Trolley exhibit pays homage 60 years after final ride from Pittsburgh to Washington County
Arthur Ellis remembers squeezing onto a crowded trolley at the South Hill's now-closed Wilshire station armed with a camera.
“The Washington County Fair was going full blast at that time,” Ellis said of that trip on Aug. 30, 1953. “It was standing room both days.”
It was the last day of Pittsburgh Railway's passenger service to Washington County, and Ellis wasn't going to miss it.
“I was interested in the trolleys,” said Ellis, 93, a former rail employee who volunteers at the Pennsylvania Trolley Museum in Chartiers.
His memories, as well as those of others, are chronicled in “Streetcar Stories of Washington County,” an exhibit opening Friday, the 60th anniversary of the end of the county's interurban trolley era.
The multifaceted exhibit developed by staff and volunteers details the trolley lines that ran to Washington and Roscoe, which included the popular Charleroi stop.
In addition to display panels covering the lines' history, students at the Douglas Education Center in Monessen shot digital documentaries in which people share stories of riding to Pittsburgh on shopping trips, of meeting their future spouse on a trolley car and of being terrified when crossing trestles spanning valleys and rivers.
“We're a museum of the trolley era, not just a museum of trolley cars,” said Scott Becker, the museum's executive director. “Sixty years is a long time. There are going to be less and less of these people around who remember the trolleys. And we got some great stories.”
While the lines ran north to Pittsburgh, most people did not go all the way to the Steel City all that often, said museum archivist Edward Lybarger, 68, of Peters.
He remembers riding the trolley as a child to Pittsburgh and changing lines Downtown to get to an Oakland doctor's office. But most people rode only a few miles from their homes for shopping and to get to work or school, he said.
“You went Downtown a few times in your life back then,” said Lynne Thompson, the museum's educator and volunteer coordinator. “You'd go to shop for a wedding dress or to go to a Pirates game with dad.”
The museum, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, owns the 1711 — the trolley that made the last run from Washington back to Pittsburgh in 1953. It was acquired in the 1980s when it was taken out of service by the Port Authority, which succeeded the Pittsburgh Railway Co. in 1964.
Ellis isn't positive that he rode the 1711 when he took the trip to Washington on the last day of service, but he often watches the restored red-and-white trolley run the lines at the museum.
Ellis wrote schedules for both Pittsburgh Railways and the Port Authority. He said he rarely rides the light-rail system these days. He drives instead.
The Vermont native sold his first car, a two-tone 1929 Chevrolet, before he moved to Pittsburgh in 1941 and didn't buy another one until after World War II.
“It wasn't needed,” Ellis said. “Streetcars ran everywhere every 15 minutes.”
As cars became more popular and trolley ridership steadily declined in the 1950s, Pittsburgh Railways cut services to outlying destinations, including Washington and Charleroi.
Ellis made sure to buy a ticket for that last day, though he wasn't interested in Ferris wheels or candy apples.
“I rode it to ride the trolley,” Ellis said. “I didn't even go to the fair.”
Jason Cato is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7936 or firstname.lastname@example.org.