Bridging the Gap: Trolley Travel in Delaware Water Gap

Before there was a car in every driveway and Uber was just a click away, long distance travel was arduous and time consuming. Trains and ships covered extended distances with ease, and local travel could be achieved by horse and buggy, wagon or walking. But mid-distance, regional travel was a chore. Horse drawn wagons offered a slow, rough ride over varying terrain. And depending on a living, breathing engine meant extra stops and added the expense of care, feeding, rest and shelter. Weather and road conditions, plus the health of the animal resulted in spotty reliability and schedule delays. 

Enter a new approach to mass transit: the trolley. The first trolleys were track-based vehicles pulled by horses. While the tracks offered a smoother ride than wagon trails and cobblestone streets, cleanliness and reliability issues remained. Horses brought manure to city streets and were expensive to keep healthy and fed.

Soon electric powered trolleys were the wave of the future. In 1887, Pennsylvania’s first electrified trolley was pioneered in nearby Scranton, helping secure its nickname as The Electric City.  Electric trolleys were cleaner, cheaper to operate, and offered a smooth, all-weather ride. 

Around this same time, the Poconos experienced a surge in summer visitors and vacationers as passenger rail stations opened in Portland, East Stroudsburg, Cresco, Mt. Pocono and beyond. With tourists arriving in droves, rural communities searched for a better way to transport families with their huge steamer trunks and a season’s worth of luggage on the last leg of their journey. 

The Stroudsburg Passenger Railway opened in 1870, featuring horse-pulled trolley service from the East Stroudsburg train depot to the hotels and boarding houses on Main Street, Stroudsburg. Taking Scranton’s lead, electrified service was installed on the main route at the turn of the century. By 1907 Stroudsburg Passenger Railway extended tracks up Foxtown Hill and south to Delaware Water Gap, servicing the grand resorts overlooking the Gateway to the Poconos. From the south, the Bangor and Portland Traction Company brought visitors north from Easton and Bangor. Soon trollies were the main source of public transit in eastern Monroe County.

Seizing an opportunity for growth in 1911, the Lackawanna Railroad dynamited the wagon trail from Portland, PA, north to Delaware Water Gap, making way for the Stroudsburg, Water Gap and Portland Railway Trolley. This new thoroughfare wound along the banks of the river on the Pennsylvania side, hugging the face of Mt. Minisi. Later the convenient route would become state route 611, still one of the Pocono’s most picturesque roads. 

By the 1920s automobiles had captured the public’s imagination. Cars, buses and taxis brought a new-found freedom and flexibility to public transit that trollies could not. Suddenly even sleepy, remote corners of the region were opened up to visitors as local travel became easier and accessible to the masses. Retired to dusty garages and back lots, trollies quickly became rusting symbols of a bygone era. 

In the bold and booming 1980s, nostalgia for a simpler time brought the trolley back to the Poconos once again. The Water Gap Trolley offered refurbished, trackless rides through the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area and surrounding sites through the early 2000s, until the trolley bell fell silent once again.

Then in 2021 that familiar ding-ding rang out across the Gap as Pocono Daytripper launched its own Delaware Water Gap Trolley tours. These authentically restored trackless trollies offer an old time view of the Poconos most scenic natural and man-made wonders, including Point of the Gap, cold air cave, the Historic Castle Inn, the Village of Shawnee and the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area. Hop on the trolley and experience the Poconos the old fashioned way, through the sites, sounds and stories of turn of the century America. All aboard! 

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