The Van Buren trolley is adding evening runs to its schedule in order to accommodate those hoping to experience the growing evening entertainment along historic Main Street.
The Van Buren Advertising and Promotion Commission purchased the trolley, designed to resemble street transportation of the 1800s, in 2016 for $144,000.
“We got a really good deal. It was a demo model. They [Hometown Trolley] took it to shows,” said Maryl Purvis, director of the Van Buren Advertising and Promotion Commission. “It had under 10,000 miles on it when we purchased it, and it had all the bells and whistles I wanted on one.”
The 22-passenger bus, fitted to look like a 19th-century trolley, is handicap accessible with an electric wheelchair ramp and can accommodate two wheelchairs. It stops at the Van Buren train depot, which is the Van Buren Visitors Center, at the corners Main and Seventh, Fifth and Third streets and the Drennen-Scott Historic Site. The trolley runs to complement Van Buren’s Arkansas & Missouri Railroad’s excursion train schedule from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Wednesday, Friday and Saturday.
Starting Wednesday (July 3), the trolley will also run from 4:30 to 9 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday, Purvis said. The evening hours will help make up for the lack of parking along Main Street. Visitors can park in the public parking lots on Webster Street, which are both stops on the trolley’s route, she added.
Nightlife continues to grow along Main Street with the recent opening of two new restaurants. The Vault 1905 Sports Grill opened May 7 at 624 Main St. in the historic Citizens Bank building, and Pasta Grill opened roughly a month later at 810 Main St., where Cottage Café once was. The trolley’s extended hours will help visitors enjoy all Main Street has to offer, Purvis said.
The trolley was originally purchased to accommodate those visiting Van Buren on the excursion train from Northwest Arkansas.
“Visitors don’t have cars. And while everything is downhill from the depot, getting back up that hill can be trying, especially for the elderly, disabled and those with small children,” Purvis said.
The trolley also helps transport visitors to the Drennen-Scott Historic Site.
“The city put in sidewalks, which made going to the site [which is three blocks from Main Street] from Main Street easier, but it can still be a difficult walk,” Purvis said.
Trolley driver Janet Morgan narrates a tour of the historic downtown area and its points of interest, including both the Drennen-Scott site and historic Fairview Cemetery, for riders as well, Purvis said.
“Janet loves to tell Van Buren history. She had driven a trolley in Fort Smith. She is well experienced and is constantly aware of the passengers,” Purvis said.
The trolley is not true public transportation since it only provides transportation in the Van Buren’s historic Main Street district, and is not eligible for any federal money. That means it does not have as many federal restrictions. It does, however, have to meet all Department of Transportation (DOT) rules, Purvis said, noting Morgan is DOT compliant.
The trolley hits most stops about every 15 minutes, Purvis said, noting the wait to catch it is never terribly long. To help with that wait, downtown merchants paid for a covered trolley stop waiting area with seating at Eighth and Webster streets, Purvis said.
The trolley is also free to ride. There is a restriction that those riding the trolley cannot be wet, which means those enjoying the fun of the city-built and operated, free splash pad at Freedom Park at 957 E. Main St., sometimes have to wait a bit to dry off, but “this hasn’t been much of a problem,” Purvis said.
“When I first proposed this to the A&P, they readily accepted it. It really has worked out better than I expected it to. It has definitely been worth it,” she said. “It has become somewhat of a tourist attraction for Van Buren. We’ve had train passengers come back with their children or grandchildren just to ride the trolley.”