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Dawn of Scranton’s ‘electric’ fame relived

Lackawanna Historical Society Director Mary Ann Moran-Savakinus, left, and Pennsylvania Sen. John Blake enter the COLTS trolley bus Thursday afternoon for a commemorative ride.

CHRISTOPHER J. HUGHES PHOTO

SCRANTON – One hundred twenty-five years ago, through the innovation of a Belgian-born inventor and engineer, the city’s first continually operating electric streetcar took to the streets of the city’s downtown.

The five-mile, round trip journey, part of which stopped at a turntable in Dunmore to return downtown, was recognized for its local and national importance on Thursday by various elected officials, rail enthusiasts, historians, and more during a ceremony at the Electric City Trolley Museum, 300 Cliff St., Scranton.

“It is a great event to remind us where we came from, where we’re going, and that people with dreams can make them come true because they changed our city,” Scranton Mayor Chris Doherty said of the anniversary of the inaugural run on Tues., Nov. 30, 1886.

“With its success, the days of the horse-drawn carriage were over.”

The streetcar gave Scranton it’s nickname as “The Electric City,” which was rekindled by Doherty during the course of his administration. The mayor was among the many elected officials who delivered proclamations for Charles J. Van Depoele Day, named for the man commissioned to build the system.

Harold “Kip” Hagen, superintendent of the National Historic Site at Steamtown, said he rode the final run of the electric trolley in 1954 when he was 2 years old.

“My mother always told the stories of how she used it to get downtown,” Hagen said. “There’s a lot of history. I want to see it preserved… It’s site like this that make Scranton a destination and not just another exit off of (Interstate) 81.”

The recognition Thursday of Scranton’s national significance – given its gifts of electric streetcars and such major former industries as iron, anthracite coal, and rail, among other contributions – were not far from speakers’ minds. The celebration of that first streetcar ride on that slushy November day was delayed from Wednesday to Thursday by President Barack Obama’s visit to Scranton High School.

“That, to me, makes it all the more significant,” said Dominic Keating, master of ceremonies and member of the Board of Directors at the Lackawanna Heritage Valley Authority. “We’ve given a lot to the nation, and we’ve been fortunate to receive a lot.”

The ceremony was concluded with a commemorative ride that traced most of the original path in a County of Lackawanna Transit System trolley-themed bus.

ORIGINAL ROUTE

The original run of the Green Ridge Suburban Streetcar Line began at Franklin and Lackawanna Avenues, traveling up Franklin to Spruce Street and on Spruce to Adams Avenue. Following a turn on Ash Street, the line continued up North Washington Avenue nearly to Delaware Street. A turntable in the middle of Adams Avenue near Delaware allowed the car to return to it departure point.

It is impossible to trace the original route in its entirety by car because of the many one way streets now located in downtown Scranton.

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