I was tipped off by good friend and Archivist Nick F. to the large collection of aerial photos at the National Archives shot during the early-mid 1900s. The most challenging part of my research has always been this period. The line was finished in 1910 and at that point and up into the late 1940s personal cameras were not really a thing. Folks weren’t out there snapping photos of common things unless they had a reason. Photos were more intentional and administrative or commercial in purpose. The B&O had a collection of valuation maps and photos shot around WWI. Over time, when a project was enacted, they would take additional photos. Of course there were roster shots and things of that nature, and it was very much documentation. So, when I saw these images, which largely span from the 19-teens up to the 1940s, I was floored. They are a window into a world that I have yearned to see. It will take me a good amount of time to get through all of the images but I plan on sharing them here when I can. Enjoy!
This first image is particularly interesting for a few very special reasons. Let’s start with one that I have been waiting for some time to see with clarity: the extension of the Branch that crossed Rock Creek and skirted along the Potomac to the construction site for the Lincoln Memorial. This siding made an appearance on the B&O Form 6 which listed all sidings along the line, but photos have been elusive. You can also clearly see the peculiar curved loading dock on the right side of the old B&O freight house located at the end of the line.
I also noticed that the Wilkins-Rogers Milling building looks very different and that is because this is the “old” mill that stood on the site until it burned down in a fire on July 4, 1922; a year or so after this photo was taken. There is a massive logo painted on the side of the mill which I believe is related to cotton production, which the mill apparently handled prior to being rebuilt.
There are SO many other details to soak up like the track arrangements, the old Capital Traction power plant (perhaps loading coal from barges or undergoing some construction?), The “new yard” wouldn’t be built for another 20 years or so. This was a busy time in Georgetown.
In the prototype modeling world, I have heard many folks tell me that if I can’t find source data and photos of something, then I should go ahead and build a model of it, because you KNOW once I finish some brilliant photos and blueprints will surface. Anyone who chases ghosts of bygone eras in their research and modeling knows what I’m talking about. Thankfully, there are some wonderful folks out there like Brian R. who regularly volunteers at the B&ORRHS Archives and is also a friend who knows what my model RR project entails. He reached out to me last week with three absolutely incredible photos. (Apparently there are more! I really need to get myself back to the Archives for more digging.)
A bit of back story – Bethesda was really not much of anything when the RR came through town in 1910. Most folks in the rustic community saw it as a nuisance and impeding on their bucolic suburban hamlet. However, growth was inevitable and in the late 1930s with DC suburbs seeing lots of expansion, the B&O obviously realized that the crossroads in Bethesda were a great spot for a hub of fuel dealers, concrete plants and lumber yards and freight facilities to be located. A depot was needed. In the Spring of 1941 the railroad began construction on the depot, completing it a few months later in July. Oddly enough, they chose to build a freight house adjacent to the tracks with no provision for a connection to the railroad. Yep, take a good look at the Bethesda freight house and try to figure out why it was designed the way it was. No tracks lined up to it for trans-loading. It has a nice broad raised platform for vehicles to unload/load on, but no railroad connection. An oddity, for sure. What proceeded the brick depot is a mystery to me. Any info would be most welcome. Enjoy the following photos, courtesy B&ORRHS.
Long-time readers may recognize this train, as it’s been posted before. After some last-minute, heart-pounding eBay action, I am now the proud owner of a slide showing another view of the same train stationed in Georgetown in the winter of 1965. Decent views of trains on the Georgetown Branch are so rare, I will leap at any opportunity to own a small piece of this history. Unfortunately the photographer is unknown. B&O 9035 was an Alco S-2, built between 1943-1948. Three years later the Capitol Traction Co. power plant would be razed. Here is the matching photo:
An astute viewer on YouTube, Bill D, clued me in to a film starring Kevin Costner called No Way Out which was partially shot in Washington, DC on and under the iconic Whitehurst Freeway. Now, as we all know, the Georgetown Branch had seen its last train in the summer of 1985 so being that this film was filmed in the summer of 1986, it was only a year later and the line still hadn’t been officially abandoned.
EDIT: BUMMER – the film clip has been removed from YouTube, probably for Copyright. Oh well. If you do catch this thriller, you’ll get a glimpse of the Whitehurst just after GB abandonment.
A few fun notes: the Whitehurst is seen in its original configuration, as-built. A few years later, in 1993, the freeway would be rebuilt topside, adding reinforcements and additional safety enhancements. The large brick plant that is seen when Costner jumps from the Freeway is the old DC Incinerator which is now the Ritz-Carlton. (you can eat dinner inside the chimney!) I got a real laugh when Costner runs along the C&O Canal and then heads into the Georgetown Mall, which is disguised as the “Georgetown” Metro station. Also, they obviously couldn’t get permission to film in Metro, as they used some non-DC subway cars. Nice find!
Here is a link to the latest version of the plans I created for my model of the Rock Creek Trestle. I spent tens of hours over a few days refining the last version. This new version was carefully corrected (there were many small errors) and updated to include a new girder height and lots more hardware and correct lumber sizes. I also developed a side view, which took tremendous effort, as the photos just do not exist.
Remember that these are not perfect; since there is so little information available about the trestle in the era I am interested in (early 1940s) I had to use educated guesses and the few reference photos and drawings I have to make the best attempt. The plans were drawn in Adobe Illustrator. Each of the first 20 pages is a separate bent. The last few pages show a side view. I am gearing up to begin building the model and will share my progress as it is made. Comments and questions are welcome!
Back in 2017 Matt R. and I took a trip to the B&O RR Historical Society Archives in their wonderful new home in Eldersburg, MD. I used to frequent the Archives about 15 years ago when I was really getting into researching the Branch, but once my kids were born, things changed and I was unable to make time to get out there. Matt wanted to check it out, so we hoofed it out there to check it out.
We were rewarded with some awesome finds. Me, well I snapped a bunch of photos for reference and wanted to share them now, since my intentions to write articles and updates for the blog never really materialized nearly two and a half years later. So here they are:
Some of the highlights include plans for the original freight house in Georgetown (ca 1910), track arrangement in the “old yard” ca 1940, some modern Rock Creek trestle drawings and the best finds of all, some dispatcher sheets showing train movements in 1959. Now, if only I could find some waybills and rosters! Enjoy!
Back in 2002 my then-fiancee, now wife, and I went for an adventure to explore and film remnants of the GB between Georgetown Junction and Rock Creek. We managed to capture several scenes along the way, much of which is atmospheric in nature. I was just starting to get interested in the history of the Branch and figured doing a short documentary for my video editing class would be a perfect way to dig in. Unfortunately the documentary was never completed, but I am thankful that I have this footage from eighteen years ago to reflect on how the right of way has changed and what was there. This is very much uncut footage and is presented as such. Enjoy!
A bit of a misnomer, in 2002 I went out and shot b-roll video footage of the Branch between Georgetown Jct. and Rock Creek. My then-fiancee, now wife, Kristin, accompanied me on the adventure. At the time, I was taking a video editing class at the Corcoran in Georgetown, back when it was still around. I had intended to do an entire tour of the Branch, highlighting what was left of it. Well, life happened; I was engaged, we bought a house not a month earlier, and the wedding was planned for June. The GB Tour video was never made. The tapes were dumped in a box and only recently uncovered as I go through old belongings.
I captured all the footage from the old MiniDV tapes (originally shot on a Canon XL-1) and assembled them into a long, uncut timeline. This is not meant to be a compelling documentary of any kind; it’s merely a way for me to share some rare footage of the remnants of my favorite branch line. Some of what you see is long gone. Some is recently gone. For example, the Rock Creek trestle is still standing, in its pre-2000s facelift form! We even climbed atop the trestle to capture footage of the tracks. (if only I’d had the foresight to bring a measuring tape!) With all the Purple Line construction, you’ll notice much of the original right of way, which is now nearly obliterated. Enjoy this time capsule from 2002!
These two photos showing the current state of Jones Mill Rd and the Rock Creek Trestle approach are incredible. There is an underpass going in at Jones Mill and the new bridge crossing Rock Creek will be significantly lower than the old historic trestle (now gone).