[as of June-2005]
The line is a part of the Minnesota Streetcar Museum (MSM), which is a newly formed establishment. It used to be operated by the Minnesota Transportation Museum (MTM), an organization that operates several heritage transportation sites in Minnesota and just across the border in Wisconsin. The museum primarily focuses on preserving and restoring portions of the railroads that once crossed through the area, but a unique steamboat and a few classic buses are also in the collection. The organization was first formed to save a streetcar that had been built and operated by Twin City Rapid Transit (TCRT) in the Minneapolis-St. Paul region of Minnesota. The museum was officially organized in 1962, and followed in the footsteps of the Minnesota Railfans Association, which had organized railfan trips in the 1940s, '50s, and '60s.
The streetcar line runs in the town of Excelsior, located on the shores of Lake Minnetonka, on the Excelsior Bay. The 'Streetcar Boat' Minnehaha also docks here (see below). The plan was to build the trolley line along the existing bicycle and foot trail to the dock, so passengers could transfer from the streetcar to the boat. The half-mile track was built from Water Street to Excelsior Boulevard at the eastern fringes of downtown Excelsior. A new car barn was constructed next to Highway 7. Duluth #78 (built in 1893) was moved from the Como-Harriet Streetcar Line to the Excelsior Line to maintain service, which started in 1999. The Minnehaha, however, now docks at the pier directly in the heart of downtown, while the streetcar line curves around the main downtown area. Thus, the initial purpose was lost, and the streetcar line became an independent attraction on its own.
In XIX century the lakes near the city were a popular tourist and resort destination. The first railroad in Excelsior were Minneapolis and St. Louis that reached the town from Minneapolis via Hopkins in 1879, and the narrow gauge Minneapolis, Lyndale & Minnetonka in 1882, which also run on a stretch of tracks currently used by the Como-Harriet Line between Lake Calhoun and Lake Harriet. M&StL also had a short branch to Tonka Bay, to company-owned Tonka Bay Hotel. The narrow gage line operated until 1886, when it was cut back to Lake Calhoun. The section of the line beyond Hopkins was purchased by the Great Northern in 1886. The gauge was changed to standard and the line was extended via the southern shores of Lake Minnetonka. In 1900 the GN built an alternative track via Oronto, and the track through Excelsior was abandoned.
In 1905 Twin City Rapid Transit Company acquired the abandoned GN right of way. The line was double-tracked and upgraded to high-speed standards. Thus, the streetcar service from Minneapolis has reached Excelsior via Lake Calhoun and Lake Harriet, including the trackage currently used by the Como-Harriet Line. At Excelsior a transfer was provided to express boats that ran on the lake.
In 1908 the streetcar line was extended through downtown Excelsior via Water Street, and then followed the former M&StL Tonka Bay branch, which was acquired by the Twin City Rapid Transit Company along with the Tonka Bay hotel. By 1911, however, the area began loosing its popularity as the recreational destination. The Tonka Bay Hotel closed the same year. Express boats continued running until 1927. The streetcar service to Excelsior was suspended in 1932 due to automobile competitions and the Great Depression hurdles, the service cut back to Hopkins.
In the mid-1990s the former M&StL right of way was purchased by the Hennepin County Regional Railroad Authority and a pedestrian / bicycle trail was opened. In 1999 the streetcar service opened via the newly built trackage along the trail.
This streetcar from the Duluth Street Railway appeared in 1991 after a rebuild period that took more than six years. Duluth #78 is the oldest streetcar in the museum, having been built by the LaClede Car Company of St. Louis, Missouri in 1893. The car, which was retired in 1911, is one of the oldest working streetcars in the country. It is a first-generation electric car, so it highly resembles the horse-drawn streetcars it replaced. It has been operating on the Excelsior Streetcar Line since 1999.
TCRT #1239 was built in Minneapolis and has been restored to the configuration it had when it was constructed in 1907. The streetcars used in the Twin Cities in the early 20th century were 'gate cars' which used metal gates on the rear of the car both for embarking and disembarking. Only a small door was on the front, and it was only used by the motorman. This configuration required 'two man' operation, with a motorman in front and another worker at the rear who handled fares and helped with backing up when it was required.
Most Twin Cities streetcars were converted in the 1930s to add a large front door and allow just one person to operate the vehicle ('one man' operation). A few streetcars built by TCRT for the University of Minnesota's own small line between campuses in Minneapolis and St. Paul remained in the gate car configuration for many more years.
This car was built for the Wisconsin Railway, Light and Power Co., Winona, MN by St. Louis Car Co. in 1913. It ran in Winona until the end of streetcar service there in 1938. It is now under restoration at the shop. When completed, #10 is expected to be sent to the Como-Harriet Line.
This electric interurban car was built by Niles in 1912. It was in service until 1927. The car is storage awaiting restoration.
STREETCAR BOAT MINNEHAHA
From 1906 to 1926, Twin City Rapid Transit offered a unique transportation alternative to visitors of Lake Minnetonka, a large resort destination to the southwest of the Twin Cities. The vessels were essentially 'streetcar boats', steamboats that highly resembled the venerable streetcars of the region. When business on the lake soured during one of many cycles of boom and bust, the boats were sunk in deep water. One of them, the Minnehaha, was eventually located by divers and brought to the surface in 1980. It was restored in the 1990s and returned to the lake in 1996. Regular excursions are offered to the public during weekends, mostly once a day. The ticket office for the steamboat has some exhibits, and a train depot in Wayzata is near one dock used by the Minnehaha.
In 2005 the Minnehaha did not belong to the Minnesota Transportation Museum (MTM) anymore, and was given over to the Museum of Lake Minnetonka (MLM).