The last authentic, all-original, turn-of-the-century interurban electric railroad in the United States can only be found here in our amazing Yakima community! This trolley system portrays an important part of our country’s early history regarding transportation, so much so that The Yakima Valley Trolleys, or YVT, are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. We even have the local Yakima Valley Trolleys Powerhouse Museum dedicated to them and their history. The Yakima Valley Trolleys have been serving our area since 1907, operating still over a hundred years later, ferrying citizens around our city, and if you step aboard, you step back in time to Yakima’s early history.
It all began in 1907 when a railroad was constructed between 1907 and 1913. Back then, the length of the track was 48 miles, much larger than the five miles it encompasses today, and it connected the cities of Yakima and Selah. That same year the Yakima Valley Transportation Company was formed, hiring 100 men to begin laying down the track and giving them a deadline of mid-December. They finished right before Christmas, and on Christmas Day, Yakima saw the first public runs of its new streetcars.
However, the company wasn’t finished yet as there was still plenty of work to be done. Initially, the streetcar service was limited to downtown Yakima Avenue. It wasn’t until 1909 when YVT was purchased by the Union Pacific Railroad, that a plan was put in place to expand the line in order to transport freight and produce to Union Pacific’s mainline and connect Yakima and Selah.
After expanding the track, YVT built a stone and timber car barn and warehouse in 1910 on West Pine Street, followed by a concrete and masonry powerhouse substation in 1911. Remarkable is that both of these buildings still stand today and are in use here in the Yakima community.
The line would continue to expand in the following years, adding additional streetcars, eventually reaching its maximum size of 48 miles in 1920. However, as time passed, automobiles became an easily accessed commodity, the streetcar started to lose its traction and decline in popularity. In an attempt to stay with the times, the YVT experimented with a bus service system on certain lines in 1926, but it proved unsuccessful. By 1929 some of the streetcars started to be scrapped, and in 1947, the Yakima Valley Trolleys were terminated as a city service.
It wasn’t until 1974 that Yakima community members would enjoy trolleys again. During this year, the City of Yakima was inspired to bring back passenger streetcar service for a tourist attraction as part of their future 1976 bicentennial project, celebrating the city’s history. Organizers found two cars in Portugal nearly identical to the original cars that ran the lines all those years ago and bought them on the spot. Once they were shipped, and in Yakima, they got them on the track, and the first passenger trolley run in 27 years glided down the rails in downtown Yakima in the summer of 1974.
However, our city’s beloved trolleys weren’t out of the woods. They would continue to struggle as more pieces of the track were torn up in the years to come.
It wouldn’t be until 1995 that the city would begin to receive grants to refurbish the YVT. Finally, in 2001 the Yakima Valley Trolleys association was formed and began to operate the railroad for the City of Yakima. They quickly got to work on revitalizing the historic beauty of the trolleys and bringing attention back to them by repainting a few to the original colors and lettering schemes. To further educate the public on their historical importance, a Trolley Actors group was formed in 2008 to teach the history of the trolley rides.
Since their formation, they have continued to preserve the history of the Yakima Valley Trolley ever since, giving present and future generations the ability to experience an early-American streetcar ride precisely as it was over 100 years ago.
Further knowledge can be gained by visiting the museum or touring the car barn. Those choosing to ride the cars are indeed in for a one-of-a-kind experience as these trolleys are America’s last intact, early 20th century, interurban electric railroad cars. It’s definitely the ride of a lifetime and can only be found here in the Yakima community.