One of the great things from all of the Purple Line destruction/construction is the preservation of the historic Talbot Ave bridge that once spanned the Metropolitan Branch at Georgetown Junction. As you may recall, back in 2019 the bridge was removed in preparation for the installation of the additional two tracks and a new overpass. The County planned to save the bridge for a future installation in a park, and we finally have some renderings of what it may look like.
At the Lyttonsville Park community meeting, a slide presentation outlined the current designs and status. Link to the slide presentation: https://montgomeryparks.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/11/Lyttonsville-community-3-2023-0330-web-r.pdf
In the presentation are several really neat photos of the current state of the bridge. The girders, one of the only parts of the original 1916 construction, are preserved, sitting atop the pedestrian bridge sections that once topped the Rock Creek trestle. Not sure of the current location; probably in a Purple Line storage yard.
A hundred years of weather, deferred maintenance and punishment has not been kind to the old steel, and it shows. I’m so grateful it will be refurbished and preserved; a small piece of railroad history that will continue to be enjoyed for generations to come. I’ll take it. Plus, I can actually go and get more measurements if I need them! 🙂
Well, this was a special project that I can finally share with everyone. A few months back I was contacted by a Georgetown University graduate student who was putting together a brief documentary on the Georgetown Branch; specifically its history and transformation into a rail trail. We initially shared stories and historic reference material and eventually I was interviewed on-camera at home. I think the project turned out brilliantly and my hats off to Evan, the director, producer, writer – well, everything! He did an awesome job capturing the entire story of the Branch. I hope you enjoy!
In my seemingly never ending quest to discover and decipher industries that were served by the B&O on the Georgetown Branch I have often had to put pins in things until more information comes to light or I have the time to delve deeper into said customers. A few months back a chance photo on Facebook did just such a thing; opened the door to some brand new views of industries that I know very little about.
We’re going to take a look at two industries; The Briggs Filtration Co. (aka Briggs Clarifier Co.) and Hot Shoppes (which eventually became Marriott Corp.) which were located next door to one another in Bethesda, MD at River Road, yet were served by completely separate sidings. Let’s start with an overhead view from Historic Aerials, ca 1949:
Briggs Clarifier / Briggs Filtration Co.
Briggs produced valves, hot water heating boilers and oil filters. A simple Google search will turn up various patents (1) and law suit filings, along with some trade catalogs and maybe even an advertisement. A bit of a digression to Georgetown: while I don’t have a detailed history worked up, what I can gather is that their office was located in Georgetown at 3262 K St, right across the street from Wilkins-Rogers Milling Co. The 1916 Sanborn map reads “Flour & Feed Ware Ho” located at 3262 K St.:
The 1927 Sanborn Map:
I checked a Sanborn map that has a 1932 date and it does not show Briggs Clarifier listed, but rather Mutual Building Supply Co.:
Ok, back to Bethesda. At some point they either moved or expanded (or perhaps were co-located) to a location in Bethesda at River Rd. off of Landy Ln. This fairly large facility, on the East side of Landy Ln. included several warehouse / manufacturing structures. Here is the Sanborn Map ca 1957:
As you can see from the map, the B&O siding ran down Landy Ln, passing alongside the factory complex. Later advertising shows the name changed to The Briggs Filtration Co. and also had a Bethesda, MD address:
Hot Shoppes / Marriott Corp.
I’m not going to go into detail on the history of Hot Shoppes & Marriott because it’s been done before in lots of detail and with great imagery! The Streets of Washington blog did a great post on it some years back. Check that out to get a feel for the background of this local DC institution. I posted this photo last April of the Hot Shoppes HQ located at 5161 River Rd, with the Briggs Filtration Co just off to the right.
Judging from the photo, it’s obvious that Hot Shoppes would receive all sorts of perishables related to the bustling restaurant industry. Machinery, furniture and other supplies related to the expansion of the business would also probably pass through the warehouse. There was also a coal house & boiler room at the north end of the building.
In this fantastic photo from Mr. Bill Duvall there’s a lot to see. The view is facing away from the Marriott warehouse, standing on Landy Ln. The yellow & white sign next to the loco reads “Marriott Corporation, 5161 River Road.” The fast food restaurant behind the loco is none other than a JR Hot Shoppes restaurant. The slogan reads “Happiness is Eating Here.”
As a side note, I attended Fourth Presbyterian Church throughout my teen years. We would go to Roy Rogers (which succeeded JR Hot Shoppes) every Sunday after church with friends. It is now a McDonald’s. Note the WDCA20 studio and tower in the background. I may or may not have some friends who climbed to the top of that tower one hot summer about twenty years ago.
BONUS: If we look to the other direction from the photo of the two gentlemen above, we see additional industries just out of view that were also served by rail. There was an auto body/repair shop and more. The siding went between the larger structure and the two smaller sheds, spanning the entire length of the buildings.
Back in 2003, when I went on my first Georgetown Branch exploration, we stumbled across rails embedded in the ground here where the auto repair shop was once located. We also walked around the area near Hot Shoppes / Briggs Clarifier. You can view the photos in the Gallery, here. I hope you’ve enjoyed a bit more insight into the Briggs Filtration Co. & Hot Shoppes warehouses in Bethesda.
The Hot Shoppes facility is still standing. It now houses the Washington Episcopal School. They have modified much of the facility but the overall structure can still be observed today.
The Briggs Filtration facility is now gone, having been razed and turned into a soccer field for the adjacent school. However, for the time being you can still view the old structure on Google Street View! (Until they update it.)
And as one final gasp for the old Georgetown Branch, tracks are still visible embedded in Landy Ln. Go visit them when you can.
If you have any additional information, maps, photos or stories about these industries, I’d love to hear about them!
This neat photo from 1959 of the front of the Hot Shoppes Inc. (later Marriott) HQ at 5161 River Rd was shared on the Bethesda Chevy Chase Back In The Day Facebook Group, by P. Wilson (Thanks!). The Georgetown Branch passed just behind the photographer, the siding that served the building was located just to the left of the building. In the distance to the right, we can see a boxcar spotted at the industry located next door on Landy Ln. I’m not certain what this industry was but they had a large loading hopper.
Over on Lance Mindheim’s wonderful blog, he developed a track plan design for the Georgetown Waterfront that fits on a small L-shaped shelf. I really like this plan and think it captures the essence of the waterfront in a very small space. For me, the most fascinating thing about the waterfront in its heyday was the multitude of industries and how the B&O served them.
The track plan covers a lot of the industries and yards represented in Georgetown and would make for engaging and interesting operations. I could see the Georgetown Turn has left its string of cars on the long siding (staging) and the switcher is tasked to pull the cars onto K St. and begin classifying them. Meanwhile the empties are being rounded up and built into a train for the Turn to bring back to Eckington. These cars would be spotted on the staging track. The switcher then goes back to focusing on spotting all the loads that just came in. If another track could be added to the staging yard, a second “Georgetown Turn” train could be spotted there for the switcher to pull into town and work on, as the cycle would start again. Hours of work here to do. I dig it!
This wonderful photo by Russ Strodtz on Flickr came via Jeffrey Sessa over on the Maryland Division Railfans FB group. My money is on the train likely being a load of empties coming off the branch, perhaps from Maloney in Georgetown or Bethesda. Curious if they’ll pick up some cars from the Junction and head East or pick up loads and head back to Georgetown. REALLY neat view of the E.C. Keys lumber shed in the background. Gives me some great info for when I build that model! Thanks, Jeffrey!
Over the years, I’ve shared a few photos I’ve come across depicting the National Christmas Tree resting in the B&O yard in Georgetown. (one, two, three) Beginning in 1954, the “Community Tree” would make its trek cross-country on a flat car or gondola; blocked, braced, packed and tied-up like a Christmas ham, the tree would arrive in DC to be transloaded onto a flatbed trailer and trucked through Washington to the National Mall where it would be craned into place, decorated and illuminated as the star attraction in the Pageant of Peace.
I was recently contacted via email by a member of the Forest History Society who so generously shared some photos (and a video!) related to Christmas trees in Georgetown. These images are REALLY cool and show some views that I’d never seen before. I am always really excited whenever I get to see new things related to the Branch! You can see all of their National Christmas Tree related images in their archives, here. They recently published a wonderful article on the journey the 1961 National Christmas Tree made from forest to the National Mall.
In these photos from FHS we see the 1960 tree having arrived in Georgetown being tended to by some staff members. This tree was cut in Oregon and traveled via SP/UP/CNW/B&O on an SP F-70-17 85′ flat car. In the first photo we see what must have been an arrival ceremony and even Santa has climbed on board and is wielding a “Seal of Approval” sign. In the next images we can see a large box surrounding the end of the tree, no doubt to protect it and keep it wet. We then see the tree being prepared for transloading to the adjacent flatbed trailer. Bonus video footage of the tree being prepared in Oregon for its voyage across the Country. The final images are the 1961 tree which came from Grays Harbor County, WA via NP/CB&Q/B&O on a TTX flatcar. All photos are courtesy of the Forest History Society, Durham, N.C.
The National Christmas Tree tradition stretches back to 1923 but in 1954 the decision was made to do something more extravagant and impactful to woo more tourists to the area and do something really special. The Pageant of Peace was born, a celebration of the holiday season that included music, art, and lights, with the centerpiece being what was being called “the National Community Christmas Tree”, culled from the great forests of America and erected on the National Mall where the Pageant and “Pathway of Peace” display would be located. There were national displays, international exhibits, participation from civic and religious organizations and all sorts of activities for children and adults alike. Over the years, the Pageant transformed and changed with the times. Some years it reflected a more somber national situation; in 1963, after the assignation of Pres. Kennedy, the lighting of the tree was delayed for several days to allow for a period of mourning and a more somber ceremony followed. Some years it was befallen by delays and problems. In 1970, the tree came from Nemo, South Dakota and along the way it derailed twice; once near Beemer, NE and again near Pittsburgh, PA. The tree was thankfully undamaged. The tree then laid over for a few days at the Army Map Agency siding near Dalecarlia Reservoir, apparently so the soldiers could keep souvenir-hunters away from stealing branches off the tree in Georgetown.
But at the center of each Pageant was the tree itself. A symbol of pride for whatever region it came from, there was often a good bit of pomp and circumstance at each end of its journey from forest to the National Mall. Ceremonies were held when the tree was cut, when it departed on rail car and when it arrived in Washington DC. Sometimes Santa or Mrs. Claus would make an appearance. And always, officials from the home town, suppliers, as well as the railroads that transported the tree would be present to get every P.R. dime out of the occasion. I dug around for a few hours and tried to gather all the info I could using newspaper clippings, photos and other articles online to figure out details of what years the tree traveled by rail, what route it took and what cars were involved. (I am a model railroader, after all.)
From what I can gather, the tree traveling by railroad began in 1954 (from MI) and ended in 1972 (from WY). There were a few years in-between where the tree traveled by truck and not by rail. I also could not find definitive data for several years but the fact that the tree came from far away, one can assume it traveled by rail. In at least one of the years, the final leg of the Tree’s journey was on the PRR. I’m not sure if this was because the Pennsy wanted a piece of the P.R. pie or logistics. In 1973, after pressure from environmental groups, the committee decided to use a living tree. The same tree was used for several years until it was damaged and needed replacing. In 1977 a dead tree was again used, but in 1978 they went back to using a live tree. I stopped tracking in 1985, as that is when trains stopped running on the Georgetown Branch and at that point they were still using the living tree.
I am obviously most interested in the 1945-55 timeframe as that is the era I am modeling. In 1954 the tree came to DC from Michigan on two Soo Line flat cars. (more on this in a future article.) In 1955, the tree traveled from the Black Hills of South Dakota to Georgetown in a CB&Q 65’6″ 70 ton mill gon, likely class GM-3A or GM-3B. I do plan on modeling both of these trees for my layout, but I first need to find acceptable freight cars that fit the bill. The CB&Q mill gondola will be particularly challenging as I have yet to find a suitable HO scale model. Maybe I will have to build one! Well, that’s it for now. Hope everyone had a Merry Christmas and here’s to a Happy New Year!
A couple years ago I met Chris Brown who was writing a book on the history of the Washington Canoe Club. He was one of the founding members of the CCCT and had accumulated a very large collection of slides documenting the early years of the CCCT’s efforts to convert the Georgetown Branch into a rail trail. In the early 1990s, the rail trail concept was a relatively new one and converting the Georgetown Branch would prove to be a great challenge. The efforts of the CCCT members paid off and the success of the Capital Crescent Trail is a testament to their hard work. I spent a few years in the early 2000s commuting from Bethesda to Rosslyn via the CCT and its during that time that I really fell in love with this little branch line.
Chris generously involved me in the slide review and cataloging process which was eye-opening, with many views of the right of way as it existed in the 1990s before being and during its conversion to a rail trail. I hope you will enjoy this large collection of slide scans!
Found this great creek-level view of the Rock Creek Trestle just before it was demolished over on the BridgeHunter website. Some of the bents have been removed, and it is shown in its final days, but it’s great to have a visual time capsule of the bridge and surrounding area.