Many families are looking to get back to a traditional, carefree summer this year and what better way to rediscover the simpler life than a place that actually transports you back to a time before cars clogged Chicagoland roads and fun got so scheduled. That’s what’s in store at the Fox River Trolley Museum.
It’s a not-so-hidden hidden gem ready for more families to discover.
From 40-minute electric trolley rides through the Jon J. Duerr Forest Preserve and back to the South Elgin museum, to the best Mother’s and Father’s Day values and special upcoming events, the trolley museum offers affordable fun for all ages.
On top of that, Edward Konecki, president of the 58-year-old Fox River Trolley Museum, says families will find passionate volunteers eager to share the stories of how trolleys helped make the America we now know all while helping them experience the simple joys of travel before cars.
“It’s a great place for families because everybody can be involved, no matter what the age, whether they are 3 years old or whether they are 70 years old,” Konecki says. “I like to say we’re still living in the time of the trolley. We’re preserving a piece of history that created America as it is today.”
Learn how trolleys shaped transportation
The Fox River Trolley Museum is open Sundays and holidays beginning May 1, then Saturdays, Sundays and holidays beginning July 2 for a fun, affordable day out reminiscent of the way families used to spend their weekends when trolleys successfully made travel more accessible for work and play, Konecki says.
Admission and all-day train rides is just $8 each for adults, $6 for seniors and $5 for children between 3 and 11. Children under 3 are free.
The historic trolleys, mostly from the Chicago area, take visitors on a 40-minute round trip from Castlemuir Station in South Elgin to Blackhawk Station in the Jon J. Duerr Forest Preserve every 45 minutes.
During the ride, conductors share how the electric lines, perfected 10 to 15 years before automobiles, allowed the American lifestyle to evolve. Suddenly everyone could travel affordably for jobs, shopping and family fun, he says. For instance, before the trolleys came into being in 1896, a round trip on the 12 miles between Elgin and Geneva could take a day and a half of travel and overnight lodging.
At the museum campus, surrounded by 450-year-old oak trees, volunteer docents share exciting stories of the people and history behind the trolleys and life as it was before cars took over transportation.
Upcoming events not to miss this year
While any weekend is a good weekend to visit for families, the Fox River Trolley museum has some special events planned not to be missed.
Families seeking a truly unique way to celebrate all that Mom and Dad do can find an affordable day out at the museum. On Mother’s Day, May 8, moms ride free with paying child and receive a red carnation and on Father’s Day, June 19, dads ride free with paying child and receive a train whistle.
Later in the year, the museum offers Caboose Days Sept. 11, 18, 25, popular Ghost Story Trains Oct. 8, 15 and 22, and a magical Polar Express Nov. 26-27, Dec. 2-4, 10-11 and 17-18 (Get your Polar Express tickets early; they go on sale June 1 and sell out fast).
How to Make the Most of Your Day
Konecki is full of stories with a real passion for trolleys and he, like the other volunteers at the museum, is dedicated to making it a memorable fun learning experience for families.
He offers these tips to help families make the most of their day:
- Ask lots of questions and remember, no question is too simple or complex. “One of the things that’s really valuable, the train crews are there to share with you their love of the museum and they’re excited to tell you about it,” he says. Listen to the stories of the people involved with the trolleys that are ripe to fuel everyone’s imaginations of days gone by, he says.
- Pick up scavenger hunt sheets at the museum and make it a game among your family to find all the items on the sheet. The collection includes dozens of trolleys and streetcars from Aurora, Elgin and Fox River Electric Company, Chicago Transit Authority and even a caboose built in 1887.
- Peek into the restoration shop to see how volunteers are restoring the trolleys by hand. They’ll pause in their work to answer questions, he says.
- Pack a picnic lunch and depart the trolley at the forest preserve to explore the preserve’s biking and hiking trails, see the 8-foot-high natural waterfall and discover the carved statue of Native American leader, Black Hawk, at the entrance to the Forest Preserve. Black Hawk, namesake of the Black Hawk War of 1832, worked to preserve the way of life of his people. There is also a historical memorial for unknown Army soldiers who died there in the war.
Konecki notes families engaging in the activities at the Jon J. Duerr Forest preserve are living the life of family outing history, harkening back to the late 1800s and early 1900s when families would use the trolleys to enjoy simple family bonding time on a Sunday afternoon. But make sure to be back at the Blackhawk station by 4:30 to avoid missing the last train of the day. The museum campus also has picnic tables available to use.
Discover the joy of living history at the Fox River Trolley Museum, 365 S. La Fox St., South Elgin, at foxtrolley.org.