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Full text of "The history of the Maryland line of the Washington Railway and Electric Company / by James N. Wallace."

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presented to 

University of Maryland 

James N. Wallace, '30 

May 8, 19S9. 


Confidence in the stability of the electric 
railway as an investment, and realization of its great 
possibilities in the development of real estate projects, 
were responsible for the organization of several railway 
companies to operate between Washington and Laurel/ 
These companies failed in their purpose, but the — 

in 1894 to build an electric line between Washington and 
Baltimore, through the town of Laurel. The contract for 
the entire construction was let, and several miles of 
track were laid from each end of the project. The rail- 
way company went into the hands of a receiver and that 
portion from Washington to Laurel was sold in 1898 to the 

formerly the Eekington and Soldier's Home Electric Rail- 
way Co., and construction was completed by this company 
from the District of Columbia line to Berwyn. Construc- 
tion between Berwyn and Laurel was accomplished and ser- 
vice begun in 1902 by the — 

its name to the Washington, Berwyn, and Laurel Electric 
Railroad Co. following a traffic agreement for the use 


The Maryland Line of the Washington Railway and 
Electric Company was constructed for service from the Treas- 
ury in Washington to Laurel, Maryland. The history of this 
line involves the history of no less than sixteen different 
chartered railway companies. Involved in the story of the 
development of this line are many visions of its backers 
and their ultimate accomplishment or failure. It is 
the purpose of this paper to present that story in as con- 
cise manner as the complications of the subject will permit. 


Following the election of Grove r Cleveland to 
the Presidency in 1884, there were "boom times" in real 
estate in and around Washington. This condition was some- 
what augmented by the possibility of the World T s Fair (which 
was finally held in Chicago) being located at the Nation's 
Capital. The effect of this surge of prosperity was felt 
as far out as the town of Laurel, in Maryland, where a 
group of business men, headed by Edward Phelps (who later 
served as Mayor of Laurel from 1895 to 19 0£) in their 
enthusiastic speculation in real estate had visions of a 
great "Country City" extending from Washington to Baltimore. 
This %ity" was conceived to consist of three boroughs, each 
ten miles square, through which was to run a double4racked 

electric railway line flanked on each, side by a wide 
roadway. To these men it seemed inevitable that the land 
between Baltimore and Washington would thus be entirely 
built up within twenty years at the most. 

Several sub-division projects were under way 
in the vicinity of Laurel, chief of which was the Phelps 
and Schaffer project thru Senator A. P. Gorman's estate 
and "North laurel" developed by Gordon and Company of 
Washington. With these incentives, and aided by a general 
public belief in the stability of investment in electric 
railways, the plan of rapid transportation thru this 
section was seriously considered. 


The first company to be chartered was incorporated 
in 1888 as the Berwyn and Laurel Electric Railroad Company 
under Article 23, sec. 343, of the Public General Laws of 
Maryland which states that "Corporations may be formed in 
this state by five or more persons .... who desire to 
form a body corporate or politic for the purpose of the 
formation of .... , and of passenger railway companies 
. . . but no passenger railway constructed under the pro- 
visions of this article shall exceed twelve miles in length." 1 
If the provisions of this article were strictly followed, 
a special act of the State Legislature was not necessary for 


of the City and Suburban Railway Companies lines from 
Berwyn to Washington. In 1910, after a number of business 
and legal maneuvers, the Washington, Berwyn and Laurel 
Electric Railroad Co. was deeded to the City and Suburban 
Railway Co, of Washington which was operated as a subsidiary 
of the 

ber 1, 1926 when its corporate existence was absorbed by 
that company. Service between Beltsviile and Laurel was 
suspended in July 1925. At present this company operates 
electric street car service from Washington to Beltsviile, 
and motor bus service from Washington to Laurel. 



\ IMtUester 


The: Marylanp Line of the Washington Kwy & Flectric Cb, 

the incorporation of such a company; thus such charters 
were easily obtained. This company failed, to undertake 
any construction, and its charter was forfeited. 

The Washington and Laurel Traction Go. was grant- 
ed a charter, April 3, 1890, by special act of the Legis- 
lature to build an electric railway line parallel to the 
'boulevard" between Laurel and the District of Columbia 
line. The company was composed chiefly of Laurel men. 
About one mile of this road was const rue ted thru Laurel 
by this company, but the project ultimately failed. 

The Baltimore and Washington Turnpike and Tramway 
Go. was chartered, April 7, 1892, with the same privileges 
as the Washington and Laurel Traction Co. and consisted of 
practically the same incorporators. This road did not 
construct any line, but later consolidated with the Colum- 
bia and Maryland Railway Co. 


By far the boldest step toward the erection of 
an electric railway line thru that section was made by the 
Columbia and Maryland Railway Co. This company received 
its charter under "Article 23", and it was later amended 
to permit extension of the project and to greatly enlarge 
its privileges (1894) . This company planned to build a 


double -tracked line from Baltimore to Washington, power 
for which was to be furnished, by three power houses : one 
at Illchester, one on the Patuxtent river at Laurel, and 
another on Paint Branch at Berwyn. 

The Abandoned Power 
Project on Paint Branch 

On August 7, 1895 a contract for the entire pro- 
ject was awarded to the Baltimore and Catonsville Construc- 
tion Co., and construction was actually begun August 26, 
1895. Construction progressed from Baltimore as far as 
Illchester, where the power house was partly completed, 
and also the power plant at Berwyn was partly constructed ■ 
material being hauled from sidings and extensions of the 
Baltimore and Ohio railroad. The plan of building a plant 
on the Patuxtent was abandoned, following the advice of 

Bridge of Electric Line 
over Paint Branch 

(Built by Youngatown Bridge 

Company of Young etown, Ohio) 



At this stage, the construction company went into 
the hands of receivers, September 15, 1896, only a year 
after "beginning the contract. Soon after, the Edmonston 
Avenue, Catonsville, and Ellieott City Electric Railway Co. 
and the Baltimore and Washington Turnpike and Tramway Co, 
were consolidated with the Columbia and Maryland Railway Co. 
by special act of the Maryland Legislature April 4, 1896, 
which on the same date approved an act authorizing the 
Maryland Agriffultural College to convey right of way to 
the Columbia and Maryland Railway Co. 

The University of Maryland 
College Park 

The rejuvenated company then assumed the in- 
debtedness of the Baltimore and Catonsville Construction 
Co. and the receiver for the construction company was dis- 
charged in July 1897. Construction was resumed, but six 
months later (lovember 1897) the Baltimore Security and 
Trading Company gained control of the Columbia and Maryland 


Railway Co. and immediately had it thrown into the hands 
of a receiver, Deo. 11, 1897, This was a very clever move, 
aiming to "freeze out" the small investors in the railway 
company. Consequently the company was sold by order of 
court on March 25, 1898 under foreclosure to Nicholas P. 
Bond, president of the Baltimore Security and Trading Co. 

This deal was approved by the Maryland Legislature 
May 16, 1898 - the name "Maryland Traction Company" being 
substituted for that of the Baltimore Security and Trading 
Co, by order of the Legislature. The "Maryland Traction 
Company" was then disposed of, the end running out of 
Baltimore being sold to what is now known as the United 
Railways, while that portion from the District of Columbia 
line was taken over by the Eckington and Soldier's Home 
Railway Co. Only the latter acquisition comes under the 
title of this paper, hence the fate of that portion taken 
over by the United Railways will not be taken up here . 

The acquisition of that portion of the "Maryland 
Traction Co." (called the Columbia and Maryland Railway Co. 
in the act of Congress) was approved by act of Congress, 
June 27, 1898. In this act also, the Eckington and Soldier's 
Home Railway Co. was authorized to change its name also to 
the City and Suburban Railway Company of Washington and to 
take over the Maryland and Washington Railway Co. (chartered 


by act of Congress of August 1, 1892) the route of 
which ran from 4th Street and Rhode Island Avenue, N. E. 
to the northeast boundary of the District of Columbia - 
now known as Mt. Ranier. This gave the City and Suburban 
Railway Co. complete franchise from the interior of Wash- 
ington to Laurel, but it only undertook to complete the 
line to Berwyn and did not include that portion of Berwyn 
to Laurel in its mortgage. Service was begun between Berwyn 
and the District of Columbia line early in 1899 by the 
City and Suburban Railway Co. 


The Berwyn and Laurel Electric Railroad Co. was 
then re-incorporated under the laws of Maryland on November 
12, 1901 to construct and operate an electric railway 
between the two Maryland towns whose names form the title 
of the company. This company was controlled by the Washing- 
ton, Baltimore, and Annapolis Electric Railway Co. which 
planned to build a connecting line from its lines at Anna- 
polis Junction to the Berwyn and Laurel Railroad Co. line at 
Laurel - a distance of about three miles. By act of the 
General Assembly of Maryland, passed Apr. 8, 1902 the name 
of the latter company was changed to "Washington, Berwyn, 
and Laurel Electric Railroad Company n - it having entered 
into a traffic agreement with the City and Suburban Railway 
Co. to operate over its lines between Berwyn and Washington. 


As stated in the act, the name change was made because it 
was considered to be "more appropriate." 

Crossing of Electric Line 
and taehington-Baltiaere 
Boulevard near Bel t evil le 

The line from Berwyn to Laurel was completed and 
formally opened on September 21, 1902. The first car to 
traverse it was the private car of Gen. George H. Harries, 
then president of the Washington Railway and Electric Co. 
of Washington which was to furnish power to the newly opened 
line. General Harries granted the use of his car to the 
major of laurel, Edward Phelps. Mr. Phelps had been actively 
interested in real estate and transportation development 
around Laurel, his name having appeared among the incorpora- 
tors of several of the earlier companies, and this was a day 
that seemed to him to be a great step taken toward the ulti- 
mate realization of the "country city" as described in a 
preceding paragraph. The car took the party over the entire 
Washington Railway and Electric Co. system that day. It 
must be remembered that in that day the Baltimore Pike hardly 
deserved its name and that the automobile was in its infancy. 



The Piivate Car of General George H. Harries which was 
the first to traverse the line of the Berryn and 

Laurel Electric Bill road e«*pany. Photograph shows 
the Mayor of Laurel and his party on the opening 
day, September 21 # 19° 2 » 


The plans of the Washington, Baltimore and 
Annapolis Electric Railway Co. failed to materialize, and 
it went into the hands of the receiver. This left the 
Washington, Berwyn, and Laurel Electric Railroad Go. without 
the support of its parent company, and suit was instituted 
in the United States Circuit Court for the District of Mary- 
land for the foreclosure of the mortgage on the company's 
property. A decree of foreclosure and sale was entered on 
July 6, 1910, and the property sold to the receivers of the 
Washington, Baltimore, and Annapolis Electric Railroad Co., 
who subsequently sold it to Clarence F. Norment (then presi- 
dent of the respondent companies, the Washington Ifailway and 
Electric Co. and of the City and Suburban Railway Co.) 
Norment and four others then incorporated the Washington, 
Berwyn, and Laurel Electric Railway Company on September 27, 
1910, under the laws of Maryland for the purpose of owning 
and operating the property of the former company. Subse- 
quently (October 20, 1910) the property of the new company 
was deeded to the City and Suburban Railway Co. 


In 1899, control of the majority of the stock of 

this company had been acquired by the Washington Traction 
and Electric Co. This stock became part of the securities 
obtained by the Washington Railway and Electric Co. at the 
time of the reorganization of the Washington Traction and 


Eleetric Co, February 4, 1902. On this same date, the 
Washington and Great Falls Electric Railway Co. acquired 
control of certain other companies and changed its name 
to that of the Washington Railway and Electric Co. - as 
authorized by act of Congress dates June 5, 1900 which gave 
certain companies the "right to enter into agreements with 
each other," Thus Congress officially sanctioned the con- 
solidation of street car lines in and around the District 
of Columbia. However, the City and Suburban Railway Co. 
had gone into the hands of the receiver on Qutober 11, 1901 
and remained in that condition until September 22, 1905. 
In the meantime, it was operated as a subsidiary of the 
Washington, Railway and Electric Co., and continued as such 
until Hovember 1, 1926. On this date (by authority contained 
in an act of Congress dated June 5, 1900) the Washington 
Railway and Electric Co. acquired all of the estate, property, 
rights, and franchises of the City and Suburban Railway Co. 
of Washington and thereby absorbed the corporate existence 
of the latter company. The above gives a sketch of the 
existence of the City and Suburban Railway Co. of Washington 
about which has centered much of the history of the Maryland 
Line of the Washington, Railway and Electric Co. and explains 
how the said line was acquired by that company by which it is 
now completely owned and operated. 


Service was suspended on the electric line "between 
Beltsville and Laurel in July 1925, and motor coach service 

Present Terminus of the 
Line at Beltsville 

substituted therefor. The policy of the railway company 
toward the town of Laurel, however, has "been very satisfactory. 
The company removed its tracks that ran through Laurel and 
on October 10, 1925 paid the town the sum of five hundred 
dollars to defray the expenses of gravel -surfacing the street 
from which the tracks had been removed. 

Former Location of Tracks 
Through Town of Laurel 


Through these various processes of progress and 


and evolution the establishment of the "Ma xy land Line of 
the Washington, Railway and Electric Co." has been shown. 
In its present state, the expectations of those by whom it 
was originally conceived have not been realized. The dream 

Beginning of Abandoned Section 
at Beltsvill* 

End of Abandoned Track at 

of the great "country city" has failed to materialize, and 
the present operation and control of the line by the Washington 
Railway and Electric Go, serves as another striking example 
of the "survival of the fittest." 

Station at the former 

End of Line 

at Laurel 



1. "Laws Relating to Street-railway Franchises in the 

District of Columbia, n G. P. 0. (1905) 

2. "Poor's Manual of Railroads." 1895 to 1901, 1905,1926 

3. Public Utilities Gomm, Opinion and Findings in Valuation 
case of Washington, Railway and Electric and City and 
Suburban (1919 - G. P. 0). 

4. Public Utilities Comm. Report (1926) 

5. Beginning of Street Railways in the National Capital. Dr. 
Wm, Tudall (Rec. of Columbia Historical Society 1918). 

6. Laws of Maryland 1888 to 1926. 

7. Public Gen. Laws of Maryland. 

8. Information also furnished byt 

H. M. Keyser - sect'y and asst Counsel of the Washington, 

Railway and Electric Company. 

Edward Phelps - formerly mayor of Laurel. 

Dr. Harry J. Patterson - Dean of Agricultural College, 

University of Maryland.