Category Archives: History

Items of historical interest and relevance.

Freight Cars at the Lincoln Memorial Construction Site

I’ve always kept an eye out for photos showing freight cars at the Lincoln Memorial, as all of the stone for the Memorial was brought down the Georgetown Branch and onto a temporary branch extension that was laid from the end of the GB, across Rock Creek, down along the Potomac River and over to the construction site. The cornerstone was laid on Feb 12, 1914 so one can reasonably assume that track was laid at some point the previous year when construction began on the massive footings. Foundation work was completed in 1915 and work continued steadily until the Spring of 1917 when the US entered WWI. In Dec 1919 & Jan 1920 the Lincoln statue was assembled. The dedication was on 5/30/1922. So, for roughly ten years the GB was extended to the work site, bringing in the massive marble blocks and pieces needed for one of the most impressive monuments in the US. Pretty neat!

Photos of the construction site are plenty, but rarely focus on the railroad apparatus and right of way that served the site. I have only found a few images and am still uncertain as to the exact alignment of the tracks and yards there. I imagine they would reconfigure to some degree as time went on. Eventually the site around the monument would be filled in with dirt, covering over all of the construction yards surrounding the monument. So recently I found an image which has a couple freight cars visible. I’ve zoomed in on these to highlight the details.

Lincoln Memorial Construction
Unknown flat car with marble load
LV wooden box car. Note the black “LV” logo to the left. 
Postcard view, ca 1918 (eBay)
Aerial view, 1919. (Harris & Ewing / Library of Congress) Note rail yard which has been shortened, at the top of the image. 
Lincoln Memorial under const., January, 1915 (Library of Congress)
1916 Lincoln Memorial construction

Interesting Articles and Timelines on Colorado Yule Marble

Two Booms, Two World Wars, and Colorado Yule Marble is Bust, 1900 to 1945

I have long known about the role the Georgetown Branch played in the construction of the Lincoln Memorial, but it is really refreshing to fill in more details and specifics. This chronicle of the Colorado Yule Marble Co. contains a really neat timeline and history which adds some specifics to when the marble for the Lincoln Memorial would have come down the GB, across Rock Creek and down the Potomac to the Memorial construction site on the temporarily constructed extension to the GB. It seems the first shipment left Yule, CO 5/25/1914, and the final shipment was on 6/16/1916.

A few months later the quarry would shut down, only to reopen six years later. In 1931 the famous Yule marble was once again selected for a notable monument in the DC area, the Tomb of the Unknown. Carved from a single, massive piece of stone, this proved to be a real challenge. I would wager that this stone did not travel on the Georgetown Branch, but rather on the Pennsylvania RR which had a branch that ran into Rosslyn, VA, passing the area where the Tomb is located at Arlington National Cemetery.

Another interesting note I found on the Marble, CO Chamber of Commerce site reads:

The block was loaded onto a rail car and shipped to Vermont for cutting

Another interesting tidbit:

In 1913, a slab of Yule marble was sent to Washington, D.C. to be part of the Washington Monument.

There is some chance this traveled to the Monument site via the GB, but based on proximity of the PRR and its trackage on Virginia Ave & Maryland Ave, I would wager the delivery was handled from that location. There were yards located right near the Mall on that PRR line back then.

I am fascinated by the small moments and details that make the GB special. Its proximity to downtown DC certainly gave it host to many interesting deliveries over the years; National Christmas Trees, stone for national monuments and maybe even a President of the United States. More details on that another time.

Some History on the Talbot Ave Bridge from Norm Nelson

I was lucky enough to meet and chat with Norm Nelson on several occasions. He was key to understanding some of the complexities of operations on the Georgetown Branch, as he had first-hand knowledge of how it operated being that he actually ran trains up and down the Branch. He was friendly and enjoyed discussing the minutiae of railroading. My kind of guy. So imagine my joy when my friend Greg C. sent me the following letter regarding Norm’s recollection of the history of the Talbot Ave (or Grace Church Rd) bridge over the Metropolitan & Georgetown Branches of the B&O. Norm recollects a conversation he had with Bruce Fales, another prolific railfan in the greater DC area (of which I have purchased a few old photos credited to him) in which he outlines the history of the bridge and the Branch at that point. Really fascinating stuff! Greg’s brother-in-law Andy got the letter from Richard Schaffer who should have credit for the items. I’m not sure who the photographer is in the photo below.

Sept, 1980 - Chessie Safety Special
Sept, 1980 – Chessie Safety Special

 

Purple Line Brush Clearing Visible in Google Maps

I didn’t realize just how frequently Google Maps images are updated, but this is impressive to me. Here are a few images I snagged today which show the Georgetown Branch right of way as it stands very recently, earlier this Summer. You can see all of the clearing that has happened along the RoW very well. Very impressive. I really wish I could walk the line one last time before they do permanent grading, just to see what the RoW was like when the GB was new. Oh well! 🙁

Google Aerial View - Geo. Jct.

Article on the History of Washington DC’s Aqueducts

https://ggwash.org/view/68579/the-fascinating-story-of-dcs-aqueducts-and-reservoirs

An interesting story covering the history of aqueducts in and around Washington, DC. Anyone know where that tunnel image is from? (http://collections.si.edu/search/detail/edanmdm:nmah_1840608)As many of you know, the Georgetown Branch of the B&O served the Dalecarlia Reservoir which was fed by the Washington Aqueduct.

 

Georgetown Branch Right-of-Way Unearthed in Bethesda, Probably for the Last Time

Construction thunders on in Bethesda on the Purple Line project and as they make way for the station in Bethesda, the old right of way for the Georgetown Branch is unearthed for probably the last time. The buildings above the right of way were demolished, and now grading is complete. They’ve dug down a bit further than the original right of way, but it’s as good as it will get. Take a look at the photo below. You can just make out the concrete bridge carrying Wisconsin Ave over the old RoW at the bottom of the photo. The large angled pilings in the bottom right cover the RoW and it curves over toward those red awnings in the distance. Can you see it?!

October 24, 1954: Georgetown Branch Excursion Snap Shots

In the fall of 1954 the National Railway Historic Society put together an excursion train which included a trip down the Georgetown Branch. I recently purchased two prints off of eBay which show the train being mustered in Eckington Yard down in Washington, DC as well as the train at the end of the Branch under the Whitehurst Freeway in Georgetown. Enjoy!

NRHS Georgetown Branch excursion train musters in Eckington Yard. Photographer unknown. Collection of Ben Sullivan.
NRHS Georgetown Branch excursion train idles in Georgetown. Photographer unknown. Collection of Ben Sullivan.

Bethesda Freight Station drawing, v.2

I re-worked my drawing of the Bethesda Freight Station, I’m calling this v.2. I was looking at the first attempt, in laser-cut form, on the layout, and noticed that the loading dock was extremely high. I pulled an HO scale delivery truck up to the dock and it came up about 1/4 of the way up the back door of the truck. Unacceptable.

I went back to my archive photos and the drawings. I reassessed how I got my original measurements and made new references off of the photos, trusting more in some known dimensions I had, namely the garage doors and windows. I also used some logic to determine door size as well as the height of the loading dock. I assumed the loading dock height to be about 42″. I assume the door is about 7′ high. After re-drawing the plans, here is what I’ve come up with:

Here is my second attempt at drawing the Bethesda station after major revisions to the vertical scale.
Here is my second attempt at drawing the Bethesda station after major revisions to the vertical scale.

I’m MUCH more pleased with this result. I know it’s not perfect, but I think it will be about 95% close to correct. I’m going to print this one out, mock it up and see how it looks on the layout. More to come, soon!