CAMBRIDGE SPRINGS — For a structure built more than a century ago, this one is not only in remarkably good structural shape, its interior has also remained remarkably intact.

“The toilets still say ‘Ladies’ and ‘Gents,’ ” Dan Higham said as he led a short but comprehensive tour through the interior.

“Nothing has changed,” the president of Crawford County Historical Society continued, pointing to the original “Tickets” sign, now covered by a coat of the light gray paint that gives the interior woodwork an almost shadowy look. “It’s probably bronze — I’ll have to strip it and see what’s under there.”

A fair amount of stripping must be done, but restoring the interior of the Cambridge Springs trolley station to its former glory won’t take much more than that, thanks to the efforts of Melvin Townley, who carefully preserved the exterior of the building before leaving it — along with a financial contribution to keep the building in good repair — to the historical society.

Making a dream come true

An Erie native, Townley graduated from Penn State University in 1952, receiving a bachelor of arts degree in liberal arts. After serving in the U.S. Army for two years during the Korean War, stationed in the Rhine/Pfaltz area of Germany, he remained in western Europe to study for several years. He never married.

After serving as curator at the Natural History Museum of the Smithsonian Institute in Washington for 23 years, he retired, spending several winters in the Hawaiian Islands and summers in Cambridge Springs. “He came back about 10 years ago — maybe nine,” Higham recalled, noting that Townley used the trolley depot as a studio, leaving countless paintings behind. “He had eclectic interests — and he was a real slow talker,” Higham recalled. “He was obviously very, very bright.”

On Aug. 8, 2008, at the age of 78, Townley died at the Golden Living Center in Cambridge Springs.

Higham clearly remembers their first meeting, which took place about four years ago at the Crawford County Fair. “He was telling me about this place — and looking for someone he could leave it to who he could trust to not turn it into a laundromat,” Higham recalled.

Although the future use of the building is still in the planning stages, Higham sees it as a opportunity to showcase the entire county’s historical offerings by working with the many local historical societies. The society is also investigating ways to take advantage of the station’s strategic location along Route 6, a highway that is being actively promoted and developed into a nationwide tourist attraction.

“What I like best about this is that for the first time in 130 years, we will have a presence outside Meadville,” Higham said with a delighted smile. “We can put on all kind of shows here — it’s a great place to do it.”

Local historian Anne Stewart, also of the society, agrees. She noted that since taking over as president of the society almost six years ago, Higham has worked to make Crawford County Historical Society a county-wide society. “His goal was to have us partner up with places with in-town historical societies,” she explained. “He wanted us to work much closer with those societies.”

Looking back

Since 1903, the trolley station — specifically, the northernmost station of the Meadville-Saegertown-Venango-Cambridge trolley line — has stood on the south side of the railroad tracks belonging to the New York, Pennsylvania and Ohio (later the Erie) line that runs through the center of the municipality now known as Cambridge Springs. Trolley riders headed north had to walk across the train tracks to reach the station of the Cambridge, Edinboro and Erie trolley line. Even after the two lines consolidated, forming the Western Pennsylvania Railway, passengers still had to walk across the tracks.

Although its heyday was quite brief, “it was a prosperous little trolley line,” Stewart explained. Passenger service started in 1900 and ran through 1925 while trolley freight service continued slightly longer, into 1927 or 1928.

As the years passed, the trolley station served its community as a bus station and then a gas station. After all those years, however, the interior still looks remarkably like it looked back in 1915, when a photograph caught trolley employees in action.

Mary Spicer can be reached at 724-6370 or by e-mail at

React to this story:


Recommended for you