Streetcars trace growth of Baltimore Birthday: The Baltimore Streetcar Museum celebrated the centennial of car No. 1050, taking visitors along for the ride.

November 09, 1998|By Stephen Henderson | Stephen Henderson,SUN STAFF

A hundred years ago, Streetcar No. 1050 trundled through the streets of Baltimore, ferrying commuters and pleasure-seekers from Roland Park -- then part of Baltimore County -- to the city's old Riverside waterfront amusement park and points in between.

Yesterday afternoon, that same streetcar -- squeaky but intact, dingy but sporting many of its original fittings and ornamentation -- was taking on passengers as visitors to the Baltimore Streetcar Museum celebrated its centennial birthday.

"We've preserved as much of it as we could," museum curator Benjamin Bates said while standing in the aisle of the car and moving his hand across its original maple veneer ceiling. "You can touch this and know you're touching a piece of the city's history."

No. 1050 is one of several cars stored and operated by the museum, which has a mile-long track outside its car barn along the southernmost portion of Falls Road near Maryland Avenue.

The museum has the city's oldest streetcar -- No. 417, which museum staffers believe dates to the 1870s -- as well as No. 7407, the last streetcar to operate in Baltimore when service ended in 1963.

Bates and other museum staffers offer facts about Baltimore streetcar history:

Streetcars ran on tracks 8 inches wider than standard gauge to prevent railroad companies from moving locomotives through the city's center.

Horse-drawn wagons also used streetcar tracks to avoid the rough ride on unpaved or cobblestone city streets.

Some early streetcar lines were coded according to color rather than number, to accommodate non-English-speaking immigrants -- a system adopted in modern times for subway systems across the globe.

The old downtown Power Plant -- now home to the ESPN Zone, Hard Rock Cafe and Barnes & Noble Booksellers -- was the city's original streetcar power-generating plant.

Bates and other volunteers who staff the museum have spent 20 years restoring No. 1050 -- stripping woodwork, polishing brass window handles and replacing broken glass. Its long bench seats are lined with bright-red Wilton carpet upholstery from England -- stained and faded, but original nonetheless.

"It's a work in progress," Bates said of the car, which was nicknamed "Baby" by museum staffers.

Bates said the history of streetcars in Baltimore traces the path of the city's growth.

"The spread of development from the city's core followed the streetcar lines," he said.

He points to a map of streetcar lines hanging in the museum and notes how they follow the major routes from the city center -- along Harford Road, Greenmount Avenue and York Road, Reisterstown Road, Edmondson Avenue.

"The streetcars allowed people to live where they wanted and be able to get downtown for work and leisure," Bates said.

In many areas, tracks are still visible, some mostly buried under the asphalt that carries buses, streetcars' successors.

About 75 people turned out for the birthday. Bates said the museum's next big promotion will take place in mid-December, when children can help the conductor pick up a distinguished passenger -- Santa Claus.

Pub Date: 11/09/98

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