Category Archives: History

Items of historical interest and relevance.

Waterfront Mystery: What Type of Truck is This?

Mystery truck in Georgetown, 1950s
Anyone know what this is?!

A new-to-me photo depicting the Georgetown waterfront in the mid 1950s has a really interesting truck parked in the freight yard. In fact, the truck appears in a few of the photos from the new images. I’m not an expert on old trucks but I’m hoping someone out there can identify this vehicle. My hunch is that it was used by the railroad as a way to offload boxcars and flatcars for folks who did not have their own vehicles. Maybe it made local deliveries as well. Unfortunately the image quality is not great, and as such any faded lettering is missing. I’m going to peruse other waterfront images I have to see if I can find any additional images that may give more clues, but until then, does anyone have any info on what type of vehicle this is?

Mystery truck, another view
Another, obstructed view.

A Treasure Trove of Historic Imagery: The DDOT Photo Archive

Recently the DC Dep’t of Transportation published thousands of images  on a new photo archives page. It’s a wonderful peek back into transportation history in the District and includes many, many wonderful photos featuring the Georgetown Branch, specifically in the area around Georgetown. Photos date from the 30s and 40s all the way to the 80s and beyond in some instances. There are too many to share here, but with a little time and patience you can browse through the tagged images and enjoy these steps back in time. Have fun!

https://ddotlibrary.omeka.net/welcome

The New Yard, 1950s. Georgetown, Washington, DC
This view of the Whitehurst Freeway and B&O yard shows a yard bustling with activity down on the waterfront. The photo was taken some time in the 50s or 60s, by my guess. Photo credit: District Department of Transportation (DDOT)

Purple Line Construction to Begin on Tuesday; RIP Georgetown Branch

Feb 7, 2015 A look toward Rock Creek Trestle from Jones Mill Rd.
Feb 7, 2015 A look toward Rock Creek Trestle from Jones Mill Rd.

This is the end…

The portion of the Georgetown Branch between Bethesda and the connection to the Metropolitan Branch is about to be changed forever. This coming Tuesday the line will be closed as construction begins in earnest on the controversial “Purple Line”, a Maryland rapid transit line to connect Bethesda to Silver Spring and beyond. The shut down of the trail means that they will bring in cherry pickers to eliminate a wide swath of the beautiful foliage we have all come to love along the trail. They will bring in bulldozers to re-grade and erase the historic 127 year old right-of-way. They will bring in cranes to pull up and destroy remnants of the railroad which existed in that same spot for over 92 years. In essence, what was left of the Georgetown Branch will be no more.

It’s bittersweet; trains will once again ply the right-of-way where the Georgetown Branch local did its business, which is a sort of rebirth and an item of pride and joy to those who wanted this. It’s painful to see so much history AND a beloved trail go the way of progress. It’s never easy, moving forward. It’s always a challenge to figure out and brings with it difficulty and pain to those affected by it. The neighbors losing gorgeous, old tree canopy and a quiet, peaceful yard space. The trail users who will no longer have such a peaceful and bucolic place to exercise and make memories. And dorks like me, who are losing a tangible historic place that is loaded with remnants of a time gone by. One that I don’t remember myself, yet still enjoy deeply. I’m going to miss having a place that I can go to take photos and dream about what was and the men and women who came before to build and run such an interesting piece of railroad history. I’m hoping to make it down this weekend to have one last ply of the right of way as it existed in its final state before rebirth.

In February, 2015, I took a trip with my friend Kelly to seek remnants of the old railroad before it was destroyed. I’m happy I did, and those photos will be crucial in remembering how the railroad ran, existed and looked in its heyday. You can view my photos here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/cpl_clegg/albums/72157650759566062

Onward…

eBay Find: April 16, 1982: B&O 4131, 4248 at Georgetown Jct

I purchased this slide a few weeks ago on eBay. 1982, April, Spring has sprung, and the Georgetown Branch is three years away from abandonment. The branch lead is to the left, with the Talbot Ave bridge in the distance. The photographer is facing NW and the train is heading East on the Metropolitan Branch with auto racks in tow.

19820416 BO 4131 4248 at Georgetown Jct - Carl Perelman
April 16, 1982, B&O 4131 and 4248 at Georgetown Jct – Slide label: Carl Perelman

eBay Find: July 23, 1972 B&O 6476, Stranded in Georgetown

July 23, 1972 B&O 6476, Stranded in Georgetown after Hurricane Agnes damaged the Branch.
July 23, 1972 B&O 6476, Stranded in Georgetown after Hurricane Agnes damaged the Branch.

I purchased this original slide off of eBay a few weeks ago. Here’s the story behind the image. On June 19-22, 1972 Hurricane Agnes made its way across the Southeast USA and on up the coast to the Mid Atlantic, wreaking havoc along its way. DC saw its share of major flooding, with the Georgetown Waterfront being particularly badly hit. At the time, traffic on the Georgetown Branch had dwindled to a train every few days or once a week, depending on conditions. The rumor was that the B&O was looking for a way to get rid of it and had it not been for this locomotive, the branch may have been abandoned right then and there. Why, you say?

About five years prior, arsonists had set fire to the beautiful long wooden trestle crossing the creek. The spectacular blaze damaged the trestle, but they were able to salvage it.

1967, Rock Creek Trestle burns
1967 – Arsonists set fire to the Rock Creek trestle. G. Fred Stork photo, collection of the late Wm. Duvall.

When Agnes came through, it wrought havoc with incredibly heavy rains and destructive winds. The Georgetown Branch did not just suffer in Georgetown along the waterfront, but probably most significantly in its crossing of Rock Creek. The already-weakened trestle was devastated by flooding at Rock Creek and collapsed into the creek below.

The B&O had to figure out what to do: rebuild, or just call it a loss and seek abandonment. But there was one big problem. Engine 6476, now isolated in Georgetown along the waterfront.  The engine was too valuable to scrap and too heavy to haul out, so the railroad opted to rebuild. This time, the bridge was repaired with steel. New bents were laid in and the whole structure was shored up.

1972 - Rebuilding Rock Creek Trestle
1972 the B&O trestle across Rock Creek is rebuilt following destruction from Hurricane Agnes. Note the charring from the arsonists damage five years prior.

The branch is still in use today, as part of the Crescent Trail, having been cleaned up a bit and had a second deck laid on top of the rails so cyclists and pedestrians can enjoy the beautiful views of the creek valley. (Yep, the rails are still there! Next time you’re there, peek under the walkway and you’ll see the original rails and wood decking) So next time you are in Georgetown or strolling across the Rock Creek trestle, remember the story of the loco that saved the railroad. The Georgetown Branch would live on in service for another 13 years, until 1985.

Photo of Work Train in Georgetown, ca 1910

ca 1910, Georgetown Waterfront, B&O D-2 #25 0-6-0
B&O #25 0-6-0 D2 engine with work train parked in Georgetown, ca 1910

I found this photo on the DCDIG website a few weeks back. It’s a very nice photo of the waterfront, showing a few of the boathouses which line the shore West of the aqueduct bridge, which this photo was taken from. Of particular interest is the B&O engine (#25 I believe), flat car and caboose parked on the Georgetown Branch main. How cool is that? It gets even cooler.

ca 1910, Georgetown Waterfront, B&O D-2 #25 0-6-0
Closeup, B&O #25 0-6-0 D2 engine with work train parked in Georgetown, ca 1910

I believe this engine, car and caboose is the work train that was sent down the newly-opened Branch to complete a very special project; the widening of the Aqueduct Bridge arch, to allow trains to pass beneath. In a couple photos shared to Facebook a year or so ago a Mr. Ulles posted a couple photos of his ancestor who was part of the team who completed the work on the arch. The photos are really windows into the past that I never thought I’d see. Based on the number on the engine (which I believe is #25), the configuration of the engine (0-6-0, class D2), the train consist (flat car + caboose) and the general surroundings, I do believe this is the work train. This would put the photo at some point in the spring/summer of 1910 and paints more of the picture of what Georgetown looked like when the B&O finally arrived.

Montgomery County Historical Image Viewer

Montgomery County Historical Image Viewer
Montgomery County Historical Image Viewer

I just came across this link via Facebook and it’s pretty cool. The Montgomery County MD Geographic Information Systems (GIS) map viewer. There are many maps available on the site, but this historic aerial collection is particularly interesting. The resolution is not that great, but it suffices. The earliest images are from 1951, and show the Georgetown Branch route quite well. Have a look for yourself!

Talbot Avenue Bridge is Closed Indefinitely

December 28, 1959. B&O E-7A #1415 heads up a race track special, headed Westbound for Charleston, WV. The photographer stands on the front of the Georgetown local, doing its switching before heading down the line to Georgetown. Photographer: Ray Mumford.

A sad day, indeed. This has been coming for a while, but is nonetheless tough to swallow. The iconic Talbot Avenue bridge, which has spanned the Metropolitan & Georgetown Branches of the B&O for so many years is closed indefinitely after failing a safety inspection. The bridge has been on the chopping block for a while now, being in the way of the Purple Line construction which is on hold while a lawsuit is reconciled.

I, for one, am most sad to see the bridge go because it is so iconic in all of the photos I have collected and seen showing action at Georgetown Junction. The bridge is always there, in the background, off in the distance in the shots of B&O trains switching the Branch or screaming off East or West, hauling passengers or commuters. The bridge witnessed the 1996 tragedy and remained. The bridge has been rebuild after most of the iron rotted away from years and years of salt and weather corroded the supports to frail remnants.

It will be a sad day when they finally remove the bridge and there is a hole where it once was. There is a grassroots effort to preserve the bridge as a symbol of the legacy of segregation in the local area; let’s hope they are successful. Read more here:

https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/trafficandcommuting/historic-maryland-bridge-is-closed-after-failing-inspection/2017/05/02/90f6ba70-2f71-11e7-8674-437ddb6e813e_story.html

What’s in a Map? (repost)

* Note: this post was originally made on 7/9/2015 but seems to have disappeared into the ether. I’m reposting it from memory b/c it’s a VERY interesting map, not just for Georgetown Branch research, but for the DC area. Enjoy!

Baist's map of the vicinity of Washington D.C.
This “Baist’s map of the vicinity of Washington D.C.” shows the proposed extension across the Potomac into VA. ca 1904. From the Library of Congress

Maps are so often used to base opinions when it comes to historic interpretation. The B&O planned on extending the Metropolitan Southern branch all the way into Northern VA to connect with the Southern RR and points South. At the time, the B&O was in some financial stress and the plan was never realized. They did, however, connect with the port of Georgetown, consolidating three railroads into one. (Metropolitan Southern, Washington & Western Maryland and the Georgetown Barge, Dock and Elevated Ry Co.) This became the Georgetown Branch of the B&O after 1908.

Read more about this history here on the Capital Crescent Trail website: http://www.cctrail.org/history_georgetown_branch

The plan to continue across the Potomac was a serious plan by the B&O. So serious, in fact, that it appears on many maps and documents that I have come across, including official B&O track maps! (there is one hanging on the wall at the B&ORRHS Archives in Eldersburg that shows this very thing) I came across this Baist map of DC and the extension is very clearly shown. So much so, the line continues on into VA for quite a while.

Take a minute to visit the Library of Congress website and see this for yourself. It’s a stunning map with lots of history to explore. Enjoy!

https://www.loc.gov/item/87691445/

You can view the map on this page or you can download the original. They even have a .TIF file that is nearly 1GB in size! Here’s a wide view to give you an idea:

Baist map showing B&O line through VA
This Baist map shows the proposed B&O line crossing the Potomac and traversing Northern VA. The line was, of course, never built.