The Capital Weather Gang with the Washington Post, a favorite of mine, posted a neat article discussing the history of ice damming and ice floes in DC, specifically in the Georgetown area, as that is the area most susceptible due to the location of the old Aqueduct Bridge. Ice damming occurs when there is a long cold spell and large rivers freeze with a subsequent fast warming period. This causes the ice to quickly break up and flow down stream. If there is a bottleneck or obstruction , the ice will pile up and dam. Once those dams break, they unleash a torrent of fast-moving water laden with ice & debris which causes destruction down stream.
DC has had its fair share of ice dams and ice floes over the years, some worse than others. The 1918 incident was probably the worst in terms of destruction. Have a look for yourself. The WaPo article includes many great photos. Incidentally, here is a Google Maps view of the photo above!
I found this neat photo on the Forest History Society website while searching for more info on the National Christmas Tree. The 1960 National Christmas Tree from Oregon is received in Georgetown by an enthusiastic Santa and … railroad employee? That striped jacket is something else. A policeman and excited little boy look on. Note the diesel engine at the end of the car. The shield-shaped sign the man is holding reads “Seal of Approval, Santa”
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
* 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!
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.
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!
It looks like the funding for the Purple Line construction is in jeopardy after the release of the White House budget this morning. As many of you know, the Purple Line will connect Bethesda with Silver Spring (and beyond) and will be built on the Georgetown Branch right-of-way between Bethesda and Georgetown Junction.
The state will likely miss a March 31 deadline for clearing trees before the migratory bird nesting season begins. That will delay by another five months any major construction from starting on most of the trail.
A sad, sad day indeed. A couple of weeks ago I learned about the eminent demise of the famous Talbot Ave bridge which has spanned the Metropolitan Branch and Georgetown Branch of the B&O for nearly 100 years. The bridge was built back in 1918 and is somewhat of a special legend among railfans being that the girders appear to be sourced from an old turntable, giving it the distinctive profile. This shape is recognizable in so many photos shot over the ages at the Junction. I, myself, have visited the bridge many times, shooting photos of it and from it and enjoying it as a landmark. I’m terribly sad to hear of its eminent demise and will miss seeing it at the Junction as it altered forever with the Purple Line destruction not far off. At least it will live on in my basement, as I plan on modeling it on my railroad. Here are a couple links covering its history: