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The last trolley to Thurmont

James Rada, Jr.
Thurmont Dispatch

(10/18) At only 46 years old, the Thurmont Trolley was the last of its kind.

The popularity of automobiles and buses and the improvements in roads had evolved transportation, leaving inter-urban trolleys, like the Thurmont Trolley, a dinosaur nearing extinction.

“The last interurban passenger trolley in Maryland, the Frederick-Thurmont line, will roll into discard and the occasion can only put mist in the eye and a sentimental ache in the heart of the middle aged,” Betty Sullivan wrote in The Frederick Post on February 20, 1954. “To them the clang, clang, clang of the trolley turns thoughts backward in a time when life still centered in the local community and a twenty-mile journey was a venture abroad to be undertaken with forethought and definite plan.”

The trolley had transported 3.8 million riders around Frederick County in 1920, but by 1940, that number was down to 500,000 riders.

“Gradually the bus and the passenger car snipped away at trolley patronage, gradually lines were discontinued, until the 17-mile stretch from Frederick to Thurmont was the only link in the state between two such urban points,” Sullivan wrote. “Despite competition this trolley kept its faithful friends and some 60 commuters will use it until the final day.”

The final day was February 20, 1954.

“After February 20, the Frederick-Thurmont route will be converted into a bus line for passengers and a regular railroad freight car will be substituted onto the tracks to handle freight,” reported The Hagerstown Daily Mail.

Once the ending of service was announced, business on the trolley picked up so much that a Sunday service was added for the first time in years.

“One of the trolleys was chartered last Sunday by the Washington Railway Historical Society. On Saturday, so many passengers showed up that a double header was required for one round trip,” reported The Hagerstown Daily Mail.

The Thurmont Trolley began life in 1886 when the Monocacy Valley Railroad Company built a steam train line to haul iron from Catoctin Furnace to Thurmont and the Western Maryland Railroad. Two years later, the Northern Railroad Company extended the line to Frederick. In 1908, the lines became electric. Finally in 1913, the Northern Railway Company connected to the Washington County railroad lines and the Hagerstown and Frederick Railway Company was formed.

The Thurmont Trolley was unique because it operated on tracks that were of regular width for trains. Trolleys generally used narrower rails.

The two final trolleys left the car barn (the present-day office of the Frederick News-Post) with about 100 invited guests on a Saturday morning that was drizzling rain. Each passenger had a souvenir ticket punched in regulation fashion. Flags and bunting were hung along the route and photographers followed the progress of the trolley, snapping pictures.

“Uncounted hundreds of rolls of film were consumed during the event, by dozens of people who turned out at every hamlet along the trolley’s route, and by the passengers. Some persons brought along movie cameras. One unidentified man drove from Allentown, Pa., in time to accompany the trolley to Thurmont and back, via auto. Driving along the roads that came closest to the trolley’s tracks, he made an endless series of moving picture scents of the vehicle in progress, because his hobby consists of taking pictures of trolley cars,” reported The Hagerstown Daily Mail.

Though the outside of the cars were decorated very little had changed inside them. One report noted that the leather hand straps riders could hold onto were as good as new. This was because the cars were rarely crowded enough for them to be used. “But the rest of the trolley equipment has an antiquaited atmosphere. The no-spitting sign is yellow with ade. Some of the advertising signs had been there since the days of World War Two, because they referred to beer that would still lead the field after peace came,” reported The Hagerstown Daily Mail.

During the ride, the former riders recounted their stories of the trolley.
The ride to Thurmont took a little more than an hour where they passengers were greeted by a crowd of about 100 people. Thurmont Mayor Ray Weddle, Jr.; Potomac Edison President R. Paul Smith and Frederick Mayor Donald Rice made short remarks to the gathering because of the rain.

On the return trip, The Hagerstown Daily Mail noted, “Passengers sang ‘I’ve Been Working on the Railroad’ and ‘Auld Lang Syne’ and stops were made at two points—Yellow Springs and Lewistown.”

“Officially it ended at 1:30 Saturday afternoon when a hundred invited guests climbed down from Potomac Edison Co. veteran cars No. 171 and No. 172 in the East Patrick Street carbarn after completing the 34-mile round trip to Thurmont that had many of the aspects of a big parade,” reported The Frederick Post.

When the trolleys returned, buses took the passengers to a luncheon at the Francis Scott Key Hotel. During the luncheon Smith said, “Progress eventually overtakes all of man’s previous works. This is true in existence of the trolley car, as it was when it first came into being. The passing of the trolley closes, except in our memories and to those contributions to our lives both socially and economically, a great era of expansion and development.”

Though the trolley service ended, its impact on the region is still felt. Because of the power demands for electric trolleys, their existence necessitated the creation of a high-capacity power generating plant. It’s this power network that grew profitable while the trolleys it powered became less profitable. The Hagerstown and Frederick Railway became the Potomac Edison Company in 1923.

“Oddly, that was the trolley’s salvation. By the early 1930s, the rail network was economically obsolete and parts were abandoned by Potomac Edison, including half of the Frederick-Hagerstown ‘main line.’ But the big and wealthy utility seemingly could not face discarding its onetime parent entirely, and three routes survived into the late 1940s,” Herbert Harwood Jr. wrote in an article for the Maryland Department of Energy about the Hagerstown and Frederick Railway.

The trolley also had a small role in the building of Interstate 70. The Hagerstown Morning Herald reported on February, 27, 1954, the one of the Thurmont trolleys would be loaned to the Maryland State Roads Commission. “The State Roads Commission will use it for office purposes at Frederick. Work is being rushed on the completion of a new dual highway between Frederick and Baltimore, and the officials who are overseeing its completion will set up their desks and records inside the sturdily constructed trolley car,” the newspaper reported.

Freight service continued on the line until 1958 when the tracks were finally removed.

If you have any Information or historical news clippings on business in the Thurmont Area, Please send them to us so we can included them in our archives. E-mail us at: history@mythurmont.net