A NOSTALGIC VIEW OF TRANSPORTATION IN WILMINGTON, DELAWARE AND NEW CASTLE COUNTY


Wilmington public transportation began on June 28, 1864 with the Wilmington City Railway Company (Inc. February 4, 1864), the original predecessor of today's service.  Horse and mule drawn cars operated on a route from the Philadelphia, Wilmington & Baltimore Railway Station on Front Street to Market Street to 10th Street.  Then out 10th Street to Delaware Avenue to Riddle Road which was located near Du Pont Street and then on to Rising Sun Lane.  The offices, stables and carhouse were located at Delaware Avenue & Du Pont Street, then known as Middle Depot.  This would later become the B&O Railroad station.  The cars were 18 feet long and could carry 20 passengers.   At the peak of this service, a total of 166 horses and mules were used. Other companies later purchased included the Wilmington & Philadelphia Turnpike Company, the Wilmington & Great Valley Turnpike Company and the Wilmington & Christiana Turnpike Company.

The Front & Union Streets Railway  (Chartered in 1877) had a route from Front & Market Streets to Union Street.  Their offices and stables were located at Front & Union Streets.

The Wilmington City Railway Company added a branch line in 1881, from Market Street, East on 4th Street to the Christiana River.  In 1882, a second branch line was added from 4th Street North on Spruce Street.

Horse drawn service ended around 1892.

Wilmington's first horse drawn car #17, 1886 (left) and route map (yellow, WCRC and red, F&URC)

On March 7, 1888, the Wilmington City Railway Company introduced the first tracked electric trolley car service on a route from 10th & Market Streets to 33rd & Market Streets.  At the same time, the Front & Union Street Railway Company operated on a tracked route from Front & Market Streets to Front & Union Streets.  Then, in 1893, the Gordon Heights Railway Company began a route from the Gordon Heights Pier to Shellpot Park.

In 1897, the Wilmington City Railway Company took over the operation of the other two companies in addition to the Wilmington & Edgemoor Railway Company in 1906.

In the mean time, the Peoples Railway Company (Chartered May 12, 1900) took over Wilmington & Brandywine Springs Railway Company, the Elsmere & Wilmington Electric Railway Company, the Park Railway Company and the Citizens Railway Company.  In 1912, they absorbed the Union Railway Company and the Brandywine Railway Company.

The Wilmington, New Castle & Delaware City Railway Company (Chartered June 3, 1912) absorbed the New Castle & Delaware City Traction Company (Inc. April 24, 1911) and the Wilmington Southern Traction Company (Inc. January, 1911).

On July 1, 1910, the Wilmington & Philadelphia Traction Company was formed with a subsidiary in Pennsylvania - the Southern Pennsylvania Traction Company.  From 1912 to 1928, after a series additional purchases and acquirements, the Wilmington & Philadelphia Traction Company in 1927, changed to Delaware Electric Power Company.  The Delaware Electric Power Company also controlled the Delaware Bus Company and the Southern Pennsylvania Bus Company.  Then, following a series of legal and financial moves, the Delaware Electric Power Company replaced all companies in Delaware and the Southern Pennsylvania Bus Company replaced all companies in Pennsylvania.

In 1929, the United Gas & Improvement Company purchased all stock of the Delaware Electric Power Company.

Thus, in 1936, after 72 years, the company that began mass transportation in Wilmington in 1864 - the Wilmington City Railway Company - lost its identity when it merged with the Delaware Electric Power Company.

On June 17, 1941, the Delaware Electric Power Company changed to Delaware Coach Company.  'Tracked' service ended in 1940.

*** A note of interest is that at one time the Wilmington & Philadelphia Traction Company also owned the Wilmington City Electric Company (later to become Delaware Power & Light Company) and the Wilmington Automatic Telephone Company.

Four views of tracked trolley cars:

Top Left: Trolley car from 1899
Top Right: Trolley car from 1916
Above Left: A trolley car making a turn onto Market Street from 10th Street
Above Right: A Delaware Electric Company #5, Vandever Avenue Trolley


Trolley #432 entering the 'Car Barn' on Delaware Avenue

Motor bus service with gasoline engines began on May 1, 1925, by the Wilmington & Philadelphia Traction Company which now is a subsidiary of the American Gas & Electric Company (American Gas & Electric Co. had previously bought American Electric Co. in 1924).

The Wilmington & Philadelphia Traction Co. acquired several independent bus companies to operate the new routes under the Delaware Bus Company.  They were:

The Red Arrow Line - Wilmington to Marcus Hook (1925)
The United People's Transit Company - Wilmington to Marshallton (1925)
The A.C. Stiltz Co. - Wilmington to Newark (1925), and

The Delaware Rapid Transit Co. - Wilmington to New Castle (1926)

Beginning in 1928, motor buses began supplementing and eventually replacing tracked trolley cars service on several outlying routes due to poor patronization and repaving or reconstruction of several major roads.

The first diesel engine bus service began in 1948.

"Duplex" 21-Passenger Bus, 1923 (left) and the "Safeway" 27-Passenger Bus, 1925

"Twin Coach" Gas Bus, 1935

 

Two views of motor buses:

Left: A Delaware Electric Power Company bus from the 1930's
Right: From 1963, a Delaware Coach Company bus advertising the "Big 45" fare - 45 rides for $9.00

 

Left: A bus parked at the "Car Barn" decked out for Christmas
Right: An unidentified passenger preparing to board the #10 Delaware Avenue "Mystery Bus" which ran on unannounced routes for "no charge"

 

Left: Two unidentified passengers
Right: The "Wanamaker Bus" making a turn at 10th & Market Streets

TRACKLESS TROLLEY CAR ROSTER
Car Numbers Manufacture Model Number Year Purchased
601 - 652 Brill 40-SMT 1939
653 - 655 Mack CR-3S 1939
656 - 660 Brill 40-SMT 1939
661 - 666 Brill 40-SMT 1941
667 - 672 Brill 40-SMT 1942

September 24, 1939 saw the introduction of 'trackless' electric trolley car service.  A month earlier, August 22, 52 Brill trolley cars arrived on railroad flat cars and were unloaded on a B&O siding at 6th & Hawley Streets near where Delaware Coach Company had another facility at 6th Street & Greenhill Avenue.  The first route to be converted was the #10, Delaware Avenue line.  As the new trolleys arrived, they were put into service and, by the end of 1940, Wilmington became the first city in the country to have a modern trolley car and bus service.  The last 'tracked' street car route to be converted to 'trackless' was the #5, Newport/Silview line.  By 1942, 72 trolley cars were purchased to provide transportation for a route system of 29 miles. Following are some photos of those 'Trolley Cars' that most of us remember from the 40's and 50's.  Most were manufactured by J. G. Brill Co. with a few built by Mack.   And, just as it started, it ended with the last trolley car run on the #10, Delaware Avenue line at 1:40 A.M., March 1, 1958.

 


Additional commentary:

By 1961, most of the trackless trolleys had already been sold for scrap.  Photographs at the end of this section show what remained in a local junk yard in April, 1961.

The following information was provided by the Nashua City Station Museum in Nashua, NH, October 15, 2004:

In 1958 or 1959, one of the Brill's (number unknown) was sold to Nashua City Station Museum.  It has been restored but painted in their color scheme.  Another Brill was acquired by Nashua City Station a year or two later.   It is not restored but it is stored inside.

The Brill #623 trolley car was acquired by Railways To Yesterday in Pennsylvania for a group of trolley car fans hoping to restore it, but they moved away.  The trolley was moved outside and was vandalized.

The Nashua museum was in need of parts for their Brill trolley car and was offered #623.  They have it stored outside and the body is in poor shape, however, the electrical components are complete and preserved.

The Nashua museum also purchased one of the Mack trolley cars.  It has not been restored nor is it on display.  They do report that it is stored inside and is complete and may be the only Mack trolley car to exist.

So, of the 69 Brill's and 3 Mack's, only four of the Delaware Coach Company's 72 Trackless Trolley Cars have survived - that we know.

 

Left: A 'Brill Trolley Coach' ad
Right: The #609,'Brill' Trolley Car, 1939 - making a stop at 10th and Market Streets.
Notice the then familiar Christmas lights on the utility pole

Left: "Brill" trolley cars - #8, Riverview Avenue and behind it the #10, Delaware Avenue lined up on Front Street by the Pennsylvania Station
Right: Two "Macks" - #5-2's, Newport/Silview at the head of their lines at the storage yard on the Clayton Street end of the "Car Barn", 1949.  Note the old trolley tracks still in place

Left: Passengers board the #4, Shellpot trolley car North bound on Market Street at 9th Street
Right: The busy intersection of 10th & Market Streets

Left: A "Mack" trolley car - #8, Penn Station
Right: A #10, Delaware Avenue approaches Wilmington Dry Goods at 4th & Market Streets as an opposite "bus" passes

 

Left: Trolley cars parked at the "Car Barn" on Delaware Avenue & DuPont Street, now the location of "Trolley Square"
The rear of #618, on the right, is seen below as one sitting in a junk yard on S. Market Street. (1950's)
Right: Trolley cars parked in the yard on the Clayton Street side of the Car Barn. (Feb. 1950)

   

The #12, Boulevard route (for Baynard Boulevard) was popular for P.S. duPont High School Students

Left: Students leave the trolley car at Van Buren Street, 1944
Right: Students board the Trolley car in front of the school, 1944

 

Two views of the maintenance area of the "Car Barn"

 

Left: A #5, Vandever Avenue/Newport makes a stop in front of Gavatos Restaurant at 8th & Market Streets, 1943
Right: A #12, Boulevard makes a North bound stop on Market Street at 9th Street, 1943

 

An unknown trolley car approaching downtown.  With its trolley poles extended almost to the limit, it is at
the point where I-95's Delaware Avenue overpass is now located. (1940's)


Two views of #12's, Boulevard leaving the downtown area coming off of the Washington Street Bridge (1950's)

A Northbound #4, Shellpot trolley car waits in line after a snow fall in front of the Planters Peanut store, 800 block Market Street.

Left: Passengers board the #12, Penn Station.  The window sign says "Flower Market".
Right: Unidentified trolley car transfer taking place (for an unknown reason) in the area of the present 'Ship Yard" area.

 

At the end of some routes was the neatly landscaped "Turning Loops".  They were reconstructed from the tracked trolleys "Switch Back" areas.

Left: The #5-1, Richardson Park trolley car leaves the "Turning Loop" at Maryland Avenue & Boxwood Road for the return trip.
Right: A trolley car making its turn around on North Market Street.

What Happened To The Trolley Cars?

After providing 19 years of transportation service in Wilmington, the Delaware Coach Company in December, 1957 approved the decision to convert their fleet to a more modern motor bus system.  This would allow greater flexibility of service and follow the transit modernization taking place in other cities.  Delaware was beginning to widen, re-route and reallign the streets and roads thus creating the need for Delaware Coach to relocate the overhead lines and their power transmission system. 

Transportation companies throughout the United States, Central and South America were searched for potential buyers.  Unable to sell any of their trolley cars, Delaware Coach was forced to sell them for scrap.

The trolleys began their last run by being towed to a scrap yard near 3rd & Commerce Streets in South Wilmington and by March 1, 1958 their service ended.

The following photos are of those trolley cars sitting motionless - without their overhead power lines - waiting for passengers that will not arrive.

Above: Here, along with others, Brill Trolley Car #'s 644, 618, 631 & 622 wait for their final run
at a junk yard in South Wilmington, April, 1961

 
Above: Two views of trolley car #620 sitting alone at the same site

 

Two photos of Delaware Coach Company employees

Left: An unidentified bus driver
Right: Mr. Everett Tarburton, Street Supervisor

 

Left: One of the Delaware Coach Company buildings at the "Car Barn"
Right: A Poster advertising "Downtown days " during June, 1961

1952 Trolley Car & Bus Route Map (Click on image a larger view)

Delaware Coach Company 1952 Transportation Map
(Click on image for larger view)

1953 Schedule (Click on image for larger view)

DELAWARE COACH COMPANY 1963 FARE SCHEDULE
   
Children - under 6 with adult Free
Students - to or from school 10¢
Students - all other times 15¢
"Downtowner Zone" 15¢
Daily Rider - using "Big 45" 20¢
Occasional Rider 25¢
Infrequent Rider 30¢

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

BUS ROUTES - 1963

Delaware Coach - Delaware Bus Company

Route Number
Route Name
1
Chester
3-15
New Castle - South Harrison
4
West 4th Street
5
Newport/Silview/Vandever Avenue
6
Newark - Prices Corner
8
West 8th Street
10
Delaware Avenue
11
Washington Street
12
Boulevard
20
Edgemoor
21
Wanamaker's

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

   


Four Delaware Coach Company 'Transfers'

On October 16, 1950, United Gas & Improvement sold Delaware Coach Company to Mr. Russell Stoughton of Westtown, PA. - the first private owner in 40 years.

On August 28, 1956, the American Transportation Enterprises of New York purchased the company from Mr. Stoughton.

For a period leading up to 1969, the company was known as the Greater Wilmington Transportation Authority (GWTA).  Then, the privately owned Delaware Coach Company became public by an act of the Delaware State Legislature.  The new name became DART, the Delaware Authority for Regional Transit.

In 1994, the Delaware State Legislature created the Delaware Transit Corporation to manage and operate DART along with other administrations and changed the name to DART First State.

Webmaster's note:  While this is an attempt to provide a brief history of public transportation in the Wilmington/New Castle County area, it is by no means complete.  In the future, I will expand on this page to cover the period up to 1979.

The information on this page was gathered from various sources but mainly from DART First State.  My 'thanks' and appreciation for their generous support in this effort...

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Revised: August 19, 2011