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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.