- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 22, 2005

For the better part of 100 years, trolley cars shuttled Washingtonians where they wanted to go, from Chesapeake Beach, Md., to Pennsylvania Avenue to the Virginia countryside. The cars were instrumental in the expansion of the area from sleepy Southern town to large metropolis.

Now the cars are part of history. The last electric streetcar ran through Washington in January 1962. Shortly after, the National Capital Trolley Museum was established. The museum, located in Colesville, is still a place to see how this mode of transportation changed the city.

“The trolley is an important part of D.C. history,” says museum director Ken Rucker. “The museum explains much of the development of the suburban areas. It tells the story of community development.”

The museum has rebounded from a September 2003 fire that destroyed eight streetcars, as well as their car barn.

The museum was closed for several weeks, and Mr. Rucker says several important and irreplaceable pieces of its collection were lost. Visitors, however, still can get “the trolley experience” during a visit.

The highlight of a visit — particularly for youngsters fascinated by trains, trolleys and other vehicles that run on tracks — is a ride on one of the vintage streetcars. The rides, which run about every half-hour, take visitors on a 1.34-mile route through Northwest Branch Park.

Museum admission is free. Rides cost $3 for adults and $2 for children.

Inside the museum, children enjoy the model trains that run on command, as well as hands-on touch screens where they can learn more about the parts of the trolley and how it runs. There is a real controller handle where children can pretend they are working on the trolley line.

History buffs will appreciate the large collection of photos of early-20th-century Washington and the various local lines served by the trolleys.

There is a view of streetcars running through pastures that are now car-clogged Rockville Pike. The Heart of Maryland route took day-trippers to Western Maryland. The Great Falls and Old Dominion line took Virginia visitors to outposts such as Vienna, Herndon and Purcellville. One of the most popular routes was to Glen Echo Amusement Park.

In the rear of the museum, a short movie chronicles trolleys in the area from the first two-car train (which went a whopping 12 mph) in 1897 until the last car was parked in 1962.

The museum will commemorate the end of the era with its annual D.C. Transit Day Jan. 29. It will include a special showing of a World War II film produced by the Capital Transit Co.

The museum also hosts two open houses a year, the only times visitors can see all the trolleys in the collection.

When you go:

Location: The National Capital Trolley Museum is at 1313 Bonifant Road in Colesville.

Directions: From the Beltway, take New Hampshire Avenue north. Go five miles, then turn left onto Bonifant Road. Look for signs on the right.

Parking: Free parking in lot.

Admission: Free. Trolley rides are $3 for adults and $2 for children.

Hours: The museum is open from noon to 5 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays from January through November. In December, hours are 5 to 9 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. From March 15 to May 15 and Oct. 1 to Nov. 15, the museum also is open from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Thursdays and Fridays. From June 15 to Aug. 15, the museum is open from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays. The museum is closed Dec. 24, 25 and 31 and Jan. 1, but it is open from noon to 5 p.m. Memorial Day, July 4 and Labor Day.

More information: 301/384-6088 or www.dctrolley.org.

Notes:

• The National Capital Trolley Museum contains a collection of trolley cars that used to run in the District and other cities. It includes a lot of transportation artifacts as well as model trolleys and a few hands-on activities. Visitors also can ride a vintage trolley.

• The museum offers educational programs for preschoolers and grade schoolers.

• The museum also offers birthday party packages on weekends.

• The museum has a small gift shop and picnic area.

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