Having lived in Baltimore for 20 years, I’ve heard numerous stories about the old streetcars that used to run throughout the city. In fact, at one time streetcars were the most prevalent form of transportation here. Developers wouldn’t build in a new area unless the city promised to run a streetcar line to where they planned to build. The Overlea streetcar turnaround, which is still standing today and is being used as a bus turnaround, is one such reminder. It was built before Overlea was developed and allowed people to move out of the crowded city and take the streetcar to and from work. Because of the streetcar, Overlea flourished. This is one of many streetcar destinations which allowed the city to grow. Unfortunately, I never had a chance to ride these historic cars as the last one to run in our city was November 3, 1963. The good news is I discovered a place to step back in time and board one of these old Baltimore beauties for a ride…
…It’s the Baltimore Streetcar Museum. Volunteers run this museum which celebrates Baltimore’s rich heritage of streetcar travel; they lovingly maintain the cars, the 600 volt lines which power the cars, the tracks, streetcar line-lights and the museum. The old line-lights are wired in a series to the line wires, so if one goes out, they all do. Dressed in period uniforms, the conductors take your token and operate the cars, telling tales of the everyday Baltimore street car travel of yesteryear.
Pictured above is a photo from the museum showing perhaps the best remembered Baltimore streetcar: The Red Rockets of the 26 line to Sparrows Point. These cars carried many workers to and from their jobs at Bethlehem Steel’s Sparrows Point plant.
Fran and I have talked about going to the museum for the last couple of years and we finally did. It was better than we expected. Just seeing the old photos of the streetcars is worth it alone, and the exhibits of the streetcar artifacts are fascinating. There are model streetcars, miniature streetcar gardens with the streetcars traveling the lines and even travel by an amusement park. The kids love it; so do the adults.
Pictured above is the Ovelea Streetcar Turnaround as it is today. When the streetcar service was introduced to Overlea in 1903, the area really started to flourish. It allowed downtown workers to move away from the cramped city to the “rolling hills of the countryside.” In those days it took 46 minutes by streetcar from Overlea to West Baltimore Street. Overlea Station was a turnaround for the number 15 streetcar. Today it serves as a turnaround for the number 15 bus. The Station is a big part of the history of Overlea.
While looking at the exhibits, a museum volunteer announced that the next streetcar was leaving the museum station soon, giving us time to pay our fare at the old station booth and receive a token and a transfer slip dated September 20, 1938 for additional rides. Tokens in hand, we boarded the car. Climbing up the stairs we entered the streetcar and dropped our tokens in the metal and glass token box next to the conductor’s seat and made our way to our seats. The seats were strategically positioned so travelers would stay near the front. This was done in the old cars so the conductor could keep track of who paid their fare and who didn’t.
Pictured above is the booth where you pay your fare.
The bench seats ran along the car walls and the other seats faced front. There were handles where a full car allowed extra passengers to stand and grab on for the ride.
Pictured above is a museum streetcar, its interior, and the interior lights.
After taking my seat I was fascinated by the old advertisements that were mounted along the top of the walls. They were the same advertisements the riders of yesteryear would look at. Great stuff. After everyone took their seats, the conductor rang the bell twice and off we went. Starting off the car jerked slightly as the wheels clanged against the rails and then settled in to a comfortable rumble. We made our way at a leisurely pace along Falls Road for a stretch, stopping at access roads crossing the tracks, the conductor signaling the bell twice at each stop before continuing on our way. The car slowed down at the turnaround and then stopped.
Pictured above is our conductor/driver answering questions from some curious children. When not operating the streetcar, he pilots airplanes.
After stopping, our conductor gave us a brief history of Baltimore streetcars and what streetcar travel was like and talked about the different types of streetcars that traveled our city over the years. After answering our questions (he knows his stuff), we continued back to the museum station, where after stepping off the car and thanking our conductor, Fran and I made a beeline to the museum gift shop.
Pictured above is a section of the museum.
The gift shop has lots of cool streetcar stuff in it: books, calendars, streetcar replicas, cards and a lot more. We purchased a Gorgi die-cast replica of a Baltimore Birney Safety streetcar which we now have on display mounted on a streetcar track stand. We also bought a calendar and a vintage streetcar token. We were glad to see they were selling some of Baltimore artist Charlene Clark’s streetcar prints also. It’s a great place to get gifts for anyone who appreciates Baltimore’s history. We’ll definitely be back to pick up some up.
Pictured above are images from the Baltimore Streetcar Museum.
Fran and I had a great time visiting the museum and riding the streetcars. It is definitely a step back in time. If you want to ride the old streetcars, this is the place to go. If you and your family are interested in Baltimore Streetcar history, Baltimore history and our heritage, or are just looking for something different to do, I highly recommend this treasure of a museum. I would like to thank the museum volunteers who were so friendly and patiently answered all my questions. You all do a great job running and maintaining the cars and museum. Tom~
For more information about the Baltimore Streetcar Museum, check out their website