Hopewell Valley Trolley Routes – 1902 – 1931

The mania of trolley construction in the United States in the early 1900s included one line from Trenton servicing Hopewell and Pennington from 1902 to 1931, and two competing lines to Lawrenceville and Princeton from 1899 to 1939.

The rails have long since been torn up – apparently to be used as scrap for World War II needs. But there are still signs of their routes found along the rights-of-way, especially earth embankments with stone or concrete piers.

In the early 1980s, Jim Klaiber documented and photographed these trolley routes, and the resulting report now has been reformatted and posted on the History Project site. This includes histories of the lines and companies, and traces the routes and remains as of 1982. The discussion below is taken from his paper.

== View Hopewell Valley Trolleys – Roadbed’s Remains as of 1980 by Jim Klaiber (PDF) ==

  • See Trolley Memories below for some additional vignettes of the impact of trolley service on Hopewell and its daily life.

The Hopewell Public Library also is hosting Dennis Waters this Wednesday, January 26, to present his talk on The Trolley Age in Mercer County.

Hopewell / Pennington Trolley Line

Trolley on North Main St. in Pennington at Delaware Ave. [HVHS 1987 Calendar]

Even with competition from good roads and multiple railroads, Hopewell, Princeton and Lawrence Townships saw multiple trolley companies chartered around 1900. But with the dawn of the automobile and personal transportation, the trolley could not last, and this service ended within forty years. Yet today, “electrical traction” still seems to be an intriguing alternative to the combustion engine.

Running time for the trolleys from Trenton to Hopewell was forty minutes, while Trenton to Princeton was fifty minutes via the Trenton and Mercer County Co., and only thirty-five minutes on the North Princeton, or “Fast Line.” Even today, the trolley schedule would be quite respectable.

The Hopewell / Pennington line was charted in 1902 as the Trenton, Pennington and Hopewell Street Railway. The line reached Pennington in 1903, and was bought by the Trenton Street Railway in the same year. The tracks then reached the Hopewell terminus in 1904, at East Broad and Elm Streets.

Trolley in 1913 postcard on West Broad St. in Hopewell; facing west by Lanning Ave. (colorized) [MAT]

In 1910, the Trenton and Mercer County Traction Company was formed from the Trenton Street Railway and the Mercer County Traction Company. This company also ran one of the two Princeton routes.

Service to Hopewell ended in December 1924, and the line was removed from Pennington to Hopewell. Pennington service continued to July 1931, when all Trenton and Mercer County suburban lines were discontinued.

Meanwhile, two competing trolley companies offered service from Trenton through Lawrenceville to Princeton. The Trenton and Mercer County Traction Company and the Trenton-Princeton Traction Company were formed in 1899, and started end-to-end service in 1901. They discontinued service in 1931 and 1939, respectively.

Pennington / Hopewell Trolley Route

Hopewell Trolley Route: Trenton & Mercer County Traction Co. [Jim Klaiber, 1982]

The Hopewell trolley came north from Trenton [along old Trenton Road] and followed along today’s Route 31 to Main Street in Pennington. The widening of Route 31 and the construction of the Pennington Circle now cover what was the roadbed.

The trolley then came up South Main Street into Pennington. One obvious remnant of the line is the double roadway in front of Toll Gate Grammar School on South Main Street, where a trolley bypass lane split off to the right.

The route then continued up North Main Street to Route 31, crossing the railroad tracks on a bridge north of the Main Street bridge and continued on the east side of Route 31.

Further north, the still-standing railroad bridge that crosses above the road (leading to the Trap Rock Company) had a second opening on the east side of the bridge for the trolley, with the embankment set back to provide clearance.

The tracks then curved towards Hopewell following the east side of Route 654 (previously Route 518 Spur). Near the Hopewell Valley Golf Club (known historically as the Glenmore area), the route ran several hundred feet south of the current road, crossing the railroad tracks (that also turned toward Hopewell), and then the Stony Brook. There are trolley bridge abutments in this area, but the most prominent current features were built after the trolley and the road realignment – the highway bridge over the Stony Brook (built in 1929) and the railroad bridge (built in 1935).

As the line reached Hopewell, the tracks ran up West Broad Street, crossed Greenwood Avenue, and terminated at East Broad and Elm Streets. 

== View Hopewell Valley Trolleys – Roadbed’s Remains as of 1980 by Jim Klaiber (PDF) ==

Trolley Memories

There is more work to be done to learn more about how the trolleys fit into town life. Here are some vignettes found from various sources:

The trolley as part of daily life

Newspapers and diaries show that Hopewell residents regularly took the trolley to Trenton – including for jobs, to visit doctors, and for evening jaunts to go shopping or for entertainment.

From Trenton and other nearby places, all connected with Hopewell by trolley lines, a practically unlimited supply of labor can be obtained. … [For Pennington] the township high school [in Hopewell] is only twenty minutes distant by trolley.

Industrial Directory of New Jersey (1912/18)

The tracks caused a rise in the street level?  (1903 / 1906)

Trolley tracks in the dirt road in 1909 postcard, outside the Hopewell Calvary Baptist Church on East Broad St. (colorized) [SC]

During this period, there were indications of changes in the level of the Hopewell streets, for example at the Calvary Baptist Church. This may have been due to the construction of the trolley lines.

It was voted in 1903 to give the right of way in front of the church to the Trenton, Pennington and Hopewell Street Railway Co. Times were progressing. Trolleys were coming to town. … [In 1906] The level of Broad Street was raised (due to the trolley?) and this required new grading of the church property.

Hopewell Calvary Baptist Church – 95th Anniversary Booklet (1966)

The trolley tracks were relocated in the streets? (c1916)

Trolley on West Broad St. in Hopewell; facing east at Mercer St. Note tracks on south edge of the road. [HVHS 1991 Calendar]

Most images show the tracks in the center of the (dirt) streets in Hopewell, but at least one image shows the tracks running along the edge of the south side of the street. A newspaper article reports on this change.

Mayor [H. A.] Smith reports that he had taken up the matter of moving the trolley tracks on West Broad from the side to the center of the street, … and had received assurances that the change would be made either this fall or next spring.

Hopewell Herald, June 14, 1916

The trolley was a hazard! (1923)

The Hopewell Herald on September 19, 1923 reported that the tracks were in such “deplorable and dangerous condition” that the midnight trolley from Trenton “ran off the rails twice” near Greenwood Avenue, “running across the road and crashed into curb” (also due to the “rate at which the Trenton cars run through the street”).

Trolley pranks

Local folklore told in the 1960s Hopewell barber shops reports that kids would grease the trolley rails at the incline near Louellen Street. This would require the trolley returning to Trenton to first offload the passengers, and then back up and make a speed run to get up the hill.

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