Saturday, April 23, 2011

National Capital Trolley Museum Rises Out Of Ashes - Larger and More Engaging

If you have never been to the National Capital Trolley Museum, either because you thought it went up in smoke years ago from a devasting fire (it did), or you've never visited it because you weren't aware of it - now is an  opportune time to visit one of the countries premiere trolley museums. 

It's a great way to entertain children as well as older adults who recall the trolleys that operated in their home towns. Full trolley operations have resumed at the recently opened National Capital Trolley Museum's new and enlarged facilities in Northwest Branch Park near its previous location. Permanent displays, video presentations, a model of the Chevy Chase trolley line, Street Car Hall, a gift shop and unlimited trolley rides through the park await the visitor.

I was really impressed at the size and new features of the museum, for example, in the lobby, there is a model of the Chevy Chase trolley line.  It is a scale working model that kids can operate, and the adult can enjoy the evocative scenes of this primary route, Dupont Circle, the Woodley Park Bridge and other landmarks from this bygone trolley artery.  My 4 year old son delighted in setting the trolley in motion with an easy to operate lever and followed the car as it made it's round trip.  The bookstore is larger and filled with models, books, and other trolley ephemera.  The addition of a small movie theater is also a great way to wait prior to going on actual ride.

Each half hour or so, the conductor makes the announcement in the lobby letting everyone milling about know that they can get ready to board.  Getting my son pried away from the model railroad was a chore at this point.  Finally, our ride on the street car was the living interpretation of bygone days - a ride into the woods as Maryland and Virginia would have looked more than 100 years ago when the first electrical street cars went out beyond Washington DC city limits.

The street car ride itself circles through Northwest Branch Park right next to the new ICC which you can see soaring over the old site of the museum.  While you won't get a full "urban" experience, the ride covers interesting terrain and as the conductor will note, this mode of transportation allowed people outside of the city limits to make their way into town.

The museum's mission is to collect and preserve objects related to the electric railway systems of the region and to use these objects to interpret the role of these transportation systems in the growth and development of the region and the impact of this technology on people's everyday lives.  That's the other neat new feature, an actual tour of the collection of cars, from those in working condition to others that need extensive renovation.

Although brand new in 2009, the Visitor Center evokes street car history in some of the design features of the building and the car houses, taking the visitor back into the times when the building, operation, and maintenance of street car systems occupied a substantial portion of the nation's workforce. Some of our oldest communities, such as my home, Takoma Park, were actually the first suburbs - cool oases far away from the center of the hot humid city (when transportation was by foot or horseback) - developed by entrepreneurs who not only sold the land for the homes but built the street car lines to get people and goods back and forth.

The Main Hall provides several glimpses back into history, about the street car's influence on various local communities, about the ubiquity of the street car in urban environments as portrayed in early movies, and a working model of street cars, automobiles, and pedestrians in Chevy Chase during the 1930's.

Check the museum website for complete information:

The National Capital Trolley Museum

1313 Bonifant Road

Colesville,, MD 20905

(facility is accessible to the disabled)

Fees for Museum Entry and Street Car Rides are collected by the cashier at the entrance to the Vistor Center.
Phone: 301-384-8066
Price: $5.00 to $7.00
Open Saturdays & Sundays
12 N - 5 pm

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