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Trolley Photo Tour

Washington - Laurel Trolley
Modern day photo tour

Accompanying each photo below are:

Click a photo to see a larger view. Please send your comments and corrections to Steve.


Brief Historical Background: Washington - Laurel Trolley

Hyattsville Then
Herb Harwood collection

Hyattsville Then
Mile: Date: ~1957
Ease: View: SW
Area: IC2:
Map: PG 12 D 5 Topographic Maps

In 1899, the newly organized City & Suburban Railway decided to extend further northeast out of Washington, DC the Rhode Island Avenue streetcar line it had acquired from the Columbia & Maryland Railway. The route chosen largely paralleled that of the B&O's Washington Branch. Before the year ended, they reached Hyattsville.

This view from the 1950s looks back toward the District and shows DC Transit car number 1300. At bottom left are the B&O's Washington Branch tracks. The B&O station in Hyattsville is unseen behind the photographer.


Hyattsville Now

Hyattsville Now
Mile: Date: Apr 2004
Ease: A View: SW
Area: C IC2:
Map: PG 12 D 5 Topographic Maps

A fortuitous gap in a row of pine trees lets us enjoy almost the same view a half century later.

The trolley's right of way has been paved over by a widening of Rhode Island Avenue, and the overhead wires are fewer, but a surprising number of items are little changed. The row of shops is still there, and the tall evergreen tree behind the shops appears mystifyingly similar.

Street parking remains available adjacent to the shops, and the automobiles are contemporary to the photo. One of the surviving utility poles still carries the same arrangement of wires overhead. If you look closely, in the distant left you'll note the B&O's CPL signals survive near a now-closed grade crossing.

Link to older pic: ~1930


Madison St Then
photo by Herb Harwood

Madison St Then
Mile: Date: 1950
Ease: View: SW
Area: IC2:
Map: PG 12 E 3 Topographic Maps

Harwood captured CTC 766 at Madison Street between Hyattsville and Riverdale. It was here the trolley and the B&O were at their closest; their rights of way were essentially adjacent for about a mile northeast and southwest of this spot.


Madison St Now

Madison St Now
Mile: Date: Apr 2004
Ease: B+ View: SW
Area: C IC2:
Map: PG 12 E 3 Topographic Maps

Now, over 50 years later, the trolley right of way has been consumed by brush, but the site continues to host a utility pole convention.

The building in the foreground right is gone, but the taller one behind may survive (I was unable to match it exactly). The electrical substation looks to have expanded.

As a side business of sorts, many of the early 20th century electric railway companies were the first to sell power to local businesses and homes. Their facilities were later absorbed into the likes of PEPCO and BGE.


CTC 766
photo by Herb Harwood

CTC 766
Mile: Date: 1950
Ease: View: S
Area: IC2:
Map: PG 12 E 3 Topographic Maps

This is the same location as the prior photo, just a different angle, and a better view of the trolley car. By the time of this photo, the B&O had significantly cut back its local passenger service, surrendering to the post-WWII boom in automobile sales. Freight, like that seen at left, became a larger portion of the traffic on the Washington Branch.

Within the city of Washington, overhead power lines were prohibited by law, so an underground system was employed. Outside the city, there were no such limitations, and the railways opted for the cheaper overhead wires.

Reader Vernon Tyler wrote to clarify:

    "Might I submit the explanation is not precisely correct. AFAIK, the 'District Commission' set the rules on the housekeeping within DC. The applicable rule actually read - more or less - within three (?) miles of the Capitol. Look at the maps and note where the plow pits were sited. Seventh Street line, just above U Street, NW."


MARC

MARC
Mile: Date: Apr 2004
Ease: B+ View: S
Area: C IC2:
Map: PG 12 E 3 Topographic Maps

What's old is new. This modern view from the same spot shows the disused ROW crowded with brush, and not freight but passenger travel in the form of a MARC (Maryland Area Rail Commuter) train riding the ex-B&O tracks.


View North

View North
Mile: Date: Apr 2004
Ease: B+ View: N
Area: C IC2:
Map: PG 12 E 3 Topographic Maps

Spin around for a view in the opposite direction and you get less brush (as well as better sun position for photography) plus the always helpful, ol' ROW-marking utility poles.


Riverdale

Riverdale
Mile: Date: Nov 2003
Ease: A View: S
Area: B+ IC2:
Map: PG 12 E 2 Topographic Maps

At Riverdale, the B&O and the Washington-Laurel trolley were separated by the width of the building seen here. Trolley tickets were sold at the white building that now houses a used book store. Plenty of railroading books can be found here, as well as a decent cup of coffee. Worth a visit.


Bridges

Bridges
Mile: Date: Apr 2004
Ease: A View: N
Area: B IC2:
Map: PG 12 E 2 Topographic Maps

Less than a half mile north of downtown Riverdale this strangely angled railing caught my attention. Its construction plus that of the adjacent road and rail bridges looks to date from the 1960s, after trolley service had ended.

Rhode Island Avenue is on the left, while immediately adjacent on the right and perched higher are the CSX railroad tracks.

Rhode Island Avenue has a decidedly schizophrenic nature. It strides boldly out of DC into Hyattsville on 6 lanes, then disappears for a mile or two, only to reappear at Riverdale in the wimpy form seen here. Like some confused dashed line, it will disappear and reappear twice more before reaching College Park.

Reader Greg Hager sent this correction:

    "In the photo marked Bridges you said that the trolley line ran down Rhode Island Ave just to left of the picture. This is not correct. It actually ran behind the buildings that are just visible to the left side of the picture.

    "If you back up to the parking lot by the Riverdale MARC station, if you look north (under the highway bridge) the Trolley line curved to the left. It passed where the west end of the bridge is anchored, behind the towing company. There should be a line of power poles still there and if you can follow it some of the graded right of way as well. All in all you have a great site please keep up the good work."


Near Paint Branch Then
Herb Harwood collection

Near Paint Branch Then
Mile: Date: 1947
Ease: View: N
Area: IC2:
Map: PG 7 E 11 Topographic Maps

Then: CTC 540 leaps a tributary of the Paint Branch stream. The trolley bridge is a combination of stone and steel. To my eye, the relatively short distance above the water says this spot had never employed an arched stone bridge.


Near Paint Branch Now

Near Paint Branch Now
Mile: Date: Apr 2004
Ease: B+ View: N
Area: B+ IC2:
Map: PG 7 E 11 Topographic Maps

Now: In 2001, the old bridge was rehabbed and given new life as a walking trail within Paint Branch Park.

A short distance behind, the trolley and a spur of the B&O to the University of Maryland had met at grade. The trolley is of course long gone, but I believe the spur lasted into the 1970s, and has since been replaced by Paint Branch Parkway. The circa 1980 topographic map linked above shows the B&O spur.


Branchville Loop Then
photo by Herb Harwood

Branchville Loop Then
Mile: Date: 1948
Ease: View: N
Area: IC2:
Map: PG 7 F 9? Topographic Map

Competition from automobiles (and buses) resulted in a series of cutbacks in trolley service to the more distant suburbs.

At the time of this photo, the loop seen here was new, having been added to accomodate PCC cars, like the one at left, which could be controlled from only one end. The older cars (right) had operator controls at each end; in the late 1940s they became relegated to shuttle service from here up to Beltsville.

In this chilly winter morning scene commuters transfer from the shuttle to the newer vintage PCC car to complete the trip to DC. As you might guess, this (purposely?) added inconvenience must have done little to encourage ridership, and by the 1950s the shuttle to Beltsville ceased, leaving Branchville Loop the end of the line.

PCC stands for Presidents' Conference Committee, a 1930s group tasked with promoting the design of newer, better looking streetcars to lure riders. The cars became a common standard in many US cities, then spread to Europe and the USSR. PCC cars can still be found in operation in cities such as Prague. (Thanks to Herb Harwood for this PCC info.)


Branchville Loop Now?
Updated May 2013

Branchville Loop Now?
Mile: Date: Apr 2004
Ease: A View: N
Area: B IC2:
Map: PG 7 F 9 Topographic Maps

Is this spot on the south side of Greenbelt Road at Rhode Island Avenue the former location of the Branchville Loop? Beats me. I was unable to find anything that resembles the 1948-dated photo above. I asked at both a nearby real estate office and the Branchville volunteer fire department, and no one knew where the loop had been.

Is the half-circle brickwork path in the foreground intended to echo the old loop? Anyone know?

Reader Deane Mellander wrote about the location:

    Steve: I located a 1960 map of P.G. County that shows the trolley line. It confirmed my recollection that the Branchville loop was just north of the original intersection of Greenbelt Road and Rhode Island Avenue. That would put the loop right between the H and V on the topo map, underneath the intersection of Rhode Island Ave. and Rt. 193 (the realigned connection of Greenbelt Road to University Blvd.). I think that the loop would have been up near the white building just to the right of the trees, if the photo was taken at the old Greenbelt Road intersection.

Reader Phil Fisher added:

    Read with great interest your treatise on the Trolley system. I lived a half mile from the Branchville area (specifically, Oak Springs which was a development between Branchville and Daniels Park, bordered by Rhode Island Avenue on the east and Route 1 on the west) from 1950 to 1963 and remember the area quite well. I walked passed the 'turnaround' everyday on my way to school. The turnaround began not more than 10-20 feet north of Greenbelt road, but not as far as University Blvd which wasn't there at the time. There was a row of 3-4 stores on the west side of the turnaround that included Johnson's Drug Store and Becca's Bakery (13 in a dozen). There was a Sinclair gas station on the West side. It was a real treat to see the trolley go by in the rain because of the sparks that were generated on the overhead lines. When it was time for Univ. Blvd. to be built, it turned out that the old Johnson family home - a large frame structure - was in the right of way. That, too, was an event as it was burned down by the Branchville fire department for a training exercise.

Another with fond trolley memories is Gail Johnson:

    I just saw the youtube film of the 82 Streetcar ride & it is wonderful. My father & mother owned Johnson's Drug Store (1949) & the other stores in the small strip mall at the Branchville Loop. Mr. Becka rented his bakery from my parents. My grandfather had a grocery store near the same area (dating back to the early 1900's) & my uncle had an auto repair shop (Rising Sun Motors is still there). The current 7-11 at the intersection of Rt. 193, R.I. Ave. & Greenbelt Rd. is where my parents' stores were located. My grandfather's home was the one that the firemen used for training once the State bought it via imminent domain to make the new Rt. 193 extension under Rt. 1 thru Greenbelt. As a child, I remember the streetcars turning around in front of the house & the sparks flying as my bedroom was on the second floor. My grandfather was a streetcar driver before he was a store owner. My father (now 89) rode this streetcar line down to McKinley Tech.

Links to older pics: ~1955, ~1955, 1957

Highly recommended video (youtube): 82 Trolley line (1950s)


Sunnyside Ave

Sunnyside Ave
Mile: Date: Dec 2003
Ease: A View: N
Area: B IC2:
Map: PG 7 G 4 Topographic Maps

North of College Park, outside the Washington I-495 Beltway and approaching Beltsville, Rhode Island Avenue assumes a two-lane form, obliterating evidence the trolley had been the first to take this straight path. Further ahead is the busy intersection with US 1.



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