Tredyffrin Easttown Historical Society
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Source: July 1979 Volume 17 Number 3, Pages 59–66

When the Trolley Ran to Strafford

Page 59

For almost forty-five years, between October 1911 and March 1956, Tredyffrin Township was a part of the great "Interurban Era" in America — if only by a few hundred yards — when the western terminus of the Philadelphia & Western was located on the west side of Old Eagle School Road across from the Strafford railroad station.

When the P&W first opened for traffic, on May 22, 1907, the terminus was at Sugartown Road in Radnor Township, a big loop on the east side of Sugartown Road connecting the westbound and eastbound tracks. An old farm house there served as a temporary station.

Four years later, however, in the hope of increasing passenger traffic and with the possibility of also establishing freight service, the directors of the company decided to extend the road to bring it along side the Pennsylvania Railroad, The half-mile ex­tension was actually a large semi-circle, with the trolleys facing to the east as they arrived at the new terminus at Strafford. The extension also required bridges over Sugartown Road and over the Lancaster Pike just east of where it intersects with Conestoga Road.

The new extended line was opened for service to Strafford on October 11, 1911, although the station at Strafford was not completed until October 29th. The station was a large one with a ticket office, the station platform connecting with the platform of the railroad station. A new smaller station was also built at Sugartown Road.

Page 60

Trains were scheduled to run every twenty minutes, with the running time for the 11.1 mile trip between Strafford and 69th Street about half an hour. The one-way fare was 20 cents.

The P&W was built to standards considerably higher than those for electric railways generally. Not only was the double track from 69th Street to Strafford laid with heavy 55-pound rails, but the right of way and all bridges were planned for eventual four-track operation, to accommodate both local and express trains. All the curves were built with a wide radius, and the maximum grade on the line was 2% per cent.

The line was also equipped with an automatic semaphore block signal system, and there were no grade crossings along its entire route. The stations, which were mounted on pillars so that they could be moved back when additional tracks were laid, had platforms at carfloor level to expedite entrance into and exit from the cars.

Electric power was supplied through a third rail, protected from rain and snow by a wooden hood that also prevented anyone from coming into contact with the charged rail by accident.

The line was considered one of the finest interurbans built up to that time.

Traffic, however, was far below expectations, and in 1912 a connect­ing line was also biilt to Norristown, branching off from the Straf­ford line at Villanova Junction.

The rolling stock of the P&W, at the time the line was extended to Strafford, consisted of twenty-two ornate, dark green wooden coaches, with gold trim and lettering. Built by the St. Louis Car Company, whose president, George J. Korbusch, earlier had also been president of the P&W, the 51 foot long cars had high-back reversible seats, separate smoking compartments, and lavatories. (Actually, the first cars ordered for the P&W were built before the line was completed, and were sold to the United Railroads of San Francisco to replace equipment destroyed in the 1906 earthquake.)

Over the years from 1920 to 1929, these wooden cars were replaced by fourteen steel cars, made by the J. G. Brill Company. Since they were not as comfortable as the old wooden cars, they were rebuilt in the early 1930!s when the new streamlined "bullet" cars, also manufactured by Brill, were introduced on the Norristown line. The rebuilt cars gave both greater comfort, by adding wider seats, and greater speed to passengers on the Strafford branch. With the maxi­mum speed increased from 44 miles an hour to 70 miles hour by the installation of larger motors, the running time between Strafford and 69th Street was reduced to 19 minutes for express trains and to 23 minutes for the locals.

Page 61

The early years of the P&W were far from financially rewarding to its management, the line's problems being accentuated by the electrification of the Pennsylvania Railroad's Main Line, with which the Strafford branch competed for traffic, to Paoli in 1915. Increased operating costs during the First World War, particularly in the generation of electric power, also increased expenses, while competition from new bus lines affected revenues. In the early 1920's, however, the financial picture improved for a short time, until passenger traffic fell off in the latter part of the decade as automobile ownership increased. Where in 1924 the P&W had carried over five million passengers, by 1929 the figure had dropped to about 3.8 million.

In spite of fare reductions, improvements in equipment and service, including the establishment of several additional stations (one of them a flag stop at the Lancaster Pike in Tredyffrin Township), and special tie-in fares with flower shows, the movie theater at 69th Street, sporting events, and a number of similar promotions, by 1934 the number of passengers had further dropped to 2.7 million, a loss of over two million, or 46 per cent, in ten years. Now nicknamed by many the "Poor & Weary", in July 1934 the directors of the P&W reluctantly filed for bankruptcy.

Although the bankruptcy petition was filed on July 3, 1934, it was not until April 6, 1937 that it was officially approved by the stockholders and the courts. In the meantime, interest payments were suspended, but continued capital improvements were made to the system and passenger traffic showed a slight increase.

With World War II, however, came gasoline rationing and an increased use of public transportation, producing a pronounced upsurge in traffic. In 1942 there were over four million passengers, and the next year the total reached 5.4 million. A bus subsidiary was also revived, extending service from Strafford to West Chester and also to Coatesville. Despite increases in operating costs, beginning in 1942 the line again began to show profits.

After the war, plans were finally developed for the reorganization of the company to get it out of bankruptcy. As a result, the P&W became a part of the Red Arrow Lines, the Public Utility Commission in March 1948 granting the Red Arrow permission to buy "any or all" of the P&W stock.

But with the end of the war also came another decline in traffic. By the mid-1950's, the Red Arrow claimed that there were only 500 daily riders to and from Strafford. As a result, in June 1955 it announced plans to abandon the line west of Villanova Junction; ap­proval was given by the PUC on February 5, 1956. Originally scheduled to close down on March 9th, the date was later postponed thirteen days. On March 23d it was reported in the Wayne Subur­ban: "The P&W trolley line has taken its last ride [from Strafford]. Service on the old line was discontinued with the final trip last night, and bus service on Conestoga Rd. was scheduled to begin at 4:53 this morning."

Page 62

While the bus trip from Strafford to 69th Street took almost twice as long as the trolley had, by transferring to an express trolley at Garrett Hill, the actual travel time was about the same as that on the old Strafford local. But the number of passengers continued to decline. In contrast to the trolley schedule of a trolley every twenty minutes, ten years later there were only nine bus trips scheduled each day, and currently there are only two trips daily.

Although the Strafford branch of the Philadelphia & Western was the only trolley to run into or through Tredyffrin or Easttown Township, it's not that there weren't plans and hopes and dreams, during the height of the Interurban Era in the early part of the twentieth century, to bring additional interurban service to this area.

In fact, in the plan set forth by the P&W when it was incorporated as the Philadelphia & Western Railroad Company on May 21, 1901, the P&W was to operate from "a point on the western line of the city and county of Philadelphia ... at or near where Arch Street extended crosses Cobb's Creek ... in a westerly direction to a certain lot or parcel of ground at or near the intersection of Rumford Street, now First Avenue, and Church Street in the borough of Parkesburg". The Strafford line was but the first of four segments, each eleven to twelve miles long, to be constructed. (This perhaps also accounts for the selection of Sugartown Road as the original temporary terminus of the line.)

Surveys were begun the following year along the route, which was to run generally alomg Sugartown Road through Easttown and Tredyffrin Townships, into Willistown Township, then to Malvern borough, along the State Road through Goshenville into West Chester, to Downingtown by way of Cope's Bridge, and then parallel to the Pennsylvania Railroad to Parkesburg.

By 1905 the company had actually entered into purchase agreements or option arrangements for some of the proposed right of way west of Strafford. In the West Chester Daily Local News for February 26, 1906, for example, it was reported, "Surveyors have been back and forth through Berwyn and Paoli and that section, and many stakes have been driven", while on April 16th it was noted, "The surveyors for the Philadelphia and Western Railway [sic] were seen last week in the vicinity of Paoli, but they have not yet reached West Chester.

Page 63

The citizens of the Goshens and this place are anxious to learn where the line will be located, as it means much to this section in the way of new railroad facilities." A year later, on March 26, 1907, it was further reported in the Local, "Engineers in the employ of the Philadelphia and Western Railroad are at work near Leopard over a mile south of Berwyn, with the prospect of coming westward in the direction of West Chester. Within a day or two a contracter has been near Sugartown looking for board for sixteen horses. A man interested in the company is quoted as congratulating a couple of Sugartown men on their prosepct of having a railroad near them."

While the road to Parkesburg was the announced objective of the P&W, it was generally believed that the Philadelphia & Western was ultimately to be the eastern section of a transcontinental railroad from San Francisco to New York being put together by George Gould, the son of Jay Gould. By linking the Western Pacific, the Denver & Rio Grande Western, the Missouri Pacific, the Wabash, and the Western Maryland with the P&W, which would connect with the latter at York and somehow make connections to join Philadelphia with New York, Gould's alleged plan was to create a new 4,000 mile long transcontinental line. So persistent were the rumors that in July 1905 the P&W found it necessary to issue a formal statement that "None of the various railroads — the Pennsylvania, Wabash, Reading, or Lehigh Valley — mentioned at various times as identified with the road are in any way interested nor have they a dollar in the property". The substantial manner in which the line was constructed, however, would tend to lend credence to its possible use later for heavier trains and for freight service.

Whatever the original intent, though, Gould was soon faced with financial difficulties that made the scheme completely impractical, and three years later most of these railroads were in bankruptcy. The P&W itself also found itself in difficulties during the financial crisis of 1907, and was reorganized on May 20th of that year as the Philadelphia and Western Railway (not Railroad) Company.

The plan to extend the line even to Parkesburg, in fact, was officially abandoned on March 22, 1912.

More than a year before the Philadelphia & Western had originally been incorporated, in early 1901, a charter had been granted to the Philadelphia, Wayne and West Chester Trolley Company to run between West Chester and Philadelphia.

Page 64

The president of the corporation, which claimed "a capitalization of several million" dollars, was Albert W. Kelley. The vice-presidents were G. J. Lyons and William Delaney, both of Baltimore. It was a management described in the April 26, 1901 Daily Local News as being "connected with a series or network of trolley lines in the vicinity of Philadelphia, connecting most of the larger boroughs and towns as far west as Parkesburg, south to Wilmington, Chester and Media, and north to Manayunk and Bridgeport".

The proposed route of the trolley line from West Chester to the Philadelphia city line, by way of Paoli, Berywn and Wayne, was somewhat to the north of that later planned and surveyed by the P&W. As described in the company1s charter, the trolley was to go from West Chester to Goshenville, and then "in a northeasterly direction through East Goshen into and through Willistown Township, where said Willistown Township joins with the townships of Easttown and Tredyffrin, thence in a northeasterly direction along a certain State Road between the townships of Easttown and Tredyffrin [now known as Berwyn-Paoli Road] to where the said State Road joins the Conestoga Road in Easttown, thence along said road to Wayne Avenue in Radnor Township, and thence along Conestoga Road" and on to Philadelphia. "And now," the item in the Local describing the route concluded, "let the trolley line hum from West Chester to city line."

The prospect of a trolley line passing through the area described was not without opposition, however. In a letter to the Local a few weeks after the proposed route had been outlined, a writer identifying himself as "Subscriber" pointed out that a number of properties in the vicinity had been "purchased by Philadelphians for country homes, and at prices far above their value for farming purposes ... simply because their section has been free from the encroachments of the trolley lines" and that the construction of the trolley would adversely affect real estate values. He also suggested that the trolley line would take money out of the pockets of West Chester merchants.

In rebuttal, Samuel R. Downing, an advocate of the trolley line, in a letter published in the Local ten days later, asked rhetorically, "In all advertisements of real estate sale along trolley railroads ... do we not find invariably some reference to proximity to trolleys?", and pointed out that, in fact, land values increase. (He also sug­gested that opposition to the trolley would keep "the people of West Chester from hearing Sousa and seeing the splendid flora of Willow Grove at a round-trip cost of but seventy-eight cents", almost a prediction of the tie-in promotions that were to be tried by the P&W thirty years later during the Depression.)

But, like the Parkesburg extension of the P&W, the Philadelphia, Wayne and West Chester Trolley never happened.

In November 1905 application was made by another intended corpora­tion, to be known as the Philadelphia, Wayne and Paoli Street Railroad, for a charter for a street railroad that would have passed through both Tredyffrin and Easttown Townships.

Page 65

The route was to parallel the Lancaster "Turnpike" from its intersection with the Philadelphia city line to Paoli, passing through Lower Merion, Haverford and Radnor Townships and, as described in its charter application, "thence into and through the township of Tredyffrin, Chester County; thence into and through the township of East Town, Chester County; thence into and through the township of Tredyffrin, Chester County, to a certain town or hamlet known as Paoli in said township and State of Pennsylvania; thence returning in an easterly direction via the same route along, over, and above the said turnpike" back to the Philadelphia city line.

It, too, was apparently just a promoter1s dream.

And finally, in December 1909, a charter was secured by the Phoenixville, Valley Forge & Strafford Electric Railway for a route that would have run through Tredyffrin Township. The company was headed by Thomas E. 0'Connell, one of Chester County1s foremost and more energetic trolley promoters and builders, who had previously been associated with several, trolley lines in the southern part of the county.

The PVF&S was incorporated to connect Valley Forge Park by trolley with Phoenixville and Strafford and thus make the park and site of the Revolutionary war encampment more accessible to visitors. The extension to Strafford was planned to provide a connection with the P&W there to give service to the park from 69th Street and Philadelphia, (interestingly, for several years, beginning in 1910, the P&W itself ran a combination trolley-bus excursion to Valley Forge by way of Strafford).

Before construction was even started on the line, however, it was "practically decided" that the road should be built first from Phoenixville to Valley Forge, and then continue to Bridgeport to connect with the P&W there instead of at Strafford, though it was also added, "the latter may come later". The route between Valley Forge and Strafford, of course, would have cut right through Tredyffrin Township in a northwesterly-southeasterly direction. But it was also pointed out that it would also have cut right through the North Valley hills, and that the route would entail considerable grading, none of which would be encountered in a connection in the direction of Bridgeport and Norristown, where the connection with the other line could also be made.

By the spring of 1912 the line was completed between Phoenixville and Valley Forge, and service was begun with two fifteen-bench open cars. The company was soon involved in disputes over rights of way in and through Phoenixville, at the one end of the line, and, at the other end, in difficulties over the proposed routes through Valley Forge Park. These disputes ultimately precluded any extension of the line, either toward Bridgeport or to Strafford.

Page 66

On Christmas eve in 1923 the Phoenixville, Valley Forge & Strafford Electric Railway ceased operations.

And so, despite the promises and plans and hopes and dreams, in the first decade of the twentieth century, that the "Interurban Era" would really come to Tredyffrin and Easttown Townships, its only impact was actually limited to just a few hundred yards of track of the Philadelphia & Western, when the trolley ran to Strafford.



Ronald DeGraw: The Red Arrow. Haverford: Haverford Press, Inc.

Stanley F. Bowman, Jr. and Harold E. Cox: Trolleys of Chester County. Forty-Fort: Harold E. Cox

Newspaper clipping from the files of the Chester County Histori­cal Society, West Chester.


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