July 7, 1914
An electric railway (interurban) line in southern Maine began regular operations. This line would serve as a key transit link between the Pine Tree State’s two largest cities: Portland in Cumberland County; and Lewiston in Androscoggin County.
Construction on the line began in 1910. The first trial run for the new route took place on June 29, 1914. The interurban car used for that maiden trek had been built a couple of years earlier by the New Hampshire-based Laconia Car Company and was named Arbutus. The crew members for that trial run from Lewiston to Portland were Charles H. Mitchell, the motorman; and Joseph N. L’Heureux, the conductor.
A major force behind the development of this transit service was a local businessman named W. Scott Libbey. He provided much of the financial support for this transportation enterprise and also oversaw the construction of the line. Libbey, however, died more than a month before the Arbutus made that trial run on the line. Fittingly enough, though, his daughter Mrs. Gertrude Libbey Anthony purchased the first ticket for a regularly scheduled ride on the new route.
This addition to Maine’s public transportation network was initially called the Portland, Gray & Lewiston Railroad. (The town of Gray in Cumberland County, which is located about halfway between Portland and Lewiston, was another one of the stops along the line). Only three days after the start of regular service, however, the line was renamed the Portland-Lewiston Interurban Railroad. Another name change occurred in October of that year, when it the line was officially rechristened the Portland-Lewiston Interurban (PLI)
For nearly two decades, PLI provided hourly service over a span of 40 miles (64 kilometers) between Monument Square in Portland and Union Square in Lewiston. The above map from a September 1915 issue of Electric Railway Journal shows the routes for both PLI and connecting lines.
One of PLI’s most famous passengers was Theodore Roosevelt. A little over a month after that service began regular operations, the former U.S. president – who had been hunting in the northern part of Maine – was invited by PLI officials to go for a ride on the new line. Roosevelt accepted the invitation and, when the interurban car in which he was traveling made a stop in Gray, he stepped out onto that car’s open platform and addressed the crowd that had gathered there to see him.
By the late 1920s, PLI was facing formidable competition from the ever-growing number of automobiles in that region of Maine. This transit service’s operations were halted altogether in 1933. PLI’s final trip was made that year on June 29 — 19 years to the day after the first trial run took place. Those on board for that last ride from Portland to Lewiston included Gertrude Libbey Anthony, Charles H. Mitchell, and Joseph N. L’Heureux.
Photo Credit: Public Domain
For more information on the Portland-Lewiston Interurban (PLI), please check out Portland-Lewiston Interurban: a history of the finest electric interurban railway to run in the State of Maine (bpl.lib.me.us) and Portland–Lewiston Interurban – Wikipedia