Nestled in the rolling hills of Washington County, the Pennsylvania Trolley Museum is a quintessential piece of southwestern PA history and culture. The trolley, also known as the streetcar, was a key development for the growth of American cities in the 20th century. Because trolleys were able to cover much longer distances in a much shorter amount of time than the traditional horse and buggy, people were able to live further away from the city center, thus creating many of the suburbs that exist today. With the advent and wide circulation of the automobile, the trolley gradually began to fall out of favor and public transportation became more confined to inner-city limits.
Several groups were formed to preserve and operate trolleys, including the Pittsburgh Electric Railway Club (PERC), which was formed in 1946 by members from the Pittsburgh National Railway Historical Society. In 1954, PERC created the first Trolley Museum in Pennsylvania, with three trolleys and trip operation attendees, in Chartiers Township. Originally known as the Arden Electric Railway, this initial effort grew into what is today the Pennsylvania Trolley Museum. The Museum officially opened to visitors on June 23rd, 1963.
Located at 1 Museum Road, Washington PA, the museum is not just a memorialization of the trolley, but rather an interactive journey that combines the history of the trolley with the experience of actually riding one of the trolley’s maintained by the museum. I visited the museum in late September of this year, having not been there since I was a child. The museum is roughly 30 minutes from Pittsburgh, taking I-79 South, and is only accessible by car. Your admission ticket, which can be bought in advance ahead of time or upon arrival, includes a Trolley Ride, the Trolley Era orientation video, and a tour of the Trolley Display Museum. Currently, the museum is running on its fall schedule, which Friday- Sunday, 10am to 4pm.
During my visit, I arrived just in time for the four-mile scenic Trolley Ride. The ride took us around the museum buildings, past several industrial buildings, including Dynamet Steel Corporation, and along the Washington County fairgrounds. Originally part of the Washington interurban line, the track became part of the museum in 1952. When boarding the trolley, you stand at the Richfol streetcar stop, which originally stood in Canonsburg, across from Sarris Candy Company. It was brought to the museum in 1982 and restored to be the main boarding point for the Museum’s trolleys.
Next, I boarded a different Trolley for a short ride to the Trolley Display Building, which showcases Trolley Cars from 1890 to 1950. Our tour guide expertly weaved us through cars run through Pittsburgh, Cleveland, and Johnstown areas. One of the trolley’s on display was driven by none other than Pittsburgh legend and national treasure Fred Rogers, host of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, on a tour of the museum in 1983. As a child, Fred Rogers rode the trolleys in Pittsburgh and loved them so much that he included one as a character in every episode of his show. Additionally, the cars that are housed here are those that are run on the track - they periodically switched out and moved around the warehouse.
The programming for the Pennsylvania Trolley Museum is heavily rooted in its community. The Museum and their trolleys take part every year in the Washington County fair, which is located along the trolley track, and visitors get to ride the trolley to the fair if they like. Additionally, the museum hosts themed trolley rides, like the Pumpkin Trolley, The Easter Trolley, and the Santa Trolley, which makes it the ideal place to bring children. Growing up, I would go on at least one trolley ride a year from the museum, heading to the fair with my friends or taking the Easter Trolley with my grandparents to meet the Easter Bunny when I was very little. Additionally, they feature a program called Operator for an Hour, where you are guided through driving one of the trolleys. Sadly, due to COVID, much of this programming was cancelled or made virtual for 2020.
The museum holds a very special place in my heart, as it is right down the street from my home and is also located next door to the steel corporation where my grandfather worked. For me, and I like to think for most people in Washington County, it’s a part of our neighborhood. Growing up in Pittsburgh, “trolley” is a word that all children learn at a very young age, due to the landmark television show Mister Rogers Neighborhood. At the end of each episode, Rogers famously asked ‘Won’t you be my neighbor?’- a question that I feel each visitor to the PA Trolley Museum understands as they ride on a piece of history, behind one of southwestern PA’s famous steel mills, and through the rolling hills of Washington County. The Trolley Museum is more than a museum for a bygone piece of transportation, but rather it’s our own Mr. Rogers, reminding us of where we came from and giving us a feeling of home and neighborhood that I’ve found only to exist in southwestern Pennsylvania.
Location : 1 Museum Road, Washington PA 15301
Schedule : Labor Day - mid-December : Friday- Sunday, 10 am to 4pm. July- Labor Day : Thursday- Sunday, 10 am to 4pm.
Admission: Adults $12
Seniors (62+) $11
Children (3-15) $10
Children 2 & under: free on regular operating days
Museum Members: free on regular operating days
Parking: Lot next to the Education Center
Accessibility: To prepare for your visit, be advised the tour and the ride require walking, as well as step climbing in order to board our historic cars. For maximum comfort during your visit, PTM recommends you wear substantial shoes. The steps on and off of these cars can be tall. For assistance in climbing aboard, please feel free to ask your motorman/guide for portable steps and assistance. PTM has a car that has been modified to accommodate wheelchairs, as well as a separate wheel chair lift. Please provide 24 hours advanced notice of your planned visit, in order to give our volunteers time to prepare to receive you.
Health and Safety: During the COVID-19 operating schedule, tickets are sold together as a Tour + Ride. Advance purchase is recommended. Many of the regularly scheduled events have been cancelled due to COVID-19 in 2020. Please continue to check the website for additional updates and opportunities to join socially-distanced gatherings at the Pennsylvania Trolley Museum. We are also now offering virtual programming on a regular basis, and the Museum is open for regular operations.
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Hope Elizabeth Gillespie holds a BA from the George Washington University in Archaeology and an MA with Merit in Archaeology and Heritage of the Near East and Egypt from University College London. She has excavated in Israel with the Tel Kabri Excavations in both 2017 and 2019 and served as the Archaeology Lab intern at the Mount Vernon Estate, the home of George Washington. Currently, she is the Content and Finance Chair / Co-Founder of the Coalition of Master's Scholars on Material Culture, an initiative to help support and publish those with Masters degrees in fields related to Material Culture. She was born and raised in Southwestern Pennsylvania, and is currently based in Washington, PA.