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Paper Presented for Admission 

to the 

Tau Beta Pi Honorary Fraternity 

University of Maryland. 

DECEMBER 18, 1936 


In the limited time available the author has sought to ob- 
tain complete Information on this branch. From the start the author 
has been hindered by three past events which resulted in a limiting 
of the sources of information. The first of these was that the road 
was constructed seventy years ago by a company having an active oper- 
ation, but for a short period of two years. Secondly, the Baltimore 
and Ohio did not obtain any financial records or the minute book con- 
taining construction records when it bought the line. Finally, the 
Baltimore Fire of 1904 destroyed most of the old records of the Bal- 
timore and Ohio. 

The author wishes to take advantage of this apace to thank 
Mr. John Andrews of the Maintenance Department of the Baltimore and 
Ohio, Mr. Kobert E. Kennedy of the Valuation Department of the Balti- 
more and Ohio, Captain Aichard Mansfield of the Metropolitan Police 
and Mr. H. C. Spencer of the Valuation Division of the Interstate 
Commerce Commission for the great aid and consideration they have ac- 
corded him. 



In 1870 the Baltimore and Ohio was still without adequate connec- 
tions with lines south of the Potomac River. However, in as early as 1854 
and 1659 plans had been formed to rim a line thru the District of Columbia 
to a point on the Potomac opposite Alexandria, Va, f where passenger and freight 
cars could be ferried across. When, in 1870, the Pennsylvania Railroad gained 
control of Long Bridge from Congress, the Baltimore and Ohio could exchange 
traffic with the southern lines only by paying heavy carrying charges to the 

However, in February 1872, there was incorporated in the State of 
Maryland a company known as the Washington City and Point Lookout Railroad Com- 
pany, and with the purpose of constructing a railroad from Hyattsville to Point 
Lookout, Md. 

Within one month thia company was empowered by the District of Col- 
umbia and the State of Maryland to construct a branch from Hyattsville thru the 
District of Columbia to Marburys Point, D. C. , opposite Alexandria. 

The Baltimore and Ohio realized the value of gaining control of this 
branch, so negotiations were begun to obtain carrying rights over tnis line. 
In an agreement for construction made in May, 1873, the Baltimore and Ohio leased 
this branch — known as the Baltimore, Washington and Alexandria Branch of the 
Washington City and Point Lookout Railroad — for a period of 99 years, renewable 
forever. Construction began in May, 1873, and ended in March, 1874. 

In November, 1874, the Baltimore and Ohio bought this line for $20,000 
cash and $36,000 per year until retirement of the funded debt. 

As far as an engineer ing project is concerned, the line is of little 
value. However, there are two features which are worth mentioning. 

Since the road could not cross government property, it was necessary 
to construct a trestle over Anacostla River and around the property line of St. 
Elizabeth's Insane Asylum. This trestle was constructed of oak pilings — 27,000 
feet long and costing around $40,000. When Soiling Field was reclaimed, the 
trestle was filled in so that all that remains of this trestle is a small em- 

At Marburys Point there was constructed a wharf and slip for the 
transferring of passenger and freignt cars to barges for ferrying to Alexandria. 
The wharf extended out from the main-land for a distance of 1400 feet. It was 
constructed of oak pilings and cost around :.-'25,000. About 400 feet from the 
main-land there was a transfer slip attached to the wharf. This consisted of 
a timber section 200 feet long, one end of which was hinged to the pier and the 
other end was supported by floats. This slip permitted the transferring of c rs 
to the barges regardless of changes in the water level. The barges were of suf- 
ficient capacity to carry two loaded freight cars. These barges plied between 
Mar bury a Point and Wilkes Street in Alexandria. 

Sine 13 the discontinuing of the ferry in 1890 the road has been used 
only as a freight spur, and carries at most but four trains per week. 


" Corporate History of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad Company" 

Vol. I Co implied by Baltimore and Ohio 
Chief Engineer's Files— Ho. 293, Traffic Department, Baltimore 

and Ohio Offices 
Secretary's Old Files — Kos. 85 and 86 Baltimore and Ohio 

"Federal and Local Legislation Relating to Canals and Steam 

Railroads in the District of Columbia" 1803-1903 

Compiled by Charles Moore (Government Printing Office) 
"History of the National Capital" Vol. II 1815-1878 

By Iff. 3ogart Bryan 



By 1835 the first tracks of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad had 
reached Washington, and within fifteen years plans had been formed to extend 
the line to the 30 nth in order to take advantage of the growing trade with 
the area south of tne Potomac liver. However, by 1870 the Baltimore and Ohio 
was still without an adequate connection with the South through Washington. 

In 1854 the Baltimore and Ohio asked Congress 1 permission to ex- 
tend their line through the District of Columbia to a point on the Potomac 
Biver opposite Alexandria, Va. After much debate. Congress denied the Bal- 
timore and Ohio the right to construct such a line. 

In 1859 the Baltimore and Ohio planned to run a line from Bla- 
denaburg, Md. , around the District of Columbia, to a point opposite Alexan- 
dria, Va. This time, however, the Civil War interfered; and, when the United 
States Government assumed control of the railroads, connections with the South 
were temporarily forgotten by the Baltimore and Ohio. 

In 1366 the Baltimore and Ohio secured an entrance into Washington 
for a new branch. In the same year the Pennsylvania Railroad (then known as 
the Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Washington Railroad) began to contest the 
Baltimore and Ohio for supremacy in the Washington district and to the South. 
Within five years the Pennsylvania had succeeded in wresting the southern con- 
nection from its older rival, that bad really never acquired a permanent con- 
trol of any of the Virginia lines. The Pennsylvania had acquired from Congress 
the control of Long Bridge (built about 1852) across the Potomac River, as 
well as a right of way through the city of Washington. 

So it was in 1871 that the Baltimore and Ohio had the alternative 
of shipping their passenger and freight traffic bound for the South through 
Harper's Ferry, W. Va; or of transferring to the trains of the Pennsylvania 


at Washington at high carrying charges. 

However, on February 24, 1872, under the general incorporation laws 
of the state of Maryland* a certificate of organization was granted to John K, 
Bowie, Samuel T. Suit, Peter G. Grime, and L. W. B. Hutchins, of Maryland; and 
Duncan S. Walker, of the District of Columbia. These five men were empowered 
to organize a railway company known as the Washington City and Point Look Out 
Company, and having a capital stock of $2,000,000 necessary for construction. 
On March 28, 1872, this company was authorized by the Maryland State Legisla- 
ture to extend the limits of their line beyond Maryland; and on January 22, 

1873, the United States Congress authorized them to extend their railroad"into 
and within the District of Columbia.* 1 

The Washington City and Point Look Oat Railroad Company was now le- 
gally free to construct a branch line from Hyattsville, Md. , to Marbiu-ys Point 
(Shepherd), D. C. In fact, this branch line, 12.5 miles long, was the only 
portion actually constructed of the proposed 96.7 miles of railroad. 

The construction of this branch meant a virtual solution of the 
problem of a southern connection for the Baltimore and Ohio, so negotiations 
were made to gain carrying rights over thi3 branch. In an agreement dated 
May 12, 1873, and ratified by the presidents of both companies, the Washington 
City nd Point Lookout agreed to begin construction upon this branch (known as 
the Baltimore, Washington, and Alexandria Branch of the W. C. & P. L. R. R. ) 
immediately after ratification. The Washington City and Point Lookout Railroad 
Company further agreed to lease this branch to the Baltimore and Ohio with the 
exclusive right to its use. The term of lease was for ninety-nine years, re- 
newable for ever. In return the Baltimore and Ohio agreed to pay an annual 
rent of $36,000 in gold. 

Construction was begun in May, 1873, and was completed March 1, 

1874. Upon the completion of the road the lease to the Baltimore and Ohio 


became effective, and from that time until the date of sale the road wa3 com- 
pletely operated by the Baltimore and Ohio. 

On August 24, 1874, the stockholders of the Washington City and 
Point Lookout Railroad met in general assembly and resolved to sell the road 
to the Baltimore and Ohio. At a meeting of the Board of Directors of the Bal- 
timore and Ohio held at Camden Station, September 9, 1874, it was resolved to 
purchase the Baltimore, Washington and Alexandria Branch. Accordingly, a deed 
was drawn up; and in consideration of $20,000 purchase money, the road was sold 
to the Baltimore and Ohio on November 18, 1874, It was further agreed that the 
Baltimore and Ohio was to pay annually in gold $36,000, or such portions of 
$36,000 due as interest on bonds. The Baltimore and Ohio was also to take over 
all bonds of the Washington City and Point Lookout Company, and guarantee pay- 
ment at the date of maturity (1913). According to the meager financial reports 
obtained from the Washington City and Point Lookout, the funded debt guaranteed 
by the Baltimore and Ohio was $540,000 and the total cost of the road to Novem- 
ber 18, 1874, was $800,000. 

From 1874 to the present the Baltimore and Ohio has continued to 
operate this line as sole owner under the name of the Alexandria Branch of the 
Baltimore and Ohio Bailroad. 

At the peak of its operation the Baltimore and Ohio carried more 
than ten trains a day, both passenger and freight, over this line to Shepherd's 
Landing (Marburys Point) where they were transferred to barges and then floated 
down the river to Alexandria, Va. 

However, around 1890 the ferry proved too expensive to operate, so 
it was abandoned. 

In 1904 the Baltimore and Ohio came to a satisfactory agreement 
with the Pennsylvania, by which the cars of the Baltimore and Ohio were pulled 
by the engines of the Pennsylvania across the Potomac River to Potomac Yards 

for a low carrying charge. 

In spite of the new agreement the old Alexandria Branch was not en- 
tirely forgotten, and in 1914 it was planned to construct a bridge across the 
Potomac River from Marbury Point, D. C. , to Alexandria, Va. 

As a finale to the southern controversy, the Baltimore and Ohio 
gained for a small rent payment carrying rights over the tracks of the Pennsyl- 
vania by an agreement made around 1914. As a result, the Alexandria Branch 
definitely ceased to be a southern gateway. 



According to the agreement for construction made May 12, 1673, the 
Baltimore, Washington, and Alexandria Branch of the Washington City and Point 
Lookout Railroad was constructed by the following route: 

"Beginning at a point on the Washington Branch of the Baltimore 
and Ohio Railroad at or near Hyattsville Station, thence to the Eastern Branch 
of the Potomac River, crossing the same by a trestle bridge, thence passing 
through Bladensburg to and across the Baltimore and Potomac Railroad near 
where it first enters into the District of Columbia, thence near to and par- 
allel with the Baltimore and Potomac Railroad to a point near where the Bal- 
timore and Potomac Railroad crosses the Eastern Branch of the Potomac River, 
thence by way of Uniontown, following the general direction of said Eastern 
Branch to a suitable point near the mouth of said Eastern Branch, thence to 
a point on the Potomac River, opposite Alexandria, Virginia, known as Mar bury s 
Point." This agreement also provided for a wharf and piers for the landing 
of boats and the transferring of railway cars to and from these boats. 

The road constructed by this agreement is a single track, standard 
gauge railroad 12.5 miles long. Starting at Alexandria Junction, Kyattsville, 
lid, , the branch runs one-quarter of a mile to the south-east and north of the 
Blaci ens burg Highway; then south for three-quarters of a mile, crossing the 
Eastern Branch of the Potomac River and Defense Highway. From there the road 
heads south-east again for one and oae- quarter miles; then south for one- quar- 
ter, crossing the Pennsylvania Railroad by an overhead bridge. It then runs 
parallel to the Pennsylvania for three and one-half miles; along Anacostia 
Flats for two miles, passing under Pennsylvania and Nichols Avenues by via- 
ducts. After running along the eastern edge of Boiling Field for one mile; 
the road then continues across Blue Plains for three and one-half miles to 

Uarhurys Point where the District of Columbia Sewerage Plant is now situated. 

The total length of the sidings first constructed could not be 
found, but there was originally at Mar bury s Point a "I" of some 900 feet in 
length and a siding of 1000 feet. There is now approximately 3,5 miles of 
sidings on this branch, of which, it is believed, at least fifty percent is 
of the original road. 

The width of way of this branch is 66 feet at grade. In addition 
to the right of way, the company acquired for depots an area of 100,000 square 
fe?t at Mar bury s Point, 40,000 square feet at Uniontown (Anacostia) and 40,000 
square feet at Bladen 9 burg. 

The width of the road bed is 14 feet at sub- grade for fills and 


18 feet for cuts. The side slopes on cuts and fills are one and one-half on 

According to the agreement mentioned above the maximum grade was 
not to exceed 66 feet per mile (l.25^>) and the total length of this maximum 
grade was not to exceed one and one-half miles. It is interesting to note 
that the actual maximum grade is, however, 1.77ji> and that there are four grades 
over 1.25?b , having a total length of 2,500 feet. There are eleven grades over 
1.0$ having a total length of 8,200 feet. There are but four level stretches 
totaling 4,300 feet in length. The average grade for the entire line is 0.45$. 

The maximum degree of curve used was 7 10' with and corresponding 
maximum deflection angle at the intersection of the tangents of 60 14. There 
are six curves having a curvature of more than five degrees. There are, in 
addition, four compound, one large reverse, and several spiral curves on this 
line. Ho information could be obtained as to how these curves were laid out. 
They were possibly staked out by the deflection angle method which was known 
and used at this time. 

The branch was laid out with iron rails of the W T U pattern weighing 


sixty pounds to the linear yard. The rails were fastened at the joint by the 
crumble joint. The rails rested on cross- ties of white or chestnut oak timber 
around eight feet long, six inches wide, seven inches thick. These ties were 
laid about two feet apart center to center ( i, e. , averaging about 2640 ties 
to the mile). The ties were in turn supported by a ballast of gravel to a 
depth of six inches below the bottom of the ties. 

Masonry and culverts were constructed of rubble stone and hard 
burned brick. Where large streams were crossed, pile or trestle bridges were 

There is no information tnat points to the use of steel bridges 
of any type on this road. However, if such were used on the original line, 
they were probably of the "through girder" type which are now used oa the 

The trestle bridges were constructed of oak piles and the track 
stringers of white pine. 

By studying the profile of the line it can be see a that the track 
was laid practically upon the top of the ground. The maximum cut was 20 feet 
deep at its highest point, 500 feet long, and involved about 9,000 cubic yarda 
of excavation. The maximum fill was 25 feet at its lowest point, 1000 feet 
long, and involved about 45,000 cubic yards of embankment. However, the aver- 
age grading, as obtained from the cross-section sheets of the Baltimore and 
Ohio engineer's files, was only 28,000 cubic yards per mile. 

When the Baltimore and Ohio bought the branch in 1874, they ob- 
tained only meager financial reports. In fact the actual cost of the road is 
not known. However, an itemized estimate cost for the road is included on the 
following p£^ge. These figures are in no way the actual unit costs, but esti- 
mates made by the Baltimore and Ohio for the Interstate Commerce Commission in 
1912. It will be noticed that this estimated total cost approximates the funded 


debt of the Washington City and Point Lookout as reported in 1874; but is 
$300,000 lower than the reported cost to November 1874. This difference pro- 
bably consists of labor costs, and the coat of equipment, rolling stock, "iain- 
tenance and operation to that date, 


Grading— 28,000 cu. yd. /mi. for 14.2 mi. track and siding 

3 25^/cu. yd. $ 99,400 

Track— 74,976 ft. $2.60/linear ft. 194,940 

Trestles— 800 ft. d $lb/linear ft. 12,000 

Culverts — 3 $2,000/mi, for 12.5 mi. 25,000 

Grade crossings — 40 B $100 each 4,000 

Land— 125 acres a SlO/acre 1,250 

Asylum trestle— 2700 ft. S $16/linear ft, 43,200 

Wharf and pier— 1400 ft. • $18/linear ft. 25,200 

Transfer slip 3,000 

Engineering 40,000 

General Contingencies 24,000 

Construction interest 32,000 

Total— $503,990 



From an engineering point of view the Alexandria Branch of the Bal- 
timore and Ohio is of little importance. The grading is very shallow as com- 
pared with present day roads; and, in fact, with roads of the same period over 
the same type of level topography. The max imam grade of 1.7?3b is very high for 
this type of road. In the mountain divisions of the Baltimore and Ohio the max- 
imum grade is often less than half that of this line. The average grade of 
0.45$ for this branch is greater than the maximum grade for this (Washington) 

Apart from the grade, the curves might be considered. In present 
day construction curves greater than five degrees in curvature are seldom used. 
In spite of the fact, the road was originally constructed for a maximum speed 
of only forty miles per hour; the high degree of curvature of most of the 
curves, combined with their large angles of intersection, limits the rapid 
flow of traffic required of present day railroads. If the road ever again be- 
comes an active branch of the Baltimore and Ohio, the grades will of necessity 
be reduced and the curves straightened or relocated. 

Before this engineering criticism is concluded credit must be 
given for the route selected:- complying at all times with the route designated 
by the agreement for construction and that by Congress, and at the same time 
passing successfully over or around such natural obstacles as streams and 

No discussion of this line would be complete without first consider- 
ing several structures on this branch. These, although of some engineering im- 
portance, find their greatest value as historical or personal interest features. 



In the terras of authority granted by Congress to the Washington 
City and Point Lookout in January, 1873, the route of the road was forbidden 
to cross any government property. At this date the property line of St. Eli- 
zabeth's Asylum extended for 2700 feet along the shore line of Anacostia River. 
In order to comply with this restriction and follow the general route desig- 
nated by the Baltimore and Ohio, the Washington City and Point Lookout was 
forced to construct a trestle 2700 feet long over the river and along the shore 
line. (See point II on plan map). This trestle was constructed of four oak 
piles placed three feet apart across road and ten feet apart along the route. 
The cost was approximately $43,000. The water was about two feet deep at this 
point. The trestle contained two curves — one of five and the other of three 
degrees in curvature. The trestle was used for five years by the Baltimore 
and Ohio when the right of way was then filled in. 

When the area along Anacostia River whs reclaimed to form Boiling 
Field, all of the swamp along the trestle was filled in and now the only noti- 
ceable remains of the trestle is an embankment three feet high. 


The M Y" reversing siding is located about 1000 feet north of the 
wharf at Mar bury s Point. It consists of two curves running off the main line 
at points about 300 feet apart and ending in a 300 foot tangent stretch, 300 
feet from and perpendicular to the main line. (See profile sheet and plan — 
point I). The H Y H is used to reverse the direction of trains which reach the 
end of the line at this point. The engine is backed into one curved portion 
of the n Y" to the tangent stretch and then forward out onto the main by the 


other curved portion. "I's" are quite often used in railway construction, but 
are most often used to connect intersecting branches rather than to end in a 
short tangent. 


In order to accomodate the exchange of passenger and freight traffic 
between Marburys Point, L. C. , and Alexandria, Va. , it was necessary to construct 
a wharf and slip to permit the transferring of c ,rs to and from the barges. To 
accomplish this a fill 500 feet long and 18 feet wide was made in the shallow 
water from the main land. From this fill the pier extended out into the Potomac 
River for 1150 feet. (See plan— point I.) The pier was constructed of oak pil- 
ing in the same manner as was the Asylum Trestle, and so that the floor of the 
pier was eight to ten feet above the high tide. This portion of the wharf was 
ased for the transferring of passengers and freight to steamers bound for points 
south of Alexandria. 

About 400 feet from the approach fill and on the straight line tan- 
gent from the main line was the transfer slip. This was used for the transferring 
of passenger and freight cars to barges. The transfer slip consisted of a timber 
section 300 feet long, one end of which was hinged to the pier and the other was 
supported by floats. By having the slip so constructed, the contact end was at 
the same level as the barges upon which the cars were transferred. The float, 
therefore, permitted the flow of traffic in spite of changes in the water level. 

The total cost of the pier and transfer slip was approximately 

It is interesting to note that in the winter of 1878 the ice was so 
thick on the river that trains crossed from this point to Alexandria under th»ir 
own steam. 


The ferry was discontinued In 1890 when it proved too expensive 
to operate; the remains of the piling can still be seen from the point. For 
several years the pier was used as a coal trestle for the Consolidated Coal 
Company. Around five years ago the approach fill was utilized to connect the 
x>ier of an automobile ferry with the main land. The flood-damaged remains at 
this pier can also be seen from itarburys Point. 



Since the discontinuing of the ferry in 1890 the line has been 
used as a freight branch only. At present the line is in a state of disre- 
pair; the ballast has become filled with dirt and supports a growth of weeds; 
the rails are badly worn and need re lining. 

At present there are several small Industries served by this line. 
At Hyattsville, Md. , there is the Steel Cut Cereal Mills. At Deanewood (Chesa- 
peake Junction), D. C. , there is a freight depot and junction with the Chesa- 
peake Beach Railway Company. Farther south at Bennings, D, C. , the branch 
serves the Joseph Swift Sand Company, Washington Union Stock Yards, and Wash- 
ington Cold Storage and Slaughter Company. At Union town (Anacostia), D, C. , 
there is a freight depot. A spur connects the branch with St. Elizabeth's In- 
sane Asylum. The branch also serves Boiling Field, the Naval Research Station, 
and Bellevoe Magazine. Until recently a 2000 foot spur connected the branch 
with the Firth Stirling Steel Company, At Mar bur ys Point the branch finally 
connects with the new Washington Sewerage Disposal Plant. 

Local inhabitants reported that during the early part of this year, 
the traffic to the point was as much as two trains per day, bat now that the 
Sewerage Plant is practically completed, the traffic is barely more than that 
per week. 

*1 &€<*/ 

| P*L. 



5. View Sear Where Pennsylvania Tracks 
Cross Anacostia Hirer 

*• i/<cw 

7, Bridge over Pennsylvania Tracks 
near Kenilworth, D. C. 

4. Vit«/ 

6. Depot at Junction with 
Chesapeake Beach Railway 

*, ^iCiO 




8. Alexandria Junction — 7 Curve Left 

s. View 

1. Old and Hew Piers at Marburys Point 

¥• 1//CH/ 

3. Main Line and Siding at Washington 
Sewerage Disposal Plant 

• - t 





3. The Approach Fill to the Wharf 

/« l//e*f 

4. Depot at Uniontown