ARUNDEL, Maine — Preparing to celebrate its 80th anniversary next year, the Seashore Trolley Museum has a new executive director at the helm who brings over a decade of non-profit experience, a passion for historic preservation, and an electric energy to the museum.
A New Hampshire native, Katie Orlando served the past nine years in leadership roles at Big Brothers Big Sisters agencies in mid-Maine, Manchester, New Hampshire and Northeast Iowa. A need for change and her New England roots called her back East, and the opening at the trolley museum came about at just the right time.
On the job since September, Orlando has quickly immersed herself in community outreach, strategic planning, fund development and business partnership development, and brings expertise in grant writing to her role, as well. She earned a bachelor’s degree in history and political science from Gettysburg College in Pennsylvania.
“I’ve always loved trolleys, there’s just something about them. So this is a passion of mine for sure,” Orlando said. “I never thought about the history of what I was riding on, so it’s been very interesting learning about everything. There’s so much to learn.”
Orlando has been a quick study, and already has a wealth of knowledge about the history of trolley service in New England and across the United States and the world, but she continues to learn something new about the museum collection every day from its dedicated and knowledgeable volunteers.
With over 250 street cars and more than 80 buses in the museum’s catalog, the history of early mass transportation lives on in the two miles of demonstration trolley line and the restored cars that take museum visitors on a brief trip back in time each summer season.
On Wednesday, Nov. 14, Orlando invited a group of local business people to ride a trolley and learn more about what the museum offers to local residents and tourists. Plans to take out the open air sightseeing car, Montreal 2, dubbed the “Golden Chariot” were thwarted by a single digit windchill, but a beautiful, fully restored and heated car from the Boston Elevated Railway line was substituted.
In the 1920′s the Atlantic Shore Line Railway covered most of southern Maine providing the first mass transportation option that expanded employment opportunities for people who lived in Biddeford, Saco and Kennebunkport to as far south as Portsmouth, New Hampshire.
Dan Vardaro, a Trolley Museum volunteer, said at the height of trolley use in the early 1920′s there were over 40,000 miles of trolley lines across the country. While they were still used for decades longer in big cities, trolleys were replaced by buses in most small towns before 1930.
The trolleys stopped running in Kennebunkport in 1927, Vardaro said.
The museum is actually located on part of the original Atlantic Shore Line but the tracks were all pulled up years ago. Volunteers with the museum put them back down to make the demonstration track and create a more authentic experience for visitors.
Volunteers also added a trolley park to the end of the demonstration track, to replicate the nearly 2,000 parks built across the country in the 1920s to draw business for the trolley companies on weekends.
There are just 11 of these trolley parks remaining in the U.S. today, with Canobie Lake Park in Salem, New Hampshire among them.
A handful of restored trolley cars run every 45 minutes during the summer months for visitors to the Seashore Trolley Museum, and the visitors center, museum grounds and restoration barns are open for people to explore.
When the Seashore Trolley Museum reopens in May, 2019 it will be celebrating 80 years, and Orlando said plans for growth at this unique and interactive museum is almost limitless.
She plans to continue the work begun by her predecessor Sally Bates to bring more events to the museum.
The Golden Chariot Ride & Cocktail Party during Christmas Prelude has become a very popular event, selling out the past two years. The museum’s most beautiful open car, Montreal II, becomes a wintry chariot for visitors on a nighttime ride in partial moonlight with cocktails and appetizers.
Prelude Trolley Rides in the daytime are still available and offer heated trolleys decked out in holiday greens, shopping in the museum store, and hot chocolate chip cookies.
For more information on the dates and times of Prelude 2018 events, visit www.christmasprelude.com, or find the official guide to Kennebunkport’s Christmas Prelude inserted in the York County Coast Star and available at a variety of local businesses.
Orlando said they will be adding several events to the 2019 schedule including appreciation days for teachers, the military, first responders and more. Ice Cream nights have been very popular and will continue, along with story time events, book signings and author talks as well as a trolley parade slated for the 4th of July.
The always popular Pumpkin Patch Trolley brings families from as far away as Pennsylvania and New York each year, Orlando said. They put over 2,000 pumpkins into the field along the tracks for a special fall weekend for both young and old each fall.
Looking to the future
As executive director, Orlando is responsible for the day to day operation of the museum as well as looking toward the future. Long range plans include turning an old home on museum property into a library for the extensive collection of books, manuals and printed materials currently housed in storage containers.
Another goal is to expand the visitor’s center so that it can be open year-round and add a heated year-round exhibit barn.
In the short term, Orlando said she is tasked with raising funds to help make the museum and the trolley cars more accessible for people with limited mobility.
“We are trying to raise some funding for ramps and ADA things that will make it easier for people to ride our cars. That’s important to us,” she said.
“On Giving Tuesday, which is Nov. 27 we are asking people to donate so we can gather funds for this endeavor.”
As a non-profit organization, expanding the museum and restoring the trolley cars depends on the generosity of donors. It takes almost $100,000 to restore one trolley car, and it can take up to five or 10 years.
To make a donation or become a member of the Seashore Trolley Museum visit www.trolleymuseum.org.