Georgetown Time Machine: P St. Bridge

This week for Georgetown Time Machine, GM is exploring an absolutely lovely photo of an earlier incarnation of the P St. Bridge.

The photo comes from the DCPL archives and came to GM’s attention by way of the fantastic Old Time DC Facebook group. It shows the bridge in the late 19th century.

Riding across the top is a horse-drawn trolley. It would have likely been from the Metropolitan Railway, which operated from 1864 until being acquired in 1902. It ran cars along the green lines below:

It was the Metropolitan that constructed the trolley lines along O and P St. that are still visible (albeit in reconstructed form).

This particular car in the photo appears to have run between Georgetown and the Capitol (according to the destination signs along the top) and was pulled by two horses.

The Metropolitan continued to use horses until Congress ordered it to switch to electric, which it did in 1894. Due to laws against overhead wires in the city core, the Metropolitan was forced to run the power along buried conduits between the tracks. The cars would drop a shoe into the slot to get the power. It was the first successful use of this technology in the western hemisphere.

As mentioned above the Metropolitan was purchased in 1902 and came under the Washington Railway and Electric Co. This became part of Capital Transit in 1933, which operated until 1956 when its monopoly was revoked by Congress and sold to Roy Chalk, who renamed it DC Transit. It lasted until the creation of WMATA in 1973.

The bridge itself dates to 1855 and lasted until it was replaced by the current structure in 1935. After an inexplicable request from the Dupont ANC in 2006, the city renamed the Lauzun’s Legion Bridge, a name that absolutely zero people ever use.

4 Comments

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4 responses to “Georgetown Time Machine: P St. Bridge

  1. georgetowncitizen

    The Dupont ANC’s request to rename the P St. Bridge Lauzun’s Legion bridge is indeed inexplicable. The Legion was a relatively small force (1000 and probably closer to 600) of mercenaries in the service of France, 2/3 of them non-French and the majority German. It proved the most undisciplined and unruly element of the French forces in America during the Revolutionary War, and it scored the highest desertion rate. Apart from a couple very minor skirmishes, its only “significant” (if you can call it that) engagement during the Revolutionary War was a helpful but distinctly secondary skirmish (fewer than 20 casualties) with Col Bannister Tarleton’s British cavalry near Gloucester, VA, which aided the American/French forces in pushing a bit closer to (but not breaking) the British lines there…about 1.5 miles from Yorktown. The real action and the final victory at Yorktown occurred elsewhere. There’s a modern day reenactment group called Lauzun’s Legion. Maybe one of their number was on the Dupont ANC when the latter made its “implicable” request!

  2. Thomas Neale

    The reason for naming the P Street Bridge may rest on the fact that between July 18-22, 1782, Lauzun’s Legion camped near the site of the P Street Bridge on their return march from Yorktown. The camp was said to be on the level ground between Rock Creek and DuPont Circle, stretching south from approximately P and Q Streets. The Legion was part of the much larger French army, including the Count de Rochambeau’s four infantry regiments, the Royal Deux-Ponts, Soissonais, Saintonge, and Bourbonnais, After the siege and battle at Yorktown, the army went into winter camp and then made the long march to Boston, where they embarked on transports for the return trip to France.

    Although Lauzun’s Legion was not present the previous year, in 1781 the combined French-American baggage train had camped at the same location on their way south to Yorktown. After several days of preparation, the supply train was ferried across the Potomac from Georgetown downriver to Alexandria on September 24-25, whence it proceeded to Yorktown. The French army’s military artists prepared an elegant folio set of water colors (now held by the Library of Congress) depicting the whole campaign.

    The passage of the supply train in September of 1781, and of over 5,000 French troops the following July, must have presented a remarkable spectacle to the few farmers who lived by the camp ground east of Rock Creek, as well as to the citizens of the quiet tobacco port of Georgetown.

  3. Topher

    That’s still a really weak reason to name a bridge! It should have been named after something that has actual significance to the area. My preference would have been Herring Hill Bridge, but surely a name from Dupont’s LGBTQ community would also be a fitting honor.

  4. georgetowncitizen

    Good idea, Topher. Why not name it the Frank Kameny Bridge, after the pioneer of LGBTQ rights? After all, the Dupont Circle neighborhood in his era was the center of the (white) gay community in DC. He preceded Martin Luther King as a “drum major for justice” (to borrow King’s words) for that community both in DC and in the nation as a whole. It’s no coincidence, I’m sure, that Dupont’s Metro station entrance carries a carved inscription from Walt Whitman, the gay poet. Why not name the bridge after Kameny?

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