Washington & Great Falls Electric Railway


I like to explore.  To see things from every angle.  To really understand how they fit together.  I want to see a bridge not just from the top, but from underneath as well.

Consequently, I have a propensity for stumbling into the hiding places of people who more often than not probably just want to be left alone.  When you wander off into the woods, you find that the margins of society are often closer than you might think.

It’s a sunny day in late May.  Memorial Day weekend, to be precise.  There’s hardly a soul to be seen on the campus of Georgetown University.  But that’s not where I’m headed; I just needed a rack to stash my bike before I traipse into the woods behind the school.  I haven’t told anyone where I’m going, because I don’t exactly know myself.

That last fact suddenly seems important as I come into small clearing in the woods and find myself in the midst of what is clearly an improvised campsite.  This is the kind of improvisation that results not from spontaneity but from abject poverty – a small tarp, a rusty chair with chewed up upholstery, beer cans.  The components of this camp have the cast-off look of stuff diverted from a dumpster.

No one else seems to be around at the moment, but I can tell you that if I found someone snooping around in my home, I might be  more than a little protective.  I don’t need that kind of adventure.  So I decide to backtrack and rethink my attempt to trace the route of the Washington and Great Falls Electric Railway, a commuter train that once ran this way on its route to suburban Maryland.

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It turns out that I never had to try very hard to find one of the last remnants of this precursor to the Metro.  This decaying trestle is easily visible from Canal Road.  And there’s a busy foot path that runs beneath it, making my exploration a somewhat public spectacle.  Until I ascended far into the thick vegetation that has long since swallowed the path of the dismantled railroad in these woods.

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The old right-of-way is intermittently apparent well into the Maryland countryside.  Three more trestles lay crumbling before one reaches the railway’s former terminus in Cabin John.  A few weeks after my visit to the Georgetown trestle, I visit another spanning Walhonding Brook.  It’s a little more secluded than the Georgetown trestle, though essentially it resides in a small wooded median between two busy roads.  It’s a little more overgrown than the Georgetown trestle, but I was able to scale this one and get a good view of the weed-covered track on top.  Georgetown may have a taller structure, but there’s more thrill here in the woods outside of Glen Echo – it’s much closer to being just me and the collapsing remnants of the past.

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Location

Georgetown and Walhonding Brook

Featured in

DCinruins: A Guide to Urban Exploration in Washington, DC published by Insignificant Press.

Discussion

7 thoughts on “Washington & Great Falls Electric Railway

  1. Hi! I was wondering when your last visit was to this place. Also I’d like some advice on how to get started doing things like this. I’m just graduating high school this year and live in the DC area. I want to go exploring some of these places with friends and was wondering how bad of an idea that is (we all hike in our spare time and are pretty confident on our feet). If you have any beginners advice or locations it would be great if you could share!

    Posted by Backwards | May 23, 2012, 1:16 am
    • I’ve been out this way in the last couple of weeks, actually, in May 2012. Still standing, as it has for the better part of the last century. My best advice for checking these places out is to respect them. Be careful and don’t take any dumb risks. Leave them as you find them so the next person can enjoy them as much as you did. And have fun! Feel free to send along any photos/stories you come up with!

      Posted by DCinruins. | May 24, 2012, 12:14 pm
  2. While trying to discover the history of some peculiar ruins in Cabin John Park, I found a topo map from 1923 online. I noticed, passing just south of the area I was looking at, a right of way labeled “W & GF Electric (not operated).”
    This right-of-way goes East from Great Falls, crosses River Road and from there is exactly the present route of Bradley Boulevard. The topo I found ends just below Fernwood Road, so I don’t know what happened to that right-of-way south and east of there. But since the railway never got to Great Falls, this indicates that there were even more extensive plans beyond there, too. So far, I’ve found no other reference to this part of the proposed line.

    Posted by Paul Bennett | November 21, 2012, 3:01 am
  3. Do you have a more specific location for this spot? For some reason I can’t find Walhonding Brook.

    Posted by Sharlene | October 10, 2013, 4:10 pm

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