Trolley Line Provided Lots of Fun in West Erie County
These days, you see a lot of buses that look like trolleys traveling around downtown Erie. But, there was a time when real trolleys could be seen all over Northwestern Pennsylvania.
I traveled to West Erie County with Ken Springirth, of Harborcreek. He's one of the foremost experts on the history of trolleys around the world. Ken has written over 40 books about trolleys. We visited an old brick building about two miles west of Girard on Elk Park Road. Why is Ken bringing me here?
"This building was a power station,” he said. “Elk Park was a recreational center for this West County area."
In his book titled Conneaut and Erie Trolley Memories, Ken tells of Andrew Carnegie's plan, around the year 1900, to possibly build a steel mill somewhere near Conneaut on the Ohio and Pennsylvania border. Some quick thinking entrepreneurs opened a trolley line from Erie to Conneaut in anticipation of that steel plant. It was a great money making idea. But, the steel plant was never built. The entrepreneurs were going to lose their shirts.
"When the steel mill didn't get built like they thought it was going to get built, the trolley ridership wasn't ample enough to keep the line going. So they were becoming desperate,” said Ken.
So, the entrepreneurs of Conneaut and Erie Traction Company took a chance. They built a massive recreation area on land just off the trolley line where the brick power station still sits. It was wildly popular. City folks from Erie would come to experience the country. There was nature. There were playgrounds. There were ball fields. It was beautiful.
"Erie's premier recreational center. All built by the trolley company,” says Ken.
Trolleys ran from Erie to Elk Park every hour. The Boston Store would sponsor outings at Elk Park to promote their business. People just hopped on the trolley in front of the store. Elk Park was the place to be.
"They also would have dances," says Ken. The Friday night dances were the social highlight of Western Erie County. People would come to those dances by trolley."
The trolley line was disbanded in 1922 when the working class could afford to purchase automobiles to get around. Ken says the trolley line did put West County on the map economically. The old brick power building is a reminder of that history. The trolley power station is all that remains of Elk Creek Park. Ken hopes the station could somehow be restored. He applauds the volunteers in Cambridge Springs who restored an historic trolley station in that community.
Ken says trolley systems continue to expand in areas around the world, including the Ontario communities of Kitchener and Waterloo, located not far across the lake from Erie.