One Last Remnant of Washington’s Cable Cars Lives on in Georgetown

At the far western end of M St. stands the massive Car Barn. Built in 1895, the Car Barn served as a depot for the streetcars until they stopped running in 1962. After changing hands a couple times, the building now serves as extra space for Georgetown University. But GM just noticed a very cool feature in the building’s architecture that reflects its earlier use.

On the pediment of the building it still reads Capital Traction. The Capital Traction Co. was one of the earlier mass transit companies that operated in DC and it constructed the Car Barn with an intent for it to be a Union Station. As described by Wikipedia:

Union Station was designed to serve four streetcar companies: The old Washington and Georgetown lines would use the ground floor on M Street NW while the Washington, Arlington and Falls Church and the projected Great Falls and Old Dominion were to come across the Potomac from Rosslyn entering the second and third floors respectively on steeltrestles. The Metropolitan would use the roof. In reality, the Virginia companies never used it and the Metropolitan only sparingly so. The Washington and Great Falls took over the third floor. The station opened on May 27, 1897 and contained Washington’s only cable loop.

That’s right, for a very short while Washington DC had cable cars. From 1890-1899, the Washington and Georgetown Railroad and then its successor, Capital Traction, ran cable cars through the city.

And the old power source for the streetcars is reflected in the pediment. At each side and at the peak, there appears to be a “flying wheel” (somewhat like the Red Wings logo). But if you look close, you can see that they are actually models of the old cable car pulley:

The Car Barn was barely opened before Capital Traction moved away from cable power to electrical power. But 116 years later, a little piece of Washington’s brief flirtation with cable power remains.




Filed under History

9 responses to “One Last Remnant of Washington’s Cable Cars Lives on in Georgetown

  1. Anonymous, please: "Nemo"

    There is a fascinating history of street traction in the District of Columbia, “One Hundred Years of Capital Traction,” by LeRoy O. King, published in 1972. It’s in The Library of Congress collection, and very likely in the Peabody Room at the Georgetown Branch of the DCPL.

  2. …and Washington is trying to bring back the cable car, but not without it’s problems. Our old cars went to Sarajevo.

  3. M_B_G

    One Hundred Years of Capital Traction,” by LeRoy O. King can be found in the Washingtoniana Division of the DC Public Library; also Peter Kohler’s Capital Transit: Washington’s Street Cars: The Final Years 1933-1962.

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