July 31: A New Era in Urban Transportation Begins Reshaping City Life

 

Today in 1900, one of the first electrically powered trolley lines in the United States began service on the three-mile run between Branford and East Haven. It was a relatively short trip that launched major and permanent changes in Connecticut’s urban settlement patterns and lifestyles.

The inaugural run of the Branford Electric Railway was immediately hailed as a more efficient and sanitary way of transporting people along the Connecticut shoreline than the horse-drawn streetcars then the most dominant form of public transportation. With more easily accessible (not to mention less malodorous) transportation options available, former city-dwellers almost instantly began flocking to newly established suburban neighborhoods. There, families could escape the noise and crowds of city life, while still being able to commute to their urban places of employment.

ConnCo car no. 1425, one of the many original trolley cars preserved, owned, and still operated by the Shore Line Trolley Museum.

The Branford Electric Railway operated along the Connecticut shore for 47 years until newer suburban trends — the advent of the family car, the construction of auto parkways, and the extension of suburban neighborhoods beyond the reach of the trolley line — led to service being officially discontinued in 1947. However, the Branford Electric Railway Association, founded in 1945 and operating today as the Shore Line Trolley Museum, had enough foresight to immediately purchase a section of track and assume operation of the trolley service (albeit on an extremely reduced basis) as soon as the Railway company relinquished it. Their forward-thinking actions ensured that there has never been an official interruption of service on the Branford Electric Railway (with the exception of a Covid 19 related closure), making it the oldest continuously operating trolley line in America. In 1983, the Museum successfully petitioned to have its line of historic track included on the National Register of Historic Places. Today, visitors to the Shore Line Trolley Museum, located in East Haven, can ride the rails on one of the historic trolleys used during the original run of the Branford Electric Railway.

Further Reading

Branford Gets on the Trolley,” connecticuthistory.org

A Century Along the Branford Electric Railway,” Shore Line Trolley Museum website