Greg Siegel, chairman of the Restoration Board for the Hampton Streetcar 390 Project, becomes enthusiastic as he describes his involvement with the restoration effort. “We are off to a good start and hope to complete the work in about three years,” he says. Several fundraisers have been held, with many more planned.
Streetcar 390 has a colorful history. Built in 1916, it went into service in 1918. It ran on 40 miles of track between Hampton and Newport News. Hundreds of the 390-style cars were built,” says Siegel,
“but only two remain.
The other car is in a museum in Maine.”
Streetcar 390’s service ended in 1946 (replaced by a bus) and it was sold. From 1946 to 1977, it was used as a home in York County. In 1977, the Baltimore Streetcar Museum purchased it. Its planned restoration project never happened and the museum offered the 390 at no cost to the Hampton History Museum in 2013. Lack of funds in Hampton stalled the project.
At this point Siegel became involved. A volunteer board was formed and a group visited the streetcar in Baltimore. With renewed enthusiasm, the board forged an agreement with Hampton History Museum, allowing use of the museum’s 501c3 status. With contributions now tax deductible, Siegel and the board began fundraising efforts in earnest. “We were able to bring the streetcar ‘home’ to Hampton in the summer of 2017,” says Siegel with a smile. It arrived on an 18-wheeler flatbed. The Fort Monroe Authority generously provided a home for it in Building 57 on Fort Monroe, at no charge.
Siegel, already a known Olde Wythe, Hampton historian, champions the streetcar’s connection to Wythe. “The streetcar helped build neighborhoods and allowed people the freedom to move out of the city. As our earliest form of mass transit, it was responsible for growth. It provided links among work, shopping and the beach. People even met on the streetcar and married,” says Siegel. “It kept the Peninsula ‘going and growing,’” he adds.
An “action plan” has been developed with a renowned streetcar restorer. The board has half-dozen members, who are committed citizens. “We all work full time and have limited time available,” says Siegel. A volunteer professional photographer has agreed to document the project, and progress will be posted online. Of course, other volunteers and offers are welcome. Workers with specific skill sets are especially desirable and sought.
Architect Ron Queen has designed a pavilion to house the restored streetcar. It will be located in front of the Hampton History Museum and there will be displays recreating the sights and sounds of the 1930s. Plans include interactive visitor experiences. For example, visitors will be able to sit inside and experience an “electronic ride.” Commemorative bricks (4″ x 8″) are being sold as part of the fundraising effort. They will be engraved and placed on the path leading to the pavilion and surrounding areas.
Siegel is from Buffalo, New York, and has a horticulture degree. For a time he worked at a garden center. In 2000, he came to Hampton, where his wife grew up. He was already familiar with Virginia because his family had vacationed in Williamsburg. “When I was growing up, we took ‘camper/history’ vacations. We visited historical locations and that cultivated my love of history,” says Siegel. His first historical research project focused on the golf course that once existed in Wythe. He lives in Olde Wythe and became interested in the history of that area.
Siegel was on the committee that compiled the first Olde Wythe history book. “I wrote most of the second book,” he says. He also wrote a book about Hampton postcards with the Hampton Postcard Club. And he plans to write a book about the streetcar restoration. Siegel loves “telling the story” and is available to speak to groups.
Siegel’s enthusiasm is contagious. The volunteers are passionate. Like the bygone days of Streetcar 390, the story is rolling along.
TO THE POINT:
Hampton Streetcar 390 Project
Address: P. O. Box 1414, Hampton, VA 23661
Contact: Greg Siegel: chair, Restoration Board, and Olde Wythe historian