B&O Railroad Station

By Justin Kockritz
October 2008

To the 1.6 million passengers who pass through the Rockville Metro Station each year it may be hard to imagine a time when local rail travel meant steam engines roaring down the Metropolitan Branch of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad into Washington.  What was once a simple country outpost would today be utterly unrecognizable to a rail traveler of the 19th or early 20th century, except for one site—the original B&O Railroad Station.

The earliest photograph of Rockville's depot, circa 1883.

The earliest photograph of Rockville’s depot, circa 1883.

Built in 1873, the station was one of several stops along the route between Washington’s Union Station and Point of Rocks where the Metropolitan Branch joined the B&O Main Line of the railroad.  The station was designed by Ephraim Francis Baldwin, the head architect for the railroad who also designed the depot and roundhouse at Baltimore’s Mount Clare Station (now the B&ORailroadMuseum) and the B&O Warehouse at Camden Yards, along with dozens of stations of varying sizes throughout Maryland.  The Rockville station, designed in the Victorian Gothic style with Eastlake detailing, such as the woodwork at each gable and colored tile roof, is emblematic of its age.  In fact, it captures that time so well that the Atlas Model Railroad Company based a line of HO scale rail depots on the station.

The dramatic impact that the opening of the rail had on Rockville is demonstrated by its population growth, from a mere 660 residents in 1870 to 1,568 only twenty years later.  During this time resorts such as the Woodlawn Hotel (later Chestnut Lodge) sprang up, touting the refreshing country air to wealthy Washingtonians who were now just 45 minutes away, cutting the trip from what the Sentinel described as “eight or ten mortal hours of almost unendurable agony.”  The Woodlawn even offered a carriage service to shuttle patrons between the resort grounds and the station.  Developers too quickly capitalized on Rockville’s convenience, heavily promoting lots for sale in West EndPark; Peerless Rockville takes its name from one such brochure.

While the station helped to spur Rockville’s early growth, development pressures would later threaten its existence.  In the mid-1970s Metro’s original plans for the Rockville Metro Station and the final phase of construction on the Red Line called for the demolition of the B&O Station which by then was disused and in disrepair.  However, Peerless Rockville, then only one year old, brought the station’s plight to the attention of the City and Metro, ultimately negotiating a compromise—the station and its freight house would not be demolished, but instead would be relocated so that a new tenant could be found to occupy the historic buildings, while allowing the Metro construction to continue as planned.

The B&O Railroad Station on the move, 1981. Photograph by John Spano.

The B&O Railroad Station on the move, 1981. Photograph by John Spano.

In 1981, the 400-ton station carefully was lifted off of its foundation, moved approximately 30 feet to the south, and reoriented 180 degrees so that the train platform which originally faced the tracks now faced Church Street and the Wire Hardware Store.  Just as the opening of the railroad proved to be a turning point in the development of Rockville, the preservation of the station helped to lay the ground work for the future success of Peerless Rockville.  Today the station is the home of the law firm of Gill and Sippel, and they, like Peerless, remain committed to preserving this significant place in Rockville’s history.