Rare, Historical Photos: 1912 Grading of Massachusetts Ave Washington, DC

Washington, DC is an amazing city with a fascinating history. Massachusetts Avenue intersects every major north–south street and passes numerous Washington, DC landmarks. It is a landmark itself, long considered the northern boundary of the downtown as well as home of Washington’s Embassy Row.

Massachusetts Avenue is tied with Pennsylvania Avenue as the widest road in the District, at 160 feet. The two roads run in parallel through much of the city, Massachusetts about seven blocks north of Pennsylvania. Massachusetts Avenue was long Washington’s premier residential street, as Pennsylvania was once its most sought-after business address. Both streets were named after states with prominent roles in the American Revolution: Massachusetts and Pennsylvania.

Below are some extremely rare, historical photographs that Lewis Reed took of Massachusetts Avenue as it was being graded in 1912. As always, click on the photos to get a better look.

1912 Marion steam shovel

Marion Shovel Model 60 in action cutting a high bank of dirt on Massachusetts Ave. Photo by Lewis Reed, ca.1912

1912 Bucyrus steam shovel

A Bucyrus steam shovel loading dirt onto a railway car. Photo by Lewis Reed, ca. 1912.

A steam shovel is a large steam-powered excavating machine designed for lifting and moving material such as rock and soil. It is the earliest type of power shovel or excavator. Steam shovels played a major role in public works in the 19th and early 20th century.

When digging at a rock face, the operator simultaneously raises and extends the dipper stick to fill the bucket with material. When the bucket is full, the shovel is rotated to load the railway car. Steam shovels usually had a three-man crew: engineer, fireman and ground man.

The track of Massachusetts Avenue was paved in the early 1870s. It was extended beyond Boundary Road (now Florida Avenue) in the 1880s, and beyond Rock Creek up to the District line after 1900. The section between Sheridan Circle and Scott Circle became known as “Millionaires’ Row”.

1912 grading of Massachussets Ave

Hill Grading Massachusetts Avenue, Washington DC. The Washington Monument and many other landmarks can be seen in the background. Photo by Lewis Reed, ca. 1912

The Great Depression forced many to relinquish their homes on Millionaires’ Row. After World War II, Massachusetts Avenue was seen as less fashionable than newer areas such as upper 16th Street. Many residences were sold and demolished to make way for office buildings, particularly around Dupont Circle and to its east. Many others, however, survived as embassies and society houses; the former ‘Millionaires’ Row is today well known as Embassy Row.

1912 Walter railway car

An early steam locomotive is hauling away dirt. Photo by Lewis Reed, ca. 1912

Source: Wikipedia

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About Reed Brothers

I am a co-owner of the former Reed Brothers Dodge in Rockville, Maryland. Lewis Reed, the founder of Reed Brothers Dodge was my grandfather. We were a family-owned and operated car dealership in Rockville for almost a century. I served in the United States Air Force for 30 years before retiring in the top enlisted grade of Chief Master Sergeant in July 2006. In 2016, I received the Arthur M. Wagman Award for Historic Preservation Communication from Peerless Rockville for documenting the history of Reed Brothers Dodge in both blog and book format. This distinguished honor recognizes outstanding achievement by writers, educators, and historians whose work has heightened public awareness of Rockville’s architectural and cultural heritage, growth and development.

7 responses to “Rare, Historical Photos: 1912 Grading of Massachusetts Ave Washington, DC”

  1. David Sproul says :

    I’d still like to know when Mass Ave was extended past Westmoreland Circle and then under the B&O right of way out to its current end at Goldsboro.

  2. Patrick T. Kernan says :

    Very cool! Thanks Jeanne.

  3. Geri Lawhon says :

    I like looking at historical photos, and reading about what they are showing us. Thanks for the post.

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