Category Archives: History

Items of historical interest and relevance.

ca April, 1930 View of Georgetown from Beneath the Aqueduct Bridge

Train tracks near Potomac River, Washington, D.C.
Harris & Ewing, photographer. (1930) Train tracks near Potomac River, Washington, D.C. District of Columbia United States Washington D.C. Washington D.C, 1930. [April] [Photograph] Retrieved from the Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/item/2016889645/.
This view is facing geographic East, looking from beneath the Aqueduct Bridge down Water St along the tracks. Here, the switch opens up to dual trackage laid in the cobblestone streets of Georgetown. In the distance one can see old brick warehouses in disrepair; remnants of an era that was coming to a close. A wood sheathed box car sits alone to the right and various automobiles and motorcycles line the street. The Potomac Boat Club is just visible to the right, nicely done up with shrubberies out front. Through the haze in the background we can make out the Wilkins-Rogers Milling plant and the Lone Star Cement plant on the right. An arch of the Key Bridge dominates the scene.

One interesting thing to note is the double-track “telltale” which spans the tracks just beyond the bridge. The little dangling “whiskers” were there to warn any railroad brakemen raiding atop the cars that the overhead structure (in this case, the Aqueduct) was approaching. There was a matching set on the other side, behind the photographer.  Also of interest is the cobblestone street and the girder rail, used to ensure a flangeway in the shifting cobbles. In the early 1940s the road was paved with concrete and the flanges were cast as part of the right of way.  Surprisingly, several structures remain today that are in this photo; the small brick building to the left, the Brenizer Brewery building straight ahead, the Key Br. (obviously), Wilkins-Rogers Milling (although altered), Potomac Boat House and the Aqueduct arch.

Oct 6, 1958: Film Footage of Georgetown Junction

I was alerted to this film over on Archive.org by an alert viewer who pointed out to me that at the very beginning of this home movie from October 6, 1958 there is a twenty-second view of Georgetown Junction from the rear window of a passenger train! Now, videos of the Georgetown Branch are exceedingly rare, so this is particularly special! The train is moving relatively slowly as it rounds the curve past the team track yards at the Junction. You see cars parked on the sidings, and as it proceeds further you see B&O hoppers, some box cars and a ubiquitous covered hopper. Then a view down the Georgetown Branch appears and the Talbot Ave bridge appears overhead. Nice! The shot closes shortly thereafter.

It’s only twenty seconds long, but for me, it’s all gold. Anyone who conducts research for building model railroads will tell you how important the details are. The colors of ballast, the amount of scrub brush and grass that has grown up along the right of way, the height of trees, the discoloration on the ties, the placement of switches and track alignment, buildings and signs… all of those things inspire and help to fill in the scene. Since photos & videos are uncommon, it really is special to see an actual film of the area. There is a legend of the NRHS having a film of the 1958 fan trip down the GB but I have not been able to locate it yet. The folks over there didn’t have a record of it. I will keep hoping!

Click here to view the movie. Enjoy! (*The GB footage begins at about 00:39 and ends at about 01:00)

Berko Collection: Vacation to Baltimore, Md. and Washington, D.C., October 6-12,1958, Reel 1

August 14, 1904: Tragedy and an View of Georgetown’s Industry

Scene_of_Accident_Launch_Recreation
Medium view of the rescue work conducted in the aftermath of the sinking of the naphtha launch boat “Recreation” in which ten individuals drowned.

Another image I found on DCDIG. From a story in the Washington Post, there was a large, popular regatta in Georgetown out on the Potomac and a pleasure boat sank, with ten drowning victims. The helpless crowd that gathered was large and there were photographers covering the race who also managed to photograph the scene of the tragedy.

The images are fascinating for me, as they portray what the waterfront was like just prior to the introduction of the B&O railroad to the scene. Six years after this photo was taken, B&O trains would be plying the street trackage along this waterfront. In fact, there are buildings in this photo that are still extant today! See this image from Google Maps showing one of the oldest buildings in DC still standing. Unfortunately it’s just the facade, but still impressive! The location of the photographer is approximately 32nd and Water street, but out in the Potomac. (obviously)

Another interesting article: https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn84026749/1904-08-15/ed-1/seq-1/

https://dcpubliclibrary.tumblr.com/post/164176912521/dcpl-special-collections-librarian-jerry-mccoy

1936 Flooding in Georgetown – Aqueduct Bridge & Boathouse

I just stumbled on this image over at DCDIG which shows the flooding in Georgetown on Mar 19, 1936. The Georgetown Branch ran from the right side to the bottom, through the arch of the old Aqueduct bridge and toward the photographer. If you look carefully you can see the old cast iron DUAL telltales in the foreground! They span the right of way and warned brakemen of the approaching arch. Remember, brakemen rode the roofs of cars back in the older days. The Potomac Boat Club boathouse survives to this day, as does the arch of the Aqueduct bridge.

1936 Flooding in Georgetown
Mar 19, 1936: Flood of the Potomac River on Water Street covering much of the Potomac Boat Club boathouse. Five individuals stand atop the Aqueduct Bridge looking down at the floodwaters.

 

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.