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A Century of Heritage along the Branford Electric Railway

M.F. Smith photo,courtesy Branford Hist. Soc.

The Shore Line Trolley Museum operates the historic Branford Electric Railway, which celebrated its 100th Anniversary on July 31st 2000. The road was constructed by the Branford Lighting and Water Company, initially operated by the Fair Haven and Westville Railroad Company, and later owned and operated by the Connecticut Company, which ceased trolley service on the line on March 9, 1947. At that time, our organization took over operation of the line as a museum railway, and has been running it ever since. This makes the railway the oldest continuously operating suburban trolley line in the United States, and gives the Shore Line Trolley Museum the distinction of being the oldest operating railway museum in the United States.

The coming of the trolley in 1900 to the sleepy town of Branford changed life there forever, and heralded Branford's entrance into the modern era. It was an extension of a trolley line that had come six years earlier to the neighboring town of East Haven.

For nearly five decades, the trolley provided clean, fast, affordable, reliable public transportation. One would take the trolley to shop for groceries, go to work or school, or go out on the town for the evening. The trolley created the suburbs, making it possible to live far away from urban centers of employment and yet commute easily and affordably.

Yet the suburban community which the trolley helped create would eventually contribute to its downfall. Towns, such as Branford and East Haven, soon sprawled away from the linear path of the trolley as the the private automobile came into the realm of common folk. The convenience of being able to go where and when one wanted to go was a powerful intoxicant. That, combined with drastically increased labor and materials costs associated with maintaining and operating a trolley line, damage from hurricanes in the 1930s, and the political pressure to avoid raising the nickel fare, spelled the gradual end of trolley service from 1936 through 1947. Although bus service was substituted, never again would street-running public transportation be so centrally linked to daily living.

Thankfully there is a place where this wonderful period of our history is kept alive. The Shore Line Trolley Museum continues to operate a fine collection of restored trolleys over a 1.5 mile segment of the Branford Electric Railway, a portion of the line running via private right-of-way from East Haven, through the woods and marshland of Beacon Hill to Short Beach. Removed from modern-day distractions and traffic jams, the scene seems nearly unchanged by the passage of a century.

Would you like to learn more about the history of the Branford Electric Railway? The following four-part article originally appeared in the museum's newsletter:

Part 1: Building the Branford Electric Railway
Part 2: The B.E.Ry. during the days of the Fair Haven and Westville
Part 3: The Heyday of the Branford Electric Railway -- the ConnCo years
Part 4: The End of the First Age of the Branford Electric Railway
The Shore Line Trolley Museum
17 River Street
East Haven, CT 06512
(203) 467-6927

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Last Updated: / modified at Thu Mar 10 23:19:45 2005