Time was, if you wanted to get around Hartford, Connecticut or out into the surrounding towns, you took the trolley. This 1901 pamphlet makes it sound as if the streetcar were the only way to travel, and indeed as an improvement over horse and carriage or noisome steam railway it had much to recommend as a means of seeing the sights and made Hartford truly metropolitan for the first time in its history:
"Hartford City Hall is the center of an immense trolley traffic, the lines reaching out in all directions for miles and making many towns practically a part of Hartford which a few years ago were very difficult to access. About 100 cars pass in front of and around the City Hall every hour. There is no doubt that the excellent trolley system has done much for Hartford and has been a factor in causing the remarkable growth shown by the last census - from 53,000 in 1890 to nearly 80,000 in 1900."
Conversely, in the last 50 years Hartford has lost 10,000 residents every decade, and getting through and around the City by automobile is often frustrating and complicated. Two elevated interstates slice through Hartford, and its explosively growing suburbs come at the expense of gridlock and an ever shrinking urban core. In some ways, the rural communities beyond a reasonable commuting distance of Hartford are just as isolated from the state Capitol today as they were before the advent of trolleys.
In 1901 you could take a trolley directly to any of Hartford's magnificent network of public parks. You could ride from Hartford to Springfield, Massachusetts and take a side trip to Mount Tom for 15 cents, there to enjoy views of far away Mounts Monadnock, Greylock or Wachusett from a cafe 1,214 ft above sea level. It took half a day - via 3 trolley lines and a steam railway to go from Hartford to City Hall in Manhattan, a distance of 143 miles, but this was a vast improvement over a rough carriage and the whole thing cost $1.96 one way. Intriguingly, the Hartford steamship line took out a full page advertisement in the Trolley pamphlet for a night run to New York - first class - at $1.50. For shorter journeys, though, the trolley was hard to beat.
Hartford needs far more than good public transportation to get back on its feet today - its education, employment and home ownership figures are truly dismal - but the value of a good, efficient network of mass transit linking suburbs to city and neighborhood to neighborhood was well known to those who took the trolley one hundred years ago and saw their horizons and opportunities expand. The Connecticut Trolley Museum in East Windsor keeps that heritage alive today with the oldest electric railway museum in the United States.