The Trolley Era in Rockville, 1900-1935

December 2002

Trolleys – or street cars, as they were also known – existed in American cities before the Civil War, but a line did not connect Washington, D.C., to Rockville, Maryland, until 1900.  Nine years earlier, the Tennallytown & Rockville Electric Railway Company opened a line from Wisconsin Avenue in Georgetown just above the C&O Canal to Bethesda Park, an amusement destination in Alta Vista (off Old Georgetown Road, near present-day NIH).  The popular park was severely damaged in a hurricane on September 29, 1896, and never repaired.

In 1897, the Washington & Rockville Electric Railway Company formed to bring street cars as far north as the County seat.  By 1900, tracks led to Courthouse Square, but the Mayor and Council of Rockville refused to permit service inside the town to begin until the W&R fulfilled its agreement to build the last section to the western limits of the town, to the Woodlawn Hotel (later rejuvenated as Chestnut Lodge Sanitarium).

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.  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.

While street cars have not gone to Rockville for nearly 70 years, a keen eye can spot signs of their presence today.  Check out the steel trestle on the south side of Tuckerman Lane, built to take trolleys over the creek, and the old right-of-way parallel to the Pike just north of Georgetown Prep.  Many of the places Rockville line travelers saw – Strathmore Hall, Montrose School, the Bradley and Dawson farms, Walter Johnson’s house, Offutt’s store, Saint Mary’s Church, and Courthouse Square – still exist.

Rockville Trolley Map