52. M Street and Wisconsin Avenue

Washington Georgetown Railroad Company and Street Car

The streetcar era opened in the District of Columbia in 1862 when Washington and Georgetown Railroad received a charter from Congress to establish three horsecar lines. The first and longest, Washington Georgetown Railroad Company and Street Car ran a Georgetown to Navy Yard Route. It connected the Southeast Navy Yard, a major employment center for the city, to Georgetown’s main intersection at Wisconsin Avenue and M Street via the Capitol and Pennsylvania Avenue. The Civil War may have been the motivating factor.  With the arrival of hundreds of thousands of soldiers and government workers stationed and living in Foggy Bottom and Georgetown, efficient mass transportation became necessary. In 1864, the Metropolitan Railroad Company serviced 35th to Dupont Circle and later extended to 36th and P Street The Washington Great Falls Railroad started at 36th and P Street went to Glen Echo. From the beginning, there were many incidents of ridership discrimination.  It has been documented that an African American doctor on his way to court was pushed off the car platform when trying to enter the passenger compartment. Senator Charles, a Republican, was successful in advocating and the passage of legislation prohibiting discrimination in public transportation in 1865.  Enforcement was another issue.  African Americans continued to be harassed and physically banned or removed from a white occupied car.  One unfortunate incident experienced by Sojourner Truth while traveling to deliver medical supplies with a white friend, Laura Haviland, resulted in her being physically removed by the street car conductor, John C. Weeden, after refusing to sit “up near the horses.” With the aid of the Freedman Bureau, Ms. Truth filed assault and battery charges. Though the charges were eventually dropped, the publicity resulted in pressure on the streetcar companies to enforce the laws. Some streetcars refused to stop for African Americans. By 1866, discrimination significantly decreased on Washington public transportation. The intersection of O Street and Wisconsin Avenue served as another bustling hub where lines crossed and beauty and barber shops in the intersection’s vicinity accommodated passengers waiting to travel or returning from across town.  Many Georgetown African Americans rode the streetcar to school and work. In 2013, the Department of Transportation (DDOT) received a preservation award from the District of Columbia History Preservation Office and the DC Preservation League for the restoration of six blocks of O and P Streets 1890s-era granite paving stones and street car rails. It is rumored that the paving stones were once used as ballasts to weigh down the slave ships. Thus, a reminder of Georgetown’s long historic sordid past and contributions to transportation.