Travel Guide: The Seashore Trolley Museum

TransitMatters executive director Jarred Johnson, with the author's nonplussed 6 year-old, wave in front of Car 3127, a 1946 Pullman streetcar
TransitMatters executive director Jarred Johnson, with the author's nonplussed 5 year-old, in front of Car 3127, a 1946 Pullman streetcar at the Seashore Trolley Museum.

It’s an unusual final destination for any mass transit line, but for more than 80 years, decommissioned streetcars, buses, and trains from all over the world have retired to the Seashore Trolley Museum on the rural fringes of Kennebunkport, Maine.

There, a small army of volunteer transit enthusiasts – including many current and retired employees of the MBTA – spend their free time restoring and repairing the world’s largest museum collection of mass transit vehicles.

And when the museum is open to visitors, volunteer conductors offer rides on historic streetcars along the museum’s electrified 1.5-mile demonstration line, a segment of Maine’s defunct Atlantic Shore Line Railway.

In the summer of 2020, the author brought TransitMatters Executive Director Jarred Johnson and his then-five year-old daughter for a visit to the Seashore Trolley Museum, where we rode this 1924 Boston Elevated Railway Co. streetcar:

Streetcar 5821 from the Boston Elevated Railway, ready to take riders on the Seashore Trolley Museum's demonstration track.
A few streetcars from the Seashore Trolley Museum’s collection, like this 1924 train from the Boston Elevated Railway Co., have been restored to the point where they can take passengers on a short 1.5 mile out-and-back ride into the woods on a restored section of the Atlantic Shore Railway.

Note the roll sign on the train above: “Lebanon-Malden,” a route that’s still served to this day by the MBTA’s 106 bus.

Several large carbarns house dozens of restored streetcars, including this 1897 Boston streetcar, whose roll sign suggests that it once ran on parts of the modern-day Green Line:

Car 396 from the Boston Elevated Railway Company, built in St. Louis in 1897, at the Seashore Trolley Museum, showing a "Newton Via East Cambridge" destination sign..
Car 396 from the Boston Elevated Railway Company, built in St. Louis in 1897, at the Seashore Trolley Museum.

The museum’s collection includes transit vehicles from all over the world, but most of its artifacts are from New England – including a lot of donated equipment from the MBTA.

In a phone conversation with Streetsblog earlier this week, Katie Orlando, the museum’s executive director, said that the museum has enjoyed “a great partnership over the years” with the T and its employees.

“It’s not a formal arrangement, but when something’s about to be taken offline, because we have so many contacts at the T, we can make arrangements to acquire vehicles and equipment when they’re about to be taken out of service,” says Orlando.

In fact, one of the first things visitors see on arrival is the huge copper-clad headhouse from the former Northampton station on the Orange Line, which was abandoned with the rest of the Washington Street elevated railway in 1987:

Remnants of the cast-iron Northampton elevated Orange Line station on display at the Seashore Trolley Museum.
Remnants of the Northampton elevated Orange Line station on display at the Seashore Trolley Museum.

While many of the Museum’s vehicles have been impeccably restored, many others are still awaiting restoration.

“A lot of the pieces, back in the day, were painted with lead paint or have asbestos flooring,” says Orlando.

Many of the museum’s newer acquisitions bear the scars of deferred maintenance that continue to affect transit systems to this day:

An old Blue Line train and MBTA bus await restoration at the Seashore Trolley Museum.
Decommissioned MBTA vehicles await restoration at the Seashore Trolley Museum.

 

A 1970s-era "state of the art" train on display at the Seashore Trolley Museum.
In the 1970s, the U.S. Department of Transportation commissioned new “State of the Art” trains to demonstrate new technologies. This train operated on the Red Line for one month in 1974.

Ironically for a museum of transit equipment, the Seashore Trolley Museum is nearly impossible to reach without a car. The best option is to take the Amtrak Downeaster to the Wells or Biddeford/Saco stations, then call a taxi. Alternatively, the museum is a one-hour bike ride away from the Saco Amtrak Station via the Eastern Trail.

Orlando says that the organization is doing some fundraising to restore its buses to working condition, and hopes that it can eventually fill in the local gap in transit services with vehicles from the museum’s collection.

“We do have plans to get some of our buses in our collection up and road-worthy again, and use them to make connections to the Amtrak Downeaster in Wells or Saco,” Orlando told Streetsblog.

The Seashore Trolley Museum is open through the end of October, Wednesdays through Sundays. It will reopen again in December for holiday-themed rides.

Potential volunteers can register on the organization’s website, or email volunteer@trolleymuseum.org.

 

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