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Trolley services once common in Tyler County

By Staff | Jan 29, 2014

The trestle under construction at the south end of Sistersville on the Sistersville to Friendly trolley line.

(Editor’s note: This is the latest installment from the Tyler County Planning Commission in conjunction with the Tyler County Bicentennial.)

Throughout Tyler County’s first century, traveling between the county’s communities to conduct commerce, or to visit family and friends, could present a daunting challenge. The dirt roads (some might call them paths) that connected population centers were suitable for horseback travel. Bad weather could make them impassible for even animal-drawn wagons.

A trip from Sistersville to Middlebourne was an all-day task in good weather. In bad weather, it might even require an overnight stay.

That began to change in 1903, when the Union Traction Company began a trolley service between Sistersville and Paden City. From there, it continued on to complete an 11-mile line to New Martinsville. The line remained in service, carrying passengers, freight, and the U.S. Mail, until 1925, when the West Virginia State Road Commission purchased the right-of-way in order to construct WV State Route 2.

With a population boom from about 600 in 1888, to more than 7,000 by 1898, Sistersville became the largest community in either Tyler or Wetzel County, and served as the meeting point of three trolley lines.

Stained glass transom windows, brass railings, and polished hardwood fixtures adorned this Tyler Traction Company passenger trolley.

In 1905, the Parkersburg & Ohio Valley Electric Railway opened a line between Sistersville and Friendly. The line five-mile line maintained service until 1918. Remnants of the line remain visible today, particularly the bridge abutment, which can be seen, just left of State Route 2, as one enters Friendly. Most of the roadbed for the trolley can still be found at the base of the hill east of Davenport.

In 1913, the final line constructed was built by the Tyler Traction Company, which was headquartered in Sistersville. This 13-mile standard-gauge line between Sistersville and Middlebourne was built to high standards and carried both passenger and freight traffic. Featuring a tunnel which carried the line from the head of Happy Hollow under what is now the Greenwood Cemetery, the line provided service not only to the towns at each end of the line, but to 18 stops between.

The first trolley of the day left Sistersville at 6:30 a.m., with the final car leaving Middlebourne for Sistersville at 7 p.m. Each day, six round trips originated from both Middlebourne and Sistersville. The ride over the entire 13 miles took 40 minutes, a far cry from what had sometimes required an overnight stay. The line was the longest lasting trolley service within Tyler County, ceasing operation in 1930.

The various trolley lines served as a unifying force for the citizens and businesses of Tyler County at the turn of the last century. During the county’s first 100-years, riverboat, rowboat, or horse drawn wagons were the only alternative for the traveling public, beyond their own two feet. Trolley service brought the county modern transportation and made travel between its main population centers pleasant, economical and convenient.

Watch for more installments about Tyler County’s history in coming editions of the Tyler Star News throughout 2014, Tyler County’s bicentennial year.

The trolley crosses a bridge on its way from Sistersville to Middlebourne.

Acknowledgments: Ellifritt, Duane. Early Engineering in the Hills. West Virginia Hillbilly, 7/1/1978; O. O. Brown Collection, Paden City Public Library; Walter McCoy and Roy Thistle Collections, Sistersville Public Library.

Baseball fans in Sistersville board the trolley to Paden Park, an amusement center operated by the Tyler Traction Company.