145 years of bridging the Metropolitan Branch

The Baltimore and Ohio Railroad entered Montgomery County in late 1867 buying and condemning a contiguous strip of land 66 feet wide from the District of Columbia line to Frederick County. It needed the right of way for a new rail line — The Metropolitan Branch — connecting Washington and the railroad’s main line to the north. In the vicinity of the area now known today as Silver Spring, the railroad acquired two acres from Margaret, Samuel and Edwin Cissel. The Cissels declined the company’s original offer and the railroad exercised its authority under Maryland law to set a price and seize it for $1,370.

Montgomery County land records, volume EBP 31, pages 181-183. Baltimore and Ohio Railroad condemnation proceedings against the Cissels.

The Metropolitan Branch opened in 1873 and by 1890 land records filed in Montgomery County included descriptions of a bridge across the tracks where the current Talbot Avenue Bridge is located. The earliest published illustration of a roadway adjacent to the Metropolitan Branch appears in a map produced by the railroad in 1890. The road appears as an unnamed route connecting Brookville Road with a road passing through James Fenwick’s 35-acre property into the District of Columbia. A subdivision called “The Pilgrim Tract” created by Kansas Senator Bishop W. Perkins and Michigan Representative Julius C. Burrows in 1890. Neither Lyttonsville nor other Perkins and Burrows subdivisions are labeled in the Metropolitan Branch map.

Talbot Avenue Bridge location. Adapted from, Real estate map of the Metropolitan Branch of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad Company between Washington, D.C., and Rockville, Md., and adjacent land holdings. The “Pilgrim Tract” is identified as “Perkins” in the center-left of the frame. Library of Congress: http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.gmd/g3851g.rr004610.

A cursory review of Baltimore and Ohio Railroad corporate records in the archives of the National Museum of American History failed to recover correspondence or records related to structures at today’s Talbot Avenue crossing. The railroad’s earliest bridges along the Metropolitan Branch were wood structures. There are no known descriptions of the earliest bridge that spanned the crossing. The existing bridge was constructed in 1918 using a plate-girder turntable recycled from a B&O Railroad yard in West Virginia. Such recycling was commonplace among American railroad companies.

153028-M
Dairy Road Overpass, Chester County, Pennsylvania. The Pennsylvania Railroad in 1908 replaced a wood bridge in this location. Credit: Bridgehunter.com.

 

Talbot Avenue Bridge, 2017.

The railroad might have constructed the original bridge after it received a letter similar to one sent in 1879 by neighboring Prince George’s County requesting a new “overgrade highway” structure. Demand for a bridge at the crossing likely would have increased as nearby residential subdivisions were laid out in the last quarter of the nineteenth century. These include the Perkins and Burrows subdivisions adjacent to Lyttonsville west of the tracks and the subdivisions that ultimately became North Woodside to the east.

July 1879 Internal letter to B&O Railroad President John W. Garrett detailing a request made by Prince George’s County for a new bridge. Baltimore and Ohio Railroad Records, U.S. National Museum of American History Archives Center.

The earliest known plat maps produced for the vicinity were the subdivision plats filed for the Perkins and Burrows Addition to Linden. Though the bridge site is located south of the subdivision, the road today known as Talbot Avenue was first platted and built as “Railroad Avenue” parallel to the Metropolitan Branch tracks.

Perkins and Burrows Addition to Linden, 1890 plat. Shading denotes Railroad (Talbot) Avenue and arrow points to approximate bridge location. Montgomery County Land Records, Plat No. 58.

At the time that these subdivisions were laid out, adjacent property owners were including language referring to the railroad crossing. In 1890, for example, Samuel and Mary Cissel sold Edwin Cissel 35 acres south of the railroad corridor. The deed included an easement: “A right of way from said land to the bridge spanning the said rail road, and from thence to the turnpike road leading from Washington, D.C. to Brookville” (Georgia Avenue).

For the next six decades, access to the bridge appears to have been secured through this easement, until Montgomery County extended Railroad Avenue and renamed it Talbot Avenue. During this time, residential subdivisions continued to fill in to the east of the railroad. West of the railroad, Lyttonsville was emerging as an unplanned African American suburb with single family homes, businesses, a church, and school in the Brookville Road corridor. To the South and east, African Americans unable to live in the Silver Spring sundown suburb began renting and buying home lots. By the second half of the twentieth century, Lyttonsville had become a distinct community that relied on the railroad crossing for access to jobs in Silver Spring and to shopping and recreational opportunities unavailable in rigidly segregated Silver Spring.

To the south of Lyttonsville, the heavily mortgaged former Cissel farmlands were rented out for much of the first decades of the twentieth century. In 1931, the 35 acres were owned by Washington writer Cora deForest Grant. That year she leased five acres in the parcel: “Beginning at a bridge spanning the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad … to include the orchard, dwelling house, barn all outbuildings, and the present plot of ground adjoining the house on the south that is used as a garden.”

1931 Klinge Real Estate Atlas. Cora Grant property and bridge are illustrated in the lower right.
1941 Klinge Real Estate Atlas. Cora Grant property, including buildings described in the 1931 lease, and bridge are illustrated in the lower right.

During the 1940s, real estate speculators began buying the former Cissel properties and adjacent ones. Many were consolidated into subdivisions comprising Rosemary Hills. In the mid-1950s, to accommodate the large number of school age children living in new subdivisions, Montgomery County built Rosemary Hills Elementary School. Maps published in the late 1950s and early 1960s show the school and its relationships to the bridge and neighboring subdivisions. The 1959 edition of the Klinge real estate atlas shows the school and the newly renamed “Tolbot (R.R.) Av.” terminating at Lanier Drive; the bridge’s west approach appears fully within the school’s property boundaries. A Sanborn fire insurance map published around the same time shows Talbot Avenue extended all the way to the bridge’s western approach.

1959 Klinge Real Estate Atlas. The Talbot Avenue Bridge and Rosemary Hills Elementary School are in the upper center of the frame.
Sanborn fire insurance map, 1951 map updated c. 1959.

The available evidence suggests that Railroad Avenue’s name was changed in conjunction with the development of Rosemary Hills Elementary School, which was completed in 1956. There are no known residents or property owners with the Talbot last name. The closest potential namesake is Montgomery County real estate attorney and Rockville resident Maurice Talbott, who held the note to the property during the early 20th century.

It is unclear when the bridge spanning the railroad tracks became known as the Talbot Avenue Bridge. For many years, Lyttonsville residents simply called it “The Bridge.” In 1944, about a decade after the adjacent North Woodside neighborhood was developed and its streets were renamed, the Washington Evening Star reported on a violent crime that occurred in Silver Spring. The newspaper described a search for an assailant “around the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad tracks and the woods surrounding the Hanover Street Bridge.” This is the only known instance where the structure was described as the “Hanover Street Bridge.”

The B&O Railroad’s successor, CSX, in the late 1990s transferred the title to several of its properties in Montgomery County to the local government. These properties included the right-of-way from the former Georgetown Branch (now the Purple Line corridor) which terminates just north of the Talbot Avenue Bridge and the railroad’s former station in downtown Silver Spring. Montgomery County’s Department of Transportation acquired the Talbot Avenue Bridge during this period. Though the agency cannot locate any paperwork covering the transfer, county bridge maintenance records show that CSX owned the structure in May 1998; by August 2000, Montgomery County owned the structure.

As for how and when Railroad Avenue became Talbot Avenue, Montgomery County’s Department of Transportation has no records on file related to the name change. Since the 1950s, the Montgomery County Planning Department has had jurisdiction over street naming in the county. When contacted by Montgomery County DOT in 2018 about the history of the street name, the Planning Department could only reply that the name had been changed sometime after 1955.

Acknowledgements: Silver Spring filmmaker Jay Mallin was the first to identify land records from the 1890s that described the bridge and the easement leading to it. Information about the bridge’s transfer from the railroad to Montgomery County and about the Talbot Avenue street name was provided by Montgomery County Department of Transportation chief engineer Bruce Johnston.

2 thoughts on “145 years of bridging the Metropolitan Branch”

  1. Having been a homeowner residing in this community since 1980, I suggest the author check with other parts of Montgomery County Government, such as County Executive’s office as the inefficient Department of Transportation mishandles and keeps -NOT- poor historical records) and Area Newspapers and T.V. Stations which headlined the story of a major railway accident just south of Talbot Ave. Bridge nearer the 16th Street Extended bridge over CSX rail corridor. This ‘accident’ took place in the late 1990’s (1997?). One ‘knock-on’ consequence was re-starting an ongoing neighborhoods’ dispute between residents of North Woodside – east side of CSX Railway corridor, versus Lyttonsville and Rosemary Hills neighborhoods west of tracks. County government attempted to adjudicate this very emotional dispute for months afterwards. Finally, Montgomery County government paid to repair the bridge’s damaged underpinnings by re-inserting iron struts into cemented embankments and reinforcing them for minimal safety, but not permanent replacements. Within a year or so, we learned that CSX quietly transferred ownership of the Talbot Ave. Bridge to Montgomery County’s Department of Transportation.

    NOTE: Powerful head-on train engine impacts badly shook the earthen embankments to which the Talbot Ave. Bridge was affixed, destabilitizing the bridge’s entire underpinnings. CSX immediately closed the Bridge once safety inspectors deemed it unsafe for vehiclar traffic.
    The ‘temporarily closed’ bridge situation ‘heated up’ an underlying inter-neighborhood dispute over whether or not to permanently close the Talbot Ave. Bridge to motorized vehicle traffic. News on County and CSX dithering on whether or not to repair the Bridge went on for months; a decision was made to repair and re-open the bridge to road traffic once declared safe for motorized vehicles. This action was sought by Montgomery County Fire Marshall who deemed the bridge an essential rail-crossing for emergency vehicles from Seminary Road Firehouse to reduce response time to fires/life-threatening incidents onwest side of the Talbot Ave. Bridge.

    BTW, Our Regional and Local Newspapers and T.V. Stations headlined the two-train accident for several days, describing it as a head-on collision between a northbound freight train and a MARC commuter train south-bound from West Virginia. A thorough NTSB serious railway accident investigation reported by the News Media determined that the key cause of this collision was railway mismanagement and neglect. CSX Railroad had recently purchased this rail corridor from defunct B & O, then arbitrarily removed a required safety red light and horn alarm south of the Kensington MARC station that would have alerted MARC train conductor to slow down/halt when alerted of an oncoming northward-bound train on the same track. NTSB found CSX management in Jacksonville, Florida had removed/disabled a locally controllable ‘occupied track’ alarm as a ‘money-saving efficiency action’ too soon after installing a large-scale ‘remote’ (computerized) track control management system that was poorly tested.

    Tragically, this full-spead ahead train collision caused dozens of casualties including many deaths among passengers on the MARC train (mostly youthful members of a class of disabled students traveling together from Shepardstown area) due to MARC commuter rail negligence. Most deceased victims of this horrible collision ‘accident’ were trapped inside the MARC rail-cars; many were ‘burned alive’ while trying to escape through blocked emergency exit doors /windows when the badly mangled MARC train caught/ fire. These blocked emergency exit doors were found by NTSB accident investigators to have failed due to MARC’s management negligence. Yet, no criminal charges were ever filed against the MARC commuter rail company, CSX Railroad Corporation or their management employees. It was a shameful and unnecessary tragedy. Please verify above, ref. Washington Post, Sentinel Newpaper reports, and NTSB rail accident investigation findings which should be archived. If true, lack of any Montgomery County Department of Transportation documents on this awful rail accident is quite troubling, as is absence of ownership transfer records for Talbot Ave. Bridge from CSX.

    Joel Teitelbaum
    Long-Term local resident/home-owner

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    1. Adds another dimension to the history of the bridge, railroads, & inter-jurisdictional relationships — sad but not surprising. Go Joel. & btw, love your identification of neighborhood as ‘greater Lyttonsville”!! “Rosemary Hills” must be a developer’s creation.

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