National Capital Trolley Museum


Editorial Review

National Capital Trolley Museum in Colesville reopens

Friday, March 5, 2010

Long before there was Metro there were trolleys. They zipped along Washington streets, taking visitors to all sorts of entertainment -- from the Lincoln Theatre on U Street to the rural theme park Glen Echo. You don't see trolleys running downtown anymore, but there is still a place where you can step aboard and go for a ride.

After being closed for a little more than a year, the National Capital Trolley Museum in the Colesville section of Silver Spring has reopened in a new building not far from the original site. Much of what has charmed visitors for 40 years -- including trolley rides -- remains, but there are new exhibits for a new generation of trolley fans.

Trolley rides occur every 30 minutes at the top and bottom of the hour. Five trolleys are able to run on a short loop in front of the building, and on a recent chilly Sunday a heated trolley that was used in Toronto from 1952 to 1992 was in service. The ride lasts about 10 minutes and includes a stop to talk about the history of the museum and of trolleys. When the final track is completed in late spring it will run three-quarters of a mile through the 43-acre park and the ride will last about 20 minutes. Though the ride was quick, it was enough to excite the young children riding, including 3-year-old Peter McWright.

"He's been fascinated by trains," said Peter's father, Glen McWright. When he was told where they were going McWright said "his eyes got wide open and he got very excited."

The trip back in time begins the minute you arrive at the museum. The new building was inspired by a Washington car barn on East Capitol Street and includes a red brick facade featuring tall, arching windows, a tower clock and true-to-Washington granite curbs. Even the concrete sidewalk is the signature Washington gray.

Inside, the museum is a wealth of information about just how influential the streetcar was on the Washington suburbs. Posters explain how Rockville, Riverdale and Fairfax flourished when connected to Washington by rail lines.

There is also a room where visitors can watch video clips of trolley cars in the movies. A clip of silent movie comedian and stunt devil Harold Lloyd trying in vain to stop a runaway trolley is as funny now as it was in the '20s.

Kids will want to take a peek at the expanded O-gauge model trolley display. The working display, which requires kids to turn cranks to get the trolleys moving, depicts Chevy Chase as it was when trolleys rolled through in the early 1930s.

Don't miss a tour of the new car barn, which affords views of eight of the 18 trolleys the museum owns. Guided tours are offered 15 minutes after each hour and let visitors get up close to trolleys from Washington, England and Germany. The oldest dates to 1898, though most in the collection was made between 1920 and 1942.

-- Amy Orndorff