February 20, 1954, was an overcast Saturday morning that drizzled rain in Frederick County. The somber weather matched the feeling a many people as they watched trolley cars No. 171 and No. 172 pull out of the East Patrick Street car barn in Frederick and head north. About 100 people crammed the trolley, which is more passengers than it had seen on a single trip in a long time. One report noted that the leather hand straps riders could hold onto inside the trolley cars were as good as new. This was because the cars were rarely crowded enough for them to be used.
The Thurmont Trolley had transported 3.8 million riders around Frederick County in 1920, but by 1940, that number was down to 500,000 riders.
With ridership dropping and the popularity of cars skyrocketing, the decision had been made to end trolley service between Frederick and Thurmont. It was the last interurban trolley in Maryland.
“The last interurban passenger trolley in Maryland, the Frederick-Thurmont line, will roll into discard and the occasion can only put mist in the eye and a sentimental ache in the heart of the middle aged,” Betty Sullivan wrote in The Frederick Post. “To them the clang, clang, clang of the trolley turns thoughts backward in a time when life still centered in the local community and a twenty-mile journey was a venture abroad to be undertaken with forethought and definite plan.”
Each passenger on this final journey had a souvenir ticket to mark the occasion. The exterior of the trolley had been decorated with bunting so that it could proudly make its final 34-mile roundtrip.
“Uncounted hundreds of rolls of film were consumed during the event, by dozens of people who turned out at every hamlet along the trolley’s route, and by the passengers. Some persons brought along movie cameras. One unidentified man drove from Allentown, Pa., in time to accompany the trolley to Thurmont and back, via auto. Driving along the roads that came closest to the trolley’s tracks, he made an endless series of moving picture scents of the vehicle in progress, because his hobby consists of taking pictures of trolley cars,” reported The Hagerstown Daily Mail.
Inside, the riders could see one of the reasons the trolley service was ending. The trolley was antiquated. “The no-spitting sign is yellow with age. Some of the advertising signs had been there since the days of World War Two, because they referred to beer that would still lead the field after peace came,” reported The Hagerstown Daily Mail.
However, the aged appearance of the trolley cars didn’t keep the passengers from reminiscing about their time on the trolley during the hour-long ride. It may have even encouraged it.
The Thurmont Trolley began life in 1886 when the Monocacy Valley Railroad Company built a steam train line to haul iron from Catoctin Furnace to Thurmont and the Western Maryland Railroad. Two years later, the Northern Railroad Company extended the line to Frederick. In 1908, the lines became electric. Finally in 1913, the Northern Railway Company connected to the Washington County railroad lines and the Hagerstown and Frederick Railway Company was formed.
The Thurmont Trolley was unique because it operated on tracks that were of regular width for trains. Trolleys generally used narrower rails. It was this fact that allowed it to have a life beyond that of a passenger trolley.
When the last trolley arrived at the Thurmont station, it was greeted by a small crowd of about 100 people. Thurmont Mayor Ray Weddle, Jr.; Potomac Edison President R. Paul Smith and Frederick Mayor Donald Rice made short remarks to the gathering because of the rain. The trolley then began its return to Frederick.
On the return trip, The Hagerstown Daily Mail noted, “Passengers sang ‘I’ve Been Working on the Railroad’ and ‘Auld Lang Syne’ and stops were made at two points—Yellow Springs and Lewistown.”
When the trolley returned to the car barn, buses took the passengers to a luncheon at the Francis Scott Key Hotel. During the luncheon Smith said, “Progress eventually overtakes all of man’s previous works. This is true in existence of the trolley car, as it was when it first came into being. The passing of the trolley closes, except in our memories and to those contributions to our lives both socially and economically, a great era of expansion and development.”
Though trolley service had ended, former passengers could ride a bus between Frederick and Thurmont. The tracks continued to be used for regular railroad freight service that continued until 1958.
The Thurmont Trolley’s impact on the region is still felt. Because of the power demands for electric trolleys, their existence necessitated the creation of a high-capacity power generating plant. It’s this power network that grew profitable while the trolleys it powered became less profitable. The Hagerstown and Frederick Railway became the Potomac Edison Company in 1923.
Thurmont also turned its trolley right-of-way into a walking path through town and the town continues to restore one of the trolley cars that used to run on the line.