The Metropolitan Branch of the B&O Railroad

Up to this point, I’ve talked about Brookland’s northern boundary, Bunker Hill Road; the eastern boundary, Queen’s Chapel Road; and the southern boundary, Brentwood Road

John Garrett. University of Nebraska–Lincoln

That leaves the western boundary, the rail-Road. The Metropolitan Branch of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad is indeed a road, even if we don’t usually think of it that way. They did in the 19th century, when John Garrett built the Metropolitan Branch. Garrett, president of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, was initially not keen to build a western branch out of Washington, and neither were his Baltimore business partners. According to John F. Stover in his History of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad,

Any such railroad would have only helped the commercial rivals of Baltimore, the port cities of Georgetown and Alexandria on the Potomac. The businessmen of Baltimore were happy to let their rivals to the south continue to rely upon the Chesapeake & Ohio canal, which finally reached Cumberland in 1850.

Click to enlarge

But by the time of the Civil War, Garrett realized that if he didn’t build a western extension, someone else would. Planning for it began in 1865. Since the C&O canal had the river route, the rail line took a more inland path for 43 miles, from Washington to Point of Rocks, Maryland, where it joined the Baltimore and Ohio main stem. Construction started in 1866 and went very slowly at first until Garrett gave it a push. The final rails were laid in February 1873 and the line was officially opened on May 25 of that year. The total cost was $3,583,000, including a beautiful Victorian station at Point of Rocks, which still stands.

Baltimore & Ohio Railroad, Point of Rocks Station. Library of Congress

The construction was sometimes tough, with numerous hills, streams and valleys to cross, and occasional cantankerous landowners who didn’t like the idea of the railroad traversing their property. One such was our own Colonel Jehiel Brooks. The tracks do run very close to his house, and he wanted B&O to at least build a proper bridge across it, taking them to court in 1871 to get what he wanted. The DC Supreme Court found in favor of Colonel Brooks, and although he never got the bridge, he was awarded $577 in damages.

If Colonel Brooks didn’t like the Metropolitan Branch, others certainly did. Suburbs began to sprout up quickly between Rockville and Washington in the 1870s and ’80s. Brookland was founded in 1887. Until the streetcar line reached Michigan Avenue and the railroad tracks in 1894, the Metropolitan Branch was Brookland’s only form of mass transit. The downtown terminus was the B&O Depot at New Jersey Avenue and C Street NW. 

B&O Depot. Library of Congress

Brookland’s University Station was built in 1890 on a little strip of land donated by Catholic University. The charming granite building served well for fifty years until it caught fire in 1940. The structure survived, but was taken out of regular service and only used as a whistle stop. It was finally torn down in the early 1970s to make way for an entrance to the Brookland Metro station. 

University Station. Courtesy of Catholic University of America Archives

What the Metropolitan Branch brought to Washington and Brookland was more than a cheaper, more efficient way to move goods. It gave Brooklanders real mobility. It connected them to their city, and to the American west. It was their ticket to a larger world.

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