Seashore Trolley’s Boston Elevated 5821 on the Main Line. Photo courtesy of the Seashore Trolley Museum

Tucked into the woods off Log Cabin Road in Kennebunkport is the world’s oldest and largest museum of its kind – a place where streetcars are restored, operated and celebrated for their place in transit history. About 250 streetcars are on the museum campus.

A visit to the Seashore Trolley Museum wouldn’t be complete without a ride – or several – on one of the restored antique streetcars. The 1.5-mile demonstration trip departs every 45 minutes from 10:05 a.m. to 4:15 p.m. The usual fleet of about eight streetcars will be supplemented this summer with 1 p.m. appearances by a rotation of more rare cars not rugged enough to make hourly trips.

“All our streetcars that we operate for our guests are beautiful,” said executive director Katie Orlando, highlighting the 1912 Portland-Lewiston Interurban No. 14, “The Narcissus.” The museum recently completed a $1 million restoration of this streetcar that Teddy Roosevelt rode (twice) while visiting Maine.

“We’re the organization that started the streetcar preservation movement nationally,” Orlando said.

The museum’s vehicle collection tells the story of public transportation, from the omnibus to electric streetcars, buses, light rail vehicles and rapid transit cars. Guests can explore three exhibit barns, visit the viewing gallery at the vehicle restoration shop or walk the grounds, peering at vehicles parked on the lawn in all stages of decay and restoration.

“Connecting transit history to general history is so important for our guests who see, for example, how transit was critical to the Industrial Revolution,” Orlando said. “Some of the advances that were made on streetcars were applied to other industries.”

Since the New England Electric Railway Historical Society was founded in 1939, the nonprofit has collected vehicles from most major cities in the United States that had streetcar systems, as well as from other cities around the world. Visitors appreciate the craftsmanship of these surviving artifacts and imagine what it would be like to commute to work on a streetcar or escape the summer heat with a trolley ride to the shore. Vintage advertisements on the streetcars reflect a time when easy washing was marketed to women as a “women’s right,” and pipe tobacco was depicted as something top-flight aviators smoked.

The average visit to the museum, with a streetcar ride and stop at the gift shop, is about an hour and a half. But trolley fans easily can stay longer. Adults who want to operate an antique streetcar can do that – for $100. The Be A Motorman Program includes a brief overview of how a streetcar works and how to operate it, as well as a chance to take a car out on the line (with an experienced operator providing guidance). The museum also offers docent training and operator training, and more than 250 people volunteer at the museum each year.

Creative fundraisers at the museum have included a speakeasy with a secret password, Martinis and Mad Men, and Downeast Meets Dixie. The popular speakeasy gets a reboot July 5, kicking off the museum’s 80th anniversary celebration, when model railroad exhibits will be shown all weekend. The trolley parade at 1 p.m. July 6 will be epic.

The regular season runs Memorial Day through Columbus Day, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., plus weekends in May and October. The museum is on Route 1 between Kennebunk and Biddeford at 195 Log Cabin Rd. in Kennebunkport. Admission is $12 for adults, with discounts for people over 60 or under 16. For more information, call 967-2800 or go to www.trolleymuseum.org.

Amy Paradysz is a freelance writer and photographer based in Scarborough. 

A speakeasy event at the Seashore Trolley Museum. Photo by Amy Paradysz