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Mānoa Trolley, 1901

Helen G. Chapin, Courtesy of the Hawaiian Historical Society

Mānoa Valley in the late nineteenth century was not as it is today. There were taro fields, dairy ranches, a poi factory—and only a few residences. On September 2, 1901, an electric trolley was introduced into that bucolic setting. Why? Not to reach the residents, but to bring them with it. The street car helped to open Mānoa Valley to the development of homes in College Hills and East Mānoa.

This was not the first streetcar in Honolulu—that was a mule-drawn tram in 1888. An electric tram was introduced in November of 1900. The Mānoa trolley’s first trip, on September 2, 1901, was on a short feeder line of the Honolulu Rapid Transit and Land Co. The round trip of 3.4 miles was made from a transfer point at Punahou and Wilder Avenues. The bell for the first run of the day clanged at 6:25 a.m. The trolley climbed the steep hill, turned onto Kamehameha Avenue, and stopped on ‘Ānuenue Street near middle Mānoa. There it waited for five minutes; the conductor flipped the seats, and the car reversed its run. The trip took fifteen minutes each way. The last bell rang at 10:55 p.m.

The trolley had reversible cane seats with wooden backs. Canvas curtains on either side could be lowered to protect passengers from rain. The fare was a nickel and free transfers were liberal. Besides people, the trolley carried bananas, chickens, buckets of poi, newspapers, and a bucket of sand for slippery tracks. Passengers could jump on or off of either side.

The original conductor, who served for seventeen years, was Jens Mathias Ostergaard, a Denmark native who emigrated to Hawai‘i as a laborer and who went on to study at the University of Hawai‘i, where he eventually taught zoology. (Another professor, Charles Bouslog, wrote the history of the trolley and Ostergaard for The Hawaiian Journal of History.)

The last trolley ran on November 1, 1933, when buses were put into operation. The tracks were torn up soon after. The Mānoa trolley is just a distant memory—but such a light rail system is again being introduced into American cities.