The Spring City Trolley
The local trolley transportation era in Spring City lasted a very short period of time, 25 years to be exact. The span of service can be defined as beginning on July 5, 1899 when the first trolley started running and continued through until the great crash of July 24, 1924 that ended all business.
As the old green trolley approached its stop the bell would be ringing and people would scramble on to find a seat. The trolley ran every hour and enabled people to travel to Phoenixville with one of the major stops being at Bonnie Brae Park.
Although the locals referred to it as the Spring City trolley a more accurate description was the Montgomery and Chester Electric Railway car. In fact in 1893 the Phoenixville Electric Railway Company was formed but its plans to run a trolley to Spring City and Royersford failed. Finally the idea became a reality on July 5th 1899 when the Montgomery and Chester Electric Railway Co. opened a trolley line from Spring City to Phoenixville.
From the very beginning, when the first stock was sold, the intention to build a bridge across the Schuylkill connecting with Royersford and into the Montgomery County area was assumed. Plans for such a bridge were actually begun but delayed by World War 1 and silenced forever when the crash of 1924 ended service. At the time of the crash the line was losing money and the automobile was gaining popularity and becoming the transportation of choice.
From the beginning of the line they used both closed and open-air trolleys. The Number 21 was a Brill open-air trolley that was purchased in June of 1903. This convertible model had double trucks, a deck roof, and eight bench seats. It measured 26 feet in length. The color scheme on these early cars is uncertain but in later years they were painted green with red window sashes.
The route started near the current day Turkey Hill and went south on Main Street. There was a stop at Main and Hall Street and then another at Main and Walnut Street. At Walnut Street the tracks turned right and went up the steep hill to Wall Street. The trolley barn was at Cedar and Walnut Streets. This building serves as an apartment house today.
The trolley turned on to Phoenix road (Wall Street) and then on out Pikeland Avenue with a stop at Quigley's and one at Zion Lutheran Church. Bonnie Brae Park sits next to the Church and was a very popular stop in the summer. Many of the photos of the open air trolley on route to the park show standing room only as people clung to the railing while standing on the side running boards. They make for great photos but with todays safety regulations you just wouldn't see this happening.
There is a long story about the connection between trolleys and amusement parks and this relationship was no different. Often times trolley services would help subsidize amusement parks as a destination for the traveler. It is more than a coincidence that Bonnie Brae Park closed in 1927, just three years after the trolley service ended. In 1930 the Bonnie Brae Association, a front name for the Ku Klux Klan, purchased the park and moved their operations to this location. The Klan operated here from 1930 until 1945. This is another story for another time.
The trolley, after leaving Bonnie Brae, continued down to Ironsides with a couple stops along the way. Ironsides is near the parking lot at Redner's market in Phoenixville. The Pickering Valley Railroad lines ran nearby and their station was called "Ironsides". The named was derived from the fact that the land on both sides of the station had belonged to the iron company and the railroad employees called the station "Ironsides".
In 1899 there was no bridge over the Pickering Valley line so trolley passengers had to get off the trolley and walk across the tracks of the railroad to board another trolley that was waiting to take them into Phoenixville. In 1908 they finally built a trolley bridge over the railroad tracks and you could ride all the way to Phoenixville without changing trolleys.
The trolley company had it share of problems over the 25 years of its operation. Over the years there were numerous accidents due mostly to the hilly terrain. In the very beginning years the theft of wire was also a problem. In those days the electric service to the wires was turned off at 11 PM and sometimes wire would disappear overnight. Back in 1900 it was reported that 700 feet of wire was stolen overnight disrupting the morning service. That problem seemed to go away when the power was left on. The trolley operated on a 40-minute schedule. According to the 1903 schedule printed in the Spring City Sun the first car out of Spring City in the morning left at 7:35 AM and was scheduled to arrive in Phoenixville at 8:13 AM.
I think back to that time and try to imagine what it might have been like if on one summer morning I went for a ride on the Spring City Trolley. I was standing at the water pump on North Main Street when I heard the bell ring and the screeching sounds of the trolley as it came to a stop. I got on the old open-air car and sat to the outside of the bench. As we headed south on Main Street you could hear children playing and see the horse drawn carriages pass on either side of us as the trolley tracks were right in the middle of the road. At one spot there was a clearing where you could see down to the canal. As we passed by the bakery you could smell the aroma of fresh baked breads. There were many sounds coming from the foundry and a couple of workers at the pattern house waved as we passed by. We stopped at Main and Walnut where a large number of people boarded. The old car was now full with standing room only. The trip up the hill was slow but it was better than walking. The trip across the trestle was exciting to say the least. The clickity clack of the rails on the wooden bridge and the height made it seem as if you were on a roller coaster going up hill. We finally reached the main road and I could see Zion Lutheran Church off to my right. As we passed the church I could hear the sounds of a carousel in the distance. The next stop was Bonnie Brae Amusement Park. I think I will get off here and end my trolley ride and my daydreaming.
In 1915 the great plan to cross the Schuylkill River to Royersford, on up to Linfield and then connect with Pottstown was still alive. In March of that year all of the grading and bridges required to extend the line to Pennhurst were completed. All that was required was final permission to build the main bridge over the Schuylkill to Royersford. That approval was to come from the War Department but it never materialized. By the beginning of the 1920’s business had deteriorated partly due to the competition of automobiles and partly due to the quality of service. The line, which was leased at that time, was turned over to Thomas O’Donnell in 1922. He was the president of the Phoenixville and Valley Forge and Strafford Lines. His intentions were to rebuild the service. On July 8th 1924 all of the best intentions came to rest at the bottom of Walnut Street. A runaway trolley (brake failure) derailed and demolished the vehicle of Oliver Place a local resident. No one was killed that day but it was the last day for a trolley to run on the Montgomery and Chester Line. The 25-year era of the trolley had come to an end .