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FALMOUTH — A little-known feature of town history – Maine’s “crown jewel of public transportation” in its day – will be the subject of a special Falmouth 300th event scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, April 17, at the West Falmouth Baptist Church.
The Portland-Lewiston Interurban Railroad, which featured luxury electric cars, began service in the summer of 1914 and included a stop in West Falmouth.
During its nearly 20-year run it carried more than 7 million passengers, including former President Theodore Roosevelt, who rode the Narcissus, the only car from the line that exists today.
Known as car No. 14, the Narcissus has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 1980 and is being restored at the Seashore Trolley Museum in Kennebunkport.
Restoration project manager Phil Morse and technician Donald Curry will be on hand next week to talk about the interurban railroad and its impact on the local community. The talk is free and open to the public and a number of artifacts will also be on display.
“The story of how this trolley car survived and came into the hands of the museum is really amazing,” Erin Bishop Cadigan, Falmouth’s tercentennial coordinator, said.
She said the West Falmouth church was chosen as the location for the talk because it’s adjacent to one of the original trolley stops.
In the early years, Morse said, “The motormen and conductors (all wore) white kid gloves and sharp uniforms. The interior appointment of the coaches (was) all Santo Domingo mahogany with inlay decorations of holly and ebony. The ceiling panels have gold leaf fleur-de-lis and ribbon decorations.”
The interurban cars could carry as many as 52 passengers and, Morse said, “these were not your everyday local trolley car or streetcar. The PLI interurbans were majestic, (they) were head-turners.”
He said the original six cars were all named after flowers by the builder of the line, W.S. Libbey, who also “personally made the decisions on the interior appointments” and who was “meticulous in his approach to details.”
Morse said the Portland-Lewiston Interurban offered limited and local trips every day and the limited had seven stops and took about 90 minutes. “The local trips generally had 17 stops and took longer,” he said.
Morse said that school children in rural communities would use the locals to go to school. And the locals were also used by people “to go to work, to go shopping, to visit family and friends, (or) to travel” to larger transportation hubs.
Along with offering easy travel, Morse said that the electric railway companies also built trolley parks specifically to increase ridership on weekends.
“These trolley parks were major destinations in the summertime,” he said and included Riverton Park in Portland and Underwood Spring Park in Falmouth.
The stop in West Falmouth was a substation, according to Morse, where people could buy tickets. There was also a siding where Thaxter’s freight service had a platform for loading and unloading freight.
Morse said the substation, which is near the corner of Gray and Mountain roads, was built of brick and was later converted into a private residence. In addition, he believes that there was also a small passenger waiting station in West Falmouth.
It was “the crown jewel of public transportation in Maine,” he added. “Many think in all of New England, (and) the early electric railways in Maine were vital to the state’s economy.”
The Portland-Lewiston Interurban’s Car No. 16 making a stop in West Falmouth.
West Falmouth was one of the key stops on the Portland-Lewiston Interurban Railroad, which ran between 1914 and 1933.