THE HISTORY OF THE MARYLAND LIKE OF THE WASHINGTON RAILWAY
AND ELECTRIC COMPANY
THE PHI MU HONORARY ENGINEERING FRATERNITY
University of Maryland
James N. Wallace, '30
May 8, 19S9.
SUMMARY OF THESIS
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 —
COLUMBIA AKD MARYLAED RAILWAY CO. was chartered
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
CITY AMD SUBURBAN RAILWAY CO. of Washington,
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 —
BERWYN AMD LAUREL RAILROAD CO. which changed
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.
BUSINESS CONDITIONS OF THE TIME
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
WASHINGTON RAILWAY AND ELECTRIC CO. until Novem-
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.
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.
THE COLUMBIA AITD MARYLASD 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
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.
CONSTRUCTION BETWEEN BERWYN AND LAUREL.
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
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.
THE CITY AND SUBURBAN RAILWAY COMPANY OP WASHINGTON
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
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
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.