Here’s How Rockville’s Trolley Era Looked Over 115 Years Ago
This special post is a collection of early trolley car photos that were taken by Lewis Reed in the early 20th century. Trolleys existed in American cities before the Civil War, but a line did not connect Washington, DC to Rockville, Maryland, until 1900.
The agreement between the town of Rockville and the W&R Railway Co. ran for 35 years. From 1900 to 1935, street cars plied the track from the Washington terminus at Wisconsin and M Streets, N.W., up Wisconsin and then Old Georgetown Road, over a steel trestle just before the cars approached Georgetown Prep, through dense woods at Montrose and onto the Rockville Pike, through Rockville on Montgomery Avenue, to Laird Street, and back again. The cars could be driven from either end. In 1929, W&R ran 24 trips a day between 6:30 a.m. and 12:30 a.m. to connect Rockville and Washington. Major stops along the line included Georgetown, Alta Vista, Bethesda, Montrose, Halpine, the Fairgrounds, Courthouse Square, and Chestnut Lodge. Six switching stations and side tracks enabled street cars to pass as they went in different directions.
Below are a collection of photographs taken by Lewis Reed that shows what the old trolley cars looked like, highlighting what riding the trolley car was like in the early 1900s. From wood-paneled exteriors with ceiling fans to advertisements, here’s a nostalgic look back at Rockville’s Trolley car era through the lens of Lewis Reed. (click on photos to enlarge)
A car barn is the streetcar equivalent of a garage for buses. It’s a covered facility in which streetcars were stored overnight, cleaned and given light repairs before the next day’s run. The car barn for the trolleys at the time was the second Western Avenue car barn for the streetcars that served the Georgetown-Tenelytown-Bethesda-Rockville line. It was located at on west side of Wisconsin at between Harrison and Jennifer. It was demolished and later replaced by a purpose-built bus garage which is still in use by WMATA. The National Capital Trolley Museum was instrumental in helping to identify the car barn in the photo above.
Leroy King described the street car below as one of Washington Railway’s majestic “Rockville” cars, at 4 switch in 1908. Note multiple unit jumper box under center front window.
Traveling in snow was sometimes hazardous to trolley cars, as evidenced by the trolley pictured below which derailed the train tracks and plowed into a telephone pole at Montrose Road and Rockville Pike. Lewis Reed was there to capture the accident from two different perspectives using a five-by-four box camera which produced images on a glass plate.
In populated areas, street cars kept speeds to 12 mph (6 mph at intersections), but in open country they could get up to 40 mph.
The Archival Producer for television’s most-watched history series, AMERICAN EXPERIENCE on PBS, found the photograph of the 1920’s trolley interior on this blog and asked permission to use it in the documentary, “The Great War,” a six-hour, three-night event, that premiered April 10-12, 2017 in conjunction with the 100th anniversary of America’s entry into WWI.
All of these prints were originally made from a glass plate negative, an early photographic technique which was in common use between the 1880s and the late 1920s. The early 1900s were considered by many to be the golden era of early photography, because of its new availability to the public and somewhat simplified production methods. Many of Lewis Reed’s early photographs are now part of the Montgomery County Historical Society photo archives.
Panels for advertising line the edge of the ceiling on both sides of the trolley. Instead of AC, the interiors were cooled with wooden ceiling fans.