In the late-1990s, when the Issaquah Historical Society was looking for new ways to tell the city's story, it took to the rails. Issaquah's roots were tied to rail service: the Seattle, Lake Shore & Eastern Railway built its track for freight and passenger operations in the area, which was then called Gilman (located just 20 miles east of Seattle). A depot, which was built in 1889 and shuttered in 1958, 30 years after passenger service ceased, had been restored in 1994 -- a decade after community interest in restoring a trolley line was sparked.
"We did not want to be a streetcar museum," explains Craig Thorpe, the historical society's communications director. "The mission of the historical society is to interpret the history of Issaquah. But since rail was an important part of that history, we saw merit in streetcar transportation."
In 2000, the society created an advisory committee to explore using a one-mile track to provide trolley service to residents and tourists. An anonymous donor provided $100,000, which was used to conduct a feasibility study, write a business plan, and eventually lease and ship a streetcar from the City of Yakima. That streetcar arrived in spring 2001, and went into operation from May 2001 through May 2002 (save for January and February). Six-thousand passengers rode the old streetcar, which clanged and lumbered through the center of town four hours per day on weekends.
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