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Washington, Alexandria, and Mount Vernon Electric Railway, Photograph, n.d.


Materials in the Library of Virginia’s collections contain historical terms, phrases, and images that are offensive to modern readers. These include demeaning and dehumanizing references to race, ethnicity, and nationality; enslaved or free status; physical and mental ability; and gender and sexual orientation. 


Trolleys were a very popular way for people to travel across cities or towns in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Earlier versions of the trolley, or tram, were drawn by horses. By the late 1800s, however, people began riding in trolleys that were powered by steam, steel cables, or electricity. These trolleys were a boon for passengers, as it allowed them a safe and relatively inexpensive way to travel long distances quickly. The use of trolleys also allowed for workers to obtain more easily jobs at places that they would not have been able to reach, if they had to rely on providing their own transportation.

The Washington, Alexandria, and Mount Vernon Electric Railway served the populace of northern Virginia. The trolley line began transporting people in 1892 between Alexandria and Mount Vernon. By 1896, the company had completed its line into Washington, D.C., where it shared the tracks owned by the Belt Line Street Railway Company. Soon after railways began to expand into other portions of northern Virginia, allowing for more travel options. The expansion of trolley lines was threatened in the 1920s when patronage declined because of the availability of other transportation options such as buses and personal automobiles. Eventually, the increasing demand for quicker transportation forced many trolley companies out of business.

Citation: Washington, Alexandria, and Mount Vernon Electric Railway, n.d., Visual Studies Collection, Fairfax County Public Library Historical Photographs, Library of Virginia, Richmond, Virginia.


History: VS.1, VS.8, USII.1, USII.4, VUS.1, VUS.8, VUS.9
English: 4.7, 5.7

Suggested Questions

Preview Activity

Look at it: Look at the photograph. What do you notice that might indicate the time period in which it was taken and the roles of the men in the photograph? 

Post Activities

Analyze: Why do you think people began riding buses as opposed to trolleys? Do you think that they were more reliable or inexpensive, or were there also other reasons?

Food for Thought: What do you think it must have been like for people to have ridden an electric trolley? Write a paragraph from the perspective of someone riding the railway for the first time.