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Local authors pen book on trolleys
By Krystle Dunham   - 07/09/2009

The Milan News-Leader

More Info on This Book: Electric Trolleys of Washtenaw County

With mass transit on the minds of today's commuters, H. Mark Hildebrandt finds himself more passionate than ever about electric trolleys.

Hildebrandt, an Ann Arbor resident, along with Martha Churchill of Milan recently put their love for electrical trolleys into a book called "Electric Trolleys of Washtenaw County," which came out June 29.

The book, published by Arcadia Publishing, is part of the company's "Images of America" series and includes more than 200 vintage images, along with a supportive narrative.

Churchill, a historian and attorney in Milan, has written several articles and columns for publication. She said the idea of writing a book with Hildebrandt came up when she was working on a four-part series on concrete abutments for an interurban system.

While working on the series and speaking with her sources, Hildebrandt's name came up as a possible source for Churchill's series.

The two met and Churchill realized that both were very passionate about history. She said she was amazed at the knowledge Hildebrandt had regarding trains, trolleys, and the electric railway and traction lines.

"All of a sudden, I told Mark, 'We should write a book,'" Churchill said.

Hildebrandt has collected a large number of photographs and memorabilia concerning both steam and electric rail systems throughout his lifetime. He still likes to travel to Europe when he can and ride a trolley there.

Many of the photographs in the trolley book came from Hildebrandt's collection. He said he has been fascinated with electric trolleys since he was a young boy.

"It seemed to be an interesting way of traveling," said Hildebrandt, 83. "Some kids like dinosaurs; I liked trains."

Churchill said she couldn't be any happier to share her love of history with Hildebrandt. The two worked on putting the book together for eight months.

"I'm really blessed that I got this front-row seat to put this book together with Mark," Churchill said. "I was so excited when I heard the book was coming out. I was walking on air."

With all the photos Hildebrandt had, Churchill said at first it was difficult to figure out how to present the story of the electric trolleys.

Readers can look forward to the book explaining how electric mass transportation flourished starting in the 1890s, why it bloomed and why it became extinct after only a few decades.

Electric streetcars and interurbans appeared in Washtenaw County in the 1890s and were said to be ideal for public transportation. They evolved from horse-drawn streetcars.

Electric cars were said to be cheap, fast and traveled to plenty of places. The system developed around Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti, branching out to Detroit to the east and Jackson to the west.

Churchill said she found the nicest thing about electric trolleys was the easy access of them. Every half-hour or hour depending on the trolley, travelers could catch a ride.

"People didn't have to buy horses, they would be able to save a bunch of money with the trolleys," Churchill said.

For those interested in purchasing a copy of the book, check your local bookstore or call Arcadia Publishing at 1-888-313-2665 or visit its Web site at www.arcadiapublishing.com.

Staff Writer Krystle Dunham can be reached at 429-7380 or at kdunham@heritage.com.

Buy It Now: Electric Trolleys of Washtenaw County $21.99

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