room may be rented for parties, gatherings, meetings or family reunions. In 2014 the museum held its first ever Speakeasy event with costumes, special cocktails and music/movies of the era, with the promise of more to come in 2015.
The museum is seeking to raise funds to build a new car house (car barn) and library, as well as for restoration of current buildings, cars, grounds and visitor's center. The museum is also proposing to eventually extend the trolley demonstration line to Route 1 in Biddeford.
- Young, Andrew D. (1997). Veteran & Vintage Transit, pp. 43–48. St. Louis: Archway Publishing. ISBN 0-9647279-2-7.
- Trolleybus Magazine No. 295 (January–February 2011), p. 11. National Trolleybus Association (UK). ISSN 0266-7452.
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