Tracing the Trolley Line
We have often been asked about and there always seems to be a lot of interest in the trolley line that ran between West Chester and Downingtown from 1902 to 1929. In particular, we get asked where the line was and if any remains are still visible. As a result, in this blog article, we are showing exactly where the line ran and include a number of photographs of some of the remains. There's still a lot to see!
The current Google map above shows the route of the old West Chester-Downingtown trolley line.
Starting in West Chester, trolley cars to both Downingtown and Kennett Square began on shared tracks at the trolley car barn on South High Street where the Bicentennial parking garage is now located. Leaving the barn, the tracks turned north, then west onto Market Street. At New Street the tracks split. The tracks to Kennett Square veered south on New Street and the tracks to Downingtown continued on Market Street then turned north onto North Wayne Street. After this the tracks veered northwest and followed Hannum Avenue then onto Lower Road which went to Downingtown. A portion of Lower Road became part of Route 322 but another un-touched section became Brookworth Road where the first trolley station was located.
The map below shows the trolley route between West Chester and Brookworth, the first stop on its way to Downingtown. Brookworth was the name of a 73-acre farm at that location owned by Jacob Howell. It’s unclear why a stop was made here because there were few homes nearby. In West Chester, the trolley line ran in the center of the roads, but just outside the Borough the line ran along the side of the roads. The photograph below that shows Brookworth Road facing east. The line ran along the north side of the road and the raised trolley bed is still discernable here, especially during the winter months.
Just west of Brookworth Station, the trolley line no longer ran along a road. After crossing Highland Road the trolley ran parallel to a tributary of Taylor Run then turned northwest and went straight up a long incline to Copeland School (also the present site of the East Bradford Township building). At the school, the line made a sharp turn west and followed what is now Frank Road to Alton, the next station on the line. The photograph at the bottom shows a cut in the hill by the building at 810 Downingtown Pike where the trolley ran.
The top photograph below shows the old Copeland School on the right and the driveway for the East Bradford Township buildings. Here the trolley line made a sharp turn to the west and followed what is now Frank Road. The photograph below that shows the location of the line by East Bradford Elementary School.
These following two images were taken along Frank Road. The old trolley line is still discernable along the eastern half of the road (top) but no trace is visible where it ran along the western half of the road (bottom).
Alton was the second stop from West Chester along the trolley line. It was the name of the farm owned at the time by Elizabeth C. Johnson located near the intersection of what is now Frank Road, Creek Road, and Route 322 (Route 322 wasn’t built until the late 1920s). Similar to Brookworth, there were a few scattered farms and homes at Alton.
The map below shows the trolley route between Alton and Sugars Bridge. The photograph below that was taken on Creek Road looking west, where during the winter months, the old trolley road bed is clearly discernable. The inset image shows the remains of a small bridge that crossed a tributary of the Brandywine Creek at that location.
A short distance west of Alton the trolley line can be seen along Route 322. It’s hard to discern in the top image below (it’s much easier to see in person) but the raised ground on this land was the road bed for the trolley line. We cheated a little and are using an image from Google Street View. It was much safer than trying to take our own picture at this location! The images at the bottom were taken a bit further on. This might be the only remaining intact bridge along the trolley line and is much easier to see from Route 322 during the winter months.
On the eastern end of the East Branch Brandywine Trail the near the Skelp Level Road parking area is a small stone bridge that crosses a tributary to the Brandywine Creek. The part of the trail that crosses this bridge is not on the old trolley bed. This was actually the continuation of Sugars Bridge Road that crossed the Brandywine on a covered bridge that was dismantled in the early 1930s after Route 322 was completed (in 1929). The trolley line ran parallel to and just a few feet south of this road.
The Sugars Bridge trolley station was located a short distance west of Skelp Level Road right before the line took a sharp turn to the northwest (right). Virtually the entire former trolley line between Sugars Bridge and Harmony Hills Road is now the East Branch Brandywine Trail which passes through the M. John Johnson Nature Area of East Bradford Township.
The following images show the cut through the rocks near Sugars Bridge. The cut was probably the most difficult portion workers faced when constructing the trolley line. The top two images show the cut facing west taken when the line was in service.
The image below shows the Sugars Bridge cut facing east when the line was in service. The image top right was taken from approximately the same location in 2004 before the trail was built. The image bottom right faces west and shows the paved trail as it is now through the cut.
About half way between the Sugars Bridge cut and Harmony Hill Road the East Branch Brandywine trail makes a sharp turn around a small ravine (top image below). Here, the trolley line crossed the ravine on a small bridge. The remnants of the bridge’s stone abutments can still be seen, though they are a bit difficult to see in the spring and summer. The bottom image was taken during the winter just east of Harmony Hill Road. We believe this was a picnic spot where the trolley made a special stop. The pond was used for swimming and stone remains may have been part of a pavilion.
Just east of Harmony Hill Road, and right by what we think was a picnic area with a swimming pond, there was a passing siding, or turnout, for the trolley. There were several sidings along the trolley line so eastbound and westbound cars could pass each other on the single trolley track. The picnic tables seen in the top image below is where the siding was located. The stone and block structure seen in the bottom image is located along the trail right near the siding location. Its purpose was very puzzling to us for a long time, but we now think we know what it was. In 1906, telephones were installed in small shelters along the line so operators of the trolley could communicate with the trolley office in West Chester with any operational issues. We think this is the remains of one of the telephone shelters.
The top image below shows a westbound trolley crossing Harmony Hill Road and getting ready to stop at the small shelter that served as the Harmony Hill Station. This was the last official stop before Downingtown. The image at the bottom shows what the same view looks like today.
West of Harmony Hill Road, the East Branch Brandywine Trail follows the old trolley line for a short distance. Here, part of the line was originally constructed closer to the ridge to the north (where the cyclist has veered off the main trail in the image below) but was straightened at one point. The bottom image was taken during the early spring looking east when the old line was much easier to see.
It’s difficult to see in the top image below, but about one quarter mile west of Harmony Hill Road, the East Branch Brandywine Trail no longer runs on top of the old trolley line. The trail veers slightly to the north but still parallels the trolley line which can be seen during the winter months. The bottom image was taken just west of the East Branch Brandywine Trail’s bridge over the Brandywine Creek. Here the trolley line was carved out of the steep hillside along the creek.
When the trolley tracks were taken up in the 1940s they left at least one tie in the ground as seen in the top image below. It would be great to save this! The bottom image shows the remains of another small stone bridge that crossed one of the intermittent streams that flow into the Brandywine.
During the winter months, from the trail on the west side of the Brandywine, you can make out the old trolley line across the creek (top image). The bottom image taken in 1958 shows the old Downingtown sewage treatment plant on Trolley Road. The red arrow indicates where the trolley ran.
The postcard image below top shows the Trestle Bridge soon after it opened in 1906. However, the image also captures a trolley car on its way to (or maybe from?) Downingtown. The image at the bottom was taken from the Trestle Bridge and also shows the trolley line with a car running. This photograph appeared in Wilmer MacElree’s 1912 book Down the Eastern and Up the Black Brandywine.
The top photograph below shows the trolley on Brandywine Avenue. The image was probably taken in 1902, the first year of its operation. We know this because the Downingtown Opera House, as seen in the modern image (bottom) taken from the same position, was built in 1903. In the old image it is a vacant lot. The two twin homes on the north side of the Opera House can be seen in both images.
While we are on the subject of the West Chester-Downingtown Trolley, below is an elevation profile of the trolley line (in gray) from the West Chester Car Barn (present Bicentennial Garage) to the Swan Hotel which was in the center of Downingtown. The green line is the elevation profile between the same two points for current Route 322. An elevation profile is a two-dimensional cross sectional view of the landscape and is used to show both elevation change and distance between geographic points. Between West Chester and Downingtown the elevation drops over 200 feet but intermediate elevation changes can be seen, especially on the trolley line at Copeland School and on Route 322 by East Bradford Elementary School. The distance between West Chester and Downingtown on Route 322 is 7.2 miles compared to 8.9 miles on the trolley line. What is interesting is that the throughout the trolley’s existence the mileage between West Chester and Downingtown was usually noted at 7 miles when it was actually a couple of miles more. The trolley fare chart below that shows the mileage between West Chester and Downingtown’s Pennsylvania Railroad Station at 7.5 miles. It was well over nine miles.