100 years ago Lancaster’s trolleys transported 12 million people annually. Today almost all signs are gone. Join the search for the lost Pequea Trolley

Uncharted Lancaster: Pequea Trolley Adventure

Difficulty: ūü§†ūü§†
Distance: 2.5 miles round trip. More if you do a lot of exploring off the main trail.
What to bring: Appropriate footwear. Phone service is non-existence along much of the trail so preload or save any web pages and/or images you need for finding the treasure cache.

If you are ready to start the Pequea Trolley Adventure,¬†click here. Otherwise, read on for more history about Lancaster’s trolley lines.

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 main 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.

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Conductors wait for passengers at South George and West Frederick streets in Millersville circa 1908. 

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 car barn. The building still stands today. The entire Lancaster to Millersville trip took 30 minutes. In 1891 the line was electrified.

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Trolleys were stored here at 143 West Frederick Street.

Conestoga Traction Company

By 1899 the Conestoga Traction Company‚ÄĒlater called the Conestoga Transportation Company and a predecessor to the Red Rose Transit Authority‚ÄĒwas 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 there were 38 different trolley companies 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.

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Lines of the Conestoga Traction Company and connections. The Pequea Trolley (not owned by the CTC) is highlighted in yellow.

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 in 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 freight in another.

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Rocky Springs Park Trolley Station

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.

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This was the trolley that made the last run from Lancaster to Rocky Springs Park.

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.

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The stone abutment picture below just outside of the Martic Forge is one of the few remains of the Rawlinsville trolley line.

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This stone abutment, located 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.

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Secured by cribbing and cables, L&YF No. 1 is being returned to the tracks at Martic Forge in 1908.

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.

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The Millersville to Pequea trolley line‚ÄĒhighlighted in yellow and red‚ÄĒoperated by the Lancaster and York Furnace Street Railway Company from 1903 to 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.

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The route headed south out of Millersville then turned abruptly east to cross the Conestoga River.

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South of Millersville the cars crossed the Conestoga Creek on this bridge.

The piers from the bridge that carried the trolley are still visible today.

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Piers that once held a bridge that carried the trolley across the Conestoga River outside of Millersville.

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.

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Sign marking the path of the Pequea Trolley at Silver Mine Park.
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All that remains of the bridge that once carried the trolley across the Pequea Creek. The stone ruins can be since from the paved walking path at Silver Mine Park.

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:

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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.

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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.

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Cattle graze contently near the Lancaster & York Furnace tracks at Martic Forge in 1905.

Pequea Gorge

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.

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Trolley tracks along the Pequea Creek.

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 rocky, hilly nature of the area along the Pequea Gorge area further enhanced the effect.

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A Lancaster & York Furnace car hugs the Pequea Creek as it heads towards the Susquehanna River resort town of Pequea in 1910.
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The trolley along the creek from a different angle.

It is here that Suzy‚Äôs 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‚Äôt know that Suzy’s Hole is not the narrow rapids but a placid swimming area just upstream.

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Colemanville Covered Bridge Side Quest

After passing the rushing water’s 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.

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View of Colemanville from Martic Township side of the Pequea Creek. The Colemanville Covered Bridge, forge, and rolling mill are visible.

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.

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Northbound trolley car loaded with summer passengers in 1907.

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.

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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.

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View of Pequea and Wise Island

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.

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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.

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Workers remove trolley tracks from Lancaster’s Penn Square on July 14, 1947.

By the late 1940s, Lancaster had one remaining trolley line‚ÄĒto Rocky Springs Park‚ÄĒbut 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.

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Open car burning along the Rocky Spring line. Note the trucks on the rails, the cars were unfastened and simply rolled down the embankment.
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A trolley car on fire at Rocky Springs.

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.

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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

References: 

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