Trolley Service in Lancaster County
Trolley service first began in Lancaster in 1874 when the stagecoach ran between the county seat, and Millersville was replaced with a horse-drawn streetcar. One of the line’s primary purposes was to transport Millersville Normal School (which eventually became Millersville University) students to and from Lancaster City. In fact, special arrangements were made at the start and end of the fall and spring semesters by adding a baggage car so students could transport their luggage.
The Lancaster to Millersville streetcar departed from the Brunswick Hotel, traveled along Manor Street, and eventually ended at the corner South George and West Frederick in Millersville. The trolleys were stored, serviced, and painted a few blocks away at 143 West Frederick Street at the trolley carbarn. The building still stands today. The entire Lancaster to Millersville trip took 30 minutes. In 1891 the line was electrified.
Conestoga Traction Company
By 1899 the Conestoga Traction Company—later called the Conestoga Transportation Company and a predecessor to the Red Rose Transit Authority—was operating trolleys throughout the county. At the height of service in 1913, forty trolleys ran through the city alone as well as serving 12 million passengers annually. By 1917 38 different trolley companies were serving southeastern Pennsylvania.
The CTC radiated from Lancaster City with seven main routes using trolleys the size of a city bus to reach surrounding towns and farm villages throughout the County using a hub and spoke approach. During the first decade of the 20th century, the CTC added new lines either by building them or purchasing existing lines from competitors. CTC service from Lancaster reached Columbia on February 1, 1900; Strasburg on December 18, 1901; Adamstown on May 9, 1903; Blue Ball on July 21, 1904; Leaman Place on July 7, 1906; and Elizabethtown on September 5, 1908.
Ultimately, the CTC ran through Amish farm country east to Coatesville, Strasburg, and Quarryville, south to Pequea, west to Columbia, Marietta, and Elizabethtown, north to Manheim and Lititz, and northeast to Ephrata, Adamstown, and Terre Hill. The rural component of the CTC was mainly a side-of-road trolley system. It provided reliable and relatively fast transportation between many southeastern Pennsylvania farm towns when most people and freight traveled via horse-drawn buggies and wagons on narrow dusty roads in summer or deeply rutted muddy roads in winter. The CTC even transported farm freight, such as milk and produce, using trolleys called ““combines”” designed to carry passengers in one section and cargo in another.
One of the most popular destinations on the Lancaster City route was the ride to Rocky Springs Park. In the summer, 20 cars at one time would be assigned to handle the crowds of patrons going to the amusement park located to the city’s south.
There even was a special trolley line that ran to Rawlinsville. It operated a mere ten days a year to transport people to the annual Christian themed Rawlinsville camp meetings. There was a trolley junction at Martic Forge where the Rawlinsville line split off. It climbed 552 feet over 1.25 miles as it left the gorges of the Pequea Creek on its way to Rawlinsville.
The stone abutment picture below just outside of the Martic Forge is one of the few remains of the Rawlinsville trolley line.
If a conductor was not careful, the trolley car would easily jump the tracks as it made the steep descent from Mt. Nebo on its way back to the Martic Forge.
Lancaster & York Furnace Street Railway Company
One of the few trolley lines not owned by the CTC was the Lancaster & York Furnace Street Railway Company. The “Pequea Trolley,” as it was locally known, was promoted by Frederick Shoff as part of his efforts in the early 1900s to commercially develop Pequea as a summer resort. It operated a 12.5-mile trolley line from Millersville to Pequea between December 1903 until closure on October 15, 1930.
The L&YF line started opposite the ““charming Normal School grounds”” at what is now Millersville University. In warm months, students could ride in open cars, taking them to Pequea for boat races and swimming. Fares were only 5 cents in the 1920s, and by the time the trolley service ended in the 1930s, they still were only 15 cents.
The route headed south out of Millersville then turned abruptly east to cross the Conestoga River.
The piers from the bridge that carried the trolley are still visible today.
The trolley meanders in a southward direction eventually following Silver Mine Road before crossing over the Pequea Creek on the edge of what is now Silver Mine Park. There is a sign on the trail marking the trolley’s path, and the remains of stone abutments from the bridge that once stood there can be seen as well.
Once over the Pequea Creek, the trolley entered Martic Township. Author Howard Wiegner Kriebel in his 1910 book, Seeing Lancaster County from a Trolley Window, said this:
As the trolley approaches the Enola Low-Grade Line (click here for more information about the Enola Low-Grade Adventure), it begins to follow the winding path of the Pequea Creek all the way to the Susquehanna River. Just before it reaches the Martic Forge, the trolley line passes 150 feet below the Martic Forge Trestle Bridge.
It is here that our Pequea Trolley Adventure begins at the site of the former Martic Forge Hotel that burned down in 2004. In the photo below, March Forge circa 1905 can be seen as cattle graze near the tracks.
After passing through Martic Forge, the trolley continued its path, hugging the banks of the Pequea Creek. The name of the creek is Shawnee for “dust” or “ashes,” referring to a clan that once dwelt at the mouth of the stream.
Trolley tracks, especially in the early 1900s, were very different from the railways in use today. The “casual” nature of this trackwork reportedly caused many attacks of “seasickness” for passengers as the cars swayed back-and-forth. The rugged, hilly landscape along the Pequea Gorge area further enhanced the effect.
It is here that Suzy’s Hole is found. The source of the name has long been a source of conjecture. But old-timers insist the name comes from a woman who drowned there. Furthermore, most people don’t know that Suzy’s Hole is not the narrow rapids but a tranquil swimming area just upstream.
Colemanville Covered Bridge Side Quest
After passing the rushing waters of Suzy’s Hole, the creek slows as it approaches what was once the town of Colemanville. The remains of the forge, rolling mill, and dam are still visible today on the other side of the creek. It is here that the trail opens up, and the Colemanville Covered Bridge becomes visible. At 170 feet, it is the second-longest covered bridge in Lancaster County. At 1.25 miles, the bridge marks the turn around point for the Pequea Trolley Adventure hike, but before heading back, be sure to admire the engineering of this wooden structure. Click here to learn more about the Colemanville Covered Bridge and its Side Quest.
Final Destination: Pequea
From the Colemanville Covered Bridge, it’s another two miles to the town of Pequea. If you hike the trail today, you will soon pass through Pequea Creek Campground before the path transitions back to a dirt road. Just before reaching Pequea, the trail becomes the appley named Trolley Road. It is here that you will see homes built directly into the hillside above the creek and perched almost directly above the road. Steps led from the road almost straight up the bluff to the houses there. Some of the older homes are abandoned while others are neat and clearly still in use.
Finally, the forested road opens up with a view of the historic Susquehanna and its bleak shores and rocky bed. It was here in the summer resort town of Pequea that the trolley reached its final destination. Visitors spent their time fishing, studying eloquent rock formation, or exploring Cold Cave (see the Wind Cave Adventure for more information) much as they do today. Amazingly, Kriebel’s 1910 description of this part of the trip is still accurate.
End of the Line for the Pequea Trolley
Passenger travel on the Lancaster & York Furnace to Pequea was heavy during the summer months, but it wasn’t enough to sustain the line during the offseason. In fact, the operation was never a financial success, and on October 15, 1930, Harry Bortzfield ran the last car from Pequea to Millersville. The line was scrapped the following spring. It was around this same time that several other trolley lines around Lancaster County either shuttered their service or were sold.
Nevertheless, the trip south from Millersville, through the rolling hills to Marticville and along the winding Pequea Creek, was probably the most picturesque trolley ride in Lancaster County. The trip was rarely without adventure as cows frequently blocked the track, low voltages required patrons to help push cars up hills, and the swaying of the cars caused motion sickness.
End of an Era
As buses began to replace trolleys here in Lancaster, the Conestoga Traction Company reorganized into the Conestoga Transportation Company to represent the transition of services on December 4, 1931. But the writing was already on the wall. Trolley lines all over the County were discontinuing service in the 1930s. As more people purchased automobiles, fewer used the trolley system.
By the late 1940s, Lancaster had one remaining trolley line—to Rocky Springs Park—but that too was shuttered on September 21, 1947. While a few trolley cars were donated to museums, most traveled to Rocky Springs where they were, one at a time, flipped off the tracks and burned.
If you want to see one of the old CTC trolley cars, visit the Manheim Historical Society. They own a 1926 model. It runs a short one-block route every Sunday from June through September when the station at 210 S. Charlotte St., Manheim, is open.
Uncharted Lancaster: Trolley Trail Adventure
But that’s enough history. When you are ready to start Pequea Trolley Adventure, click here.
Lancaster County Trolley Gallery
- Southeastern Pennsylvania Trolleys By Kenneth C. Springirth
- Seeing Lancaster County from a Trolley Window
- The National Geologic Map Database: McCalls Ferry, PA 1912
- Lancaster County, Pennsylvania 1911 Map
- Map of the Public Roads in Lancaster County 1905
- Then and Now: When Lancaster abandoned its trolleys
- This is the last operating trolley in Lancaster County, and you can ride it
- Covered Bridge
- List of covered bridges in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania
- Dams located from historic atlases of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania
- Bureau of Railways Department of Internal Affairs
- History of Conestoga Township
- The ““Saving Of Trolley Car No. 236”” Story
- Remembering Lancaster County: Stories from Pennsylvania Dutch Country
- Lancaster That Was: The old Millersville trolley brought students to school and took them to the ‘‘big city’’ of Lancaster
- Garden Spot Trolleys – An Illustrated History of the Electric Street Railway in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania