Ashland Trolley Line
In 1905, New York financier Frank Jay Gould established the Richmond and Chesapeake Bay Railway. He had a vision for a high speed electric railroad, which would run from Norfolk up to Petersburg, Richmond, and Fredericksburg with branches to the Northern Neck.
In 1834, the RF&P was chartered by the General Assembly. The railroad’s charter included a unique statute that prohibited any other railroads from being constructed anywhere between Richmond and Washington. Gould was initially denied a charter for his new railway based on this statue, but later granted the charter after a Virginia Supreme Court decision. The first and only part of the railway to be built, at a cost of $994,000, was the 14.8 mile section from Richmond to Ashland. The trolley officially began running on October 28, 1907.
The railway was very unique and innovative for its time. Instead of traditional trolley cars, Gould wanted large, comfortable luxury cars. The railway line used four 39 ton, 55 foot cars, which were manufactured by the St. Louis car company. These were similar to Pullman parlor cars with mahogany paneling, high-backed seats and frescoed ceilings.
A 1908 schedule advertises “Cool – clean – comfortable electric trains. No smoke. No cinders. Elegant cars. Rock ballasted track.” Power for the trolley came to the Richmond Depot through an underground cable from a hydroelectric plant on 12th Street.
The leftover power in the line was used to provide electricity to the Town of Ashland.
The trolley began at the Richmond Depot on West Broad Street and Laurel Street and ran north across Bacon’s Branch Ravine and north on Brook Road past Laburnum. It ended at the white and mustard-colored trolley station at the corner of Maple and England Streets in Ashland, where the Post Office now stands.
The railway line remained open until December 1917, but was never very profitable.
It was put up for auction and eventually purchased by Oliver J. Sands and Jonathan Bryan in 1919 for $135,000 and chartered as the Richmond – Ashland Railway.
Despite the efforts to revive it, the Ashland – Richmond trolley continued to encounter financial challenges. On March 22, 1938, the last trolley departed Ashland at 11:10 pm, filled with nostalgic passengers, who took souvenirs from the station in Richmond. On the way back, the whistle blew continuously, waking nearby residents, and passengers sang “Auld Lang Syne.”
The copper wire and 2,800 tons of rail were sold for $35,000. The railroad’s right of way was purchased by Virginia Electric and Power Company to run electric transmission lines.
The electric trolley holds many fond memories for local residents. Dorothy Jones remembered hearing the story of her parents wedding in 1911, when the whole wedding party rode the trolley from Ashland to Richmond, amidst much fanfare and ringing bells.
Others remember attorney Rosewell Page riding the trolley. When they crossed the Chickahominy River on the way back to Ashland, he would rise, take off his hat and shout, “All stand! We are in Hanover County, God bless her!”
Another Ashlander remembered riding the trolley when she was very young, and how terrified she was of the high bridge. Her family’s cook, who rode with her, would distract her by telling her to look down at the chimneys to see Santa Claus.
A Richmonder remembers riding the trolley to visit a college in Ashland when he was fourteen, and how long the trip seemed to him.
Today, a half mile section of the old Richmond – Ashland Trolley line has been dedicated as greenway to preserve this unique and interesting part of our local history.
The Ashland Trolley Line Park trail is an easy 0.5 mile walk (1 mile round trip) along a very straight & level path. The Richmond Audubon Society has a checklist of 76 different species of birds that have been seen on this trail.
Editor’s note: Want to see the next generation of innovators in action? Join us for the 2019 Innovators Cup at Tom Tom Festival.