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History


Read about Silver Spring's ties to Tammany Hall

For a short time before the turn of the 20th century, a little bit of New York political intrigue played out in rural Montgomery County. A man named Carolan O'Brien Bryant, who tried (and failed) to build an estate in Four Corners also had ties to one of our nation's paragons of political corruption.


New York intrigue found its way to Silver Spring in the 1880s. New York Times, July 20, 1877.

In 1887, O'Brien Bryant began buying large farm tracts from an old Washington family, the Beales. Bryant began building a large estate where he hoped to enjoy old age and host national politicos drawn to Washington. Instead, his brief time there turned out to be a false start in the transformation of Montgomery County agricultural communities into inner-ring Washington suburbs.

Though nothing remains of Bryant's sprawling Four Corners estate, it is an intriguing chapter in Silver Spring history.

Born Carl Bryant, his entire family changed their names in 1859, adding the O'Brien middle name. Bryant first appears in the historical record in the 1860s working as a journalist in New York City. He became part of the Democratic political machine, serving in municipal office and the state legislature before running unsuccessfully for Congress in 1864. During the 1870s Bryant found himself on the edges of the infamous Tammany Hall's Tweed ring as a self-described confidant of William "Boss" Tweed.

"That Infamous Villain, Carolan O'Brien Bryant"

Bryant lived a life shrouded in mystery and bedeviled by controversy. In New York he made a living as a journalist, yet people speculated whether he was an attorney or a real estate speculator. Though he had friends and relatives among New York's elite business and political crowds, most people beyond his immediate family described him as a dishonest cad.

Even Bryant's appearance was a topic ripe for gossip. "He possessed an uncommon personality, and for a long period affected an oddity of attire and manner that accentuated his otherwise unique appearance," wrote the New York Times in Bryant's obituary. "He usually wore his hair very long, and in later years it fell in profuse folds about his shoulders." A witness in a lawsuit against Bryant once told the court, "He is a peculiar looking man, and any one who had seen him once would know him again."

In 1866 Bryant married the daughter of millionaire Manhattan tobacconist, John Anderson. Amanda Anderson Bryant died less than a decade into their marriage and Carolan began raising their two daughters and son alone, splitting his time between homes in Tarrytown and the city. Anderson died in late 1881, leaving two wills and kicking off more than a decade of legal battles over the estate, most of which turned on Anderson's alleged insanity.


Cover from the 800-page New York appeals court case file in the Grand Union Hotel Case.

Anticipating his windfall via his daughters, Bryant moved with them in mid-1882 into a Manhattan hotel. The owners extended Bryant credit for room and board in exchange for a promise of payment with interest once Anderson's estate settled. They also fronted money for the children's education, clothing, and other expenses. "I well recall the circumstances under which the defendants, Bryant, father and daughters, came to [the] Grand Union Hotel," owner James Shaw told a New York court in 1885. "They were in destitute circumstances."

After three years, in 1885, the hotel owners wanted to collect the debt, which they claimed exceeded $19,000. They had learned through newspapers that funds from Anderson's estate for the Bryants were available and Bryant had refused to settle his accounts.

A sumptuous estate

The Bryants left the hotel in April 1885. By late 1887, as the hotel lawsuit was working its way through New York appellate courts, Bryant was in the Washington area. He bought two large tracts in Four Corners at the intersection of Bladensburg (now University Boulevard) and Colesville Roads. At the time, Four Corners was a sleepy rural crossroads hamlet with a few stores, a church, and homes.


Four Corners, c. 1894, showing Bryant's properties. Library of Congress map.

Bryant quickly began preparing the land to build a large mansion. He constructed a sawmill and used an existing home on the property as temporary lodging while construction proceeded. Local legends preserved in early 20th century newspaper stories suggest that Bryant salvaged stone and wood from New York mansions and recycled the materials in his new estate. The New York Times described it as a "large and expensive home" and the Washington Evening Star wrote that Bryant had built "a costly and elaborate house [with] fine grounds all around it." Others described it as a "palatial residence."

No photographs of Bryant's Four Corners mansion are known to have survived. Observers described it as lavishly furnished with a full library and art works. As for the grounds, one account noted that Bryant had built a conservatory.


New York World, November 8, 1894.

In 1894, Bryant lost the final Grand Union Hotel appeal and the New York press reported on his "$22,000 Board Bill." Despite the legal and financial setback, Bryant continued work on the Four Corners property. Three years later, he decided to sell the unfinished manse to a trio of Washington speculators.

The sale was completed August 13, 1897; less than a month later, Bryant died in Washington. Born sometime in the late 1830s, he was in his sixties when he died. His daughters, Amanda and Agnes, inherited what was left of his estate, and they lived the remainder of their lives in Allegany County, New York.

Bryant's mansion was destroyed in a "statutory burning"

As for Bryant's Four Corners mansion, it burned to the ground one week after his death. Officials determined that the fire was arson and the new owners were arrested in Washington and brought to Rockville for trial on charges of "statutory burning." Shortly after their arrest, two additional men were arrested and charged with conspiring to blackmail one of the accused arsonists. The criminal and civil cases spanned more than a decade.


Woodmoor subdivision, Silver Spring. Photo by the author.

Bryant and his daughters are buried in Rock Creek Cemetery. By the second decade of the twentieth century, the former mansion site was little more than an overgrown ruin. The property passed through several owners until the 1930s when a Washington developer bought it and began developing the Woodmoor subdivision. Once conceived as a grand Victorian suburban retreat, Bryant's property became an ordinary residential subdivision with no physical clues to its storied past.

Transit


Montgomery County will build bus rapid transit in four years

After nearly a decade of debate, Montgomery County wants to build a bus rapid transit line in four years, for 20% of the originally estimated cost. While it'll be a better bus service, it may not be so rapid.


Montgomery County could get this, sort of. Photo by BeyondDC on Flickr.

Last month, the county announced its plan to build a 14-mile BRT line along Route 29 (also known as Colesville Road and Columbia Pike) from the Silver Spring Transit Center to Burtonsville. It's part of a larger, 80-mile system that's been studied since 2008 and was officially approved in 2013. County Executive Ike Leggett wants to have this line up and running by the end of 2019, an ambitious timeline. The county also says they can do it for $67.2 million, compared to the $350 million county planners previously predicted.

How? Most bus rapid transit systems, like the new Metroway in Northern Virginia, have a separate roadway for buses that gets them out of traffic and provides a shorter, more reliable travel time.

On Route 29, the county envisions running buses on the shoulder between Burtonsville and Tech Road, where it's basically a highway. Further south, as Route 29 becomes more of a main street, the county would turn existing travel lanes into HOV-2 lanes for buses and carpools. For about three miles closer to downtown Silver Spring, buses would run in mixed traffic. This setup allows the county to build the line without widening the road anywhere, which saves on land and construction costs.


Map from Montgomery County.

The line would have other features that can reduce travel time and improve the current bus riding experience. Each of the 17 stations would feel more like a train station, with covered waiting areas, real-time travel info, and fare machines so riders can pay before getting on. At some stoplights, buses would get the green light before other vehicles. Buses would come every six minutes during rush hour, and every 10 minutes the rest of the time.

County officials estimate that 17,000 people will use the service each day by 2020 and 23,000 people will ride it each day in 2040. The line, which would be part of the county's Ride On bus system, would replace express Metrobus routes along Route 29, though existing local bus routes would remain.

Montgomery County would cover half the cost of building the line, while the other half would come from the US Department of Transportation's TIGER grant program for small-scale transportation projects. In addition, the grant would include money for sidewalks, bike lanes, covered bike parking at stations, and 10 bikesharing stations along the corridor. The county will find out if it's won the grant money this fall.

The project could give Montgomery County somewhat better transit now

This plan could bring better bus service to East County, which has been waiting for rapid transit since it was first proposed in 1981. The Metrobus Z-line along Route 29 is one of the region's busiest, with over 11,000 boardings each day, but riders face delays and long waits.

East County lacks the investment that more affluent parts of the county enjoy, and so residents must travel long distances for jobs, shopping, or other amenities. Residents suffer from poor access to economic opportunities: according to the county's grant application, 30% of the area's 47,000 households are "very low income." County officials hope that better transit could support big plans to redevelop White Oak and Burtonsville.

While not having dedicated transit lanes makes this project easy to build, it also makes it hard to provide a fast, reliable transit trip. Enforcing the HOV lanes will be hard, especially south of New Hampshire Avenue where the blocks are short and drivers are constantly turning onto Route 29 from side streets. And without dedicated lanes in congested Four Corners, buses will simply get stuck in traffic with everyone else, discouraging people from riding them.

The route also includes two spurs along Lockwood Drive and Briggs Chaney Road, each of which serves large concentrations of apartments where many transit riders live, but would force buses on huge, time-consuming detours. One possibility is that some buses could go straight up Route 29 while others take the scenic route. But that's basically how the existing bus service on the corridor already works.

This could make the case for rapid transit

This might be a temporary solution. The county and state of Maryland will continue planning a "real" bus rapid transit line that might have its own transitway, but that could take several years.

In the meantime, the county needs to build support for better transit. BRT has broad support across the county, but many residents are still skeptical. Supporters and opponents alike have been confused and frustrated by the lack of information on the county's progress in recent months.

By getting something on the ground now, Montgomery County can show everyone how BRT really works sooner, rather than later. Despite the shorter timeframe, it's important to make sure this service actually improves transit, and that residents actually know what's going on.

Transit


An express bus line from downtown to Mount Rainier is one step closer to reality

Neighborhoods around Rhode Island Avenue NE were built to depend on transit. A new express bus, the G9, is one step closer to running along the corridor, from downtown to Mount Rainier.


If Far East Movement took the bus. Base photo by Dan Malouff.

WMATA first proposed the G9 in 2014, after studying the way transit use was changing along Rhode Island Avenue into Prince George's County. The DC Council made a huge push toward making the line a reality Tuesday night, with a unanimous first vote for a FY17 budget that includes $1.04 million for the G9.

"The proposed G9 bus line will service Rhode Island Avenue from 14th Street NW to just beyond the District's border at Eastern Ave NE, thereby filling that gap and alleviating congestion on the G8 and other bus lines that offer partial service to the Rhode Island Avenue NE corridor," said Ward 5 councilmember Kenyan McDuffie.

Here's a full map of the planned route:


The proposed G9 route, from WMATA. A bigger version is on page 25 of this report.

This is extremely welcome news to residents of the Rhode Island Avenue corridor, who are looking at an almost one-month shutdown of their portion of the Red Line during SafeTrack.

As of press time, neither WMATA nor McDuffie's office had responded to questions about when, exactly, residents can expect the G9 to start running. We'll update the post as soon as we hear back.

But for now, let's take a moment to celebrate this bit of good transit news—it's a welcome bit of sunshine on a rainy horizon.

Popping bottles in the ice, like a blizzard
When we drink we do it right gettin slizzard
Sippin sizzurp in my ride, like Three 6 689
Now I'm feeling so fly like a G6 G9
Like a G6 G9, Like a G6 G9
Now I'm feeling so fly like a G6 G9
Like a G6 G9, Like a G6 G9
Now I'm feeling so fly like a G6 G9

Bicycling


There's bikeshare in College Park now, but it isn't Capital Bikeshare. Here's why.

College Park just debuted its own bike share system, called mBike instead of Capital Bikeshare (CaBi). Some say not going with CaBi was a mistake, but it looks like College Park made a rational decision.


One of College Park's new mBike stations. Image from the University of Maryland.

The mBike system has 14 stations and 125 bikes, including a few two-seater tricycles. The docking stations require a smartphone app to unlock a bike, and the bikes come with their own locks so you can stop and lock up somewhere other than a dock.

Separate systems can make it harder to travel between neighboring places

mBike's provider company is called Zagster, which is different from Motivate, the company that runs CaBi. Some have said that this will be a problem because the mBike network is simply much smaller than the CaBi one, which has over 300 stations.

Another concern is that separate systems in places so close to one another will make each system less useful to potential riders. If someone routinely goes from one town to another and would consider using bikeshare to do it, they don't have that opportunity.

To illustrate this point, imagine if Fairfax or Arlington decided to introduce its own fare card for its bus systems and stopped accepting Metro SmarTrip cards. Many people who primarily use Metrobus or rail would likely hold on to their cards, and the hassle of getting a new card for a specific location might discourage them from using the bus to go there, or from going there in the first place.

Separate systems can lead to artificial barriers between neighboring places. For example, in New Jersey, the cities of Jersey City and Hoboken are currently in a bitter conflict stemming from a decision to not go in together on a bike share system. Jersey City decided to join Citibike, which is the system that New York City uses, while Hoboken went with Hudson Bike Share.

It's gotten ugly, as both cities have taken steps to try and prevent users of one system from riding in the "territory" of the other—there are even laws that say Hudson Bike Share bikes can't be parked near PATH Railway stations in Jersey City.

Locally, Car2Go seems to have recently recognized the pitfalls of walling systems off from one another. It used to be that users couldn't drive the vehicles from Arlington into DC and vice-versa because of various parking rules and the fact that each government had to negotiate separately with the company. Car2Go lifted that rule last week.

College Park had logical reasons to go with its own system

There are, however, reasons to think mBike was the right move. For starters, the system's biggest purpose is to serve people needing to get around the University of Maryland—there likely wouldn't have been a lot of people riding bikeshare between College Park and stations inside DC or other areas.

It's also possible that College Park really didn't even have a choice. When the city began planning for a bikeshare system in 2013, it set out to use Alta (now Motivate), the company that runs Capital Bikeshare. But when one of Alta's main bike suppliers went into bankruptcy, production halted on all of the company's systems, including CaBi. That left College Park in a lurch.

After Alta reorganized and emerged from the supplier squeeze as Motivate, the price for new bikes and docking stations jumped. College Park put its plans to use CaBi on hold, and eventually canceled them. Instead, the city asked other bikeshare companies to enter bids, which eventually led to Zagster.

In the end, Zagster's bid turned out to be cheaper on a bike by bike basis, which allowed College Park to purchase more bikes and docking stations than it had been planning to do with CaBi. Even though mBike is a small system, there are more bikes available in the immediate College Park area than there would have been with CaBi.

Switching between mbike and CaBi could one day be pretty easy

For now, mBike has the summer to get itself established before the next school year. If the system is successful, College Park may choose to expand it around town on the Maryland campus.

Meanwhile, the rest of Prince George's County and its cities are still studying their own bikeshare options. The results of that study may still lead to the county going with CaBi in places like National Harbor or other communities along the Green Line. In places like Hyattsville, which is in between College Park and areas in DC that have CaBi, the dynamics will be a bit more complicated.

Hopefully, the outcome will be that the two systems can co-exist. Options for that might include passes that are interchangeable, docks right next to one another, or something else.

In the interim, both College Park and the governments that work with CaBi should work together to make things easier for members so no one feels like they have to choose one membership over the other. Reciprocity could be granted for members or a discount on certain types of membership. This has also been an idea floated for current CaBi members who may travel to other cities with bikeshare systems operated by Motivate.

And even CaBi members and fans may want to pay close attention to Zagster. The bikes themselves are a little different and maybe future CaBi models could incorporate some design features like a bigger basket. Accessibilty advocates and people interested in different models of cycling may also want to pay attention to how the tricycles are used. If those models prove popular it may behoove CaBi to improve its own accessibility and even possibly introduce its own different types of bikes.

Right now only time will tell if College Park ultimately made the right decision. But what we do know suggests that the city wasn't totally crazy to not wait around for CaBi.

Bicycling


College Park is launching a bikeshare system!

Prince George's County's first bikeshare system, mBike, is launching today in College Park.


The mBike station near the Greenbelt Metro. Photo by Dan Janousek.

mBike has 150 bicycles and 14 stations, located throughout College Park and the University of Maryland campus. Seven stations are spread out evenly within the UMD campus, generally in front of key destinations such as the Stamp Student Union, the Eppley Recreation Center, and one near an entrance to the Paint Branch Trail.

Four of the stations are located along Baltimore Avenue, along the Route 1 corridor, including one station at City Hall, another at a hotel, and a third near Northgate Park and Varsity Apartments. There is one mBike station at the College Park Metro station, which will be helpful for students and visitors to travel from the Metro station to downtown and the UMD campus, an approximate five-to-ten minute bike ride.

The last two stations are placed in the Hollywood neighborhood of College Park, one at the Holllywood Shopping Center near the REI store and the other near the Greenbelt Metro.

The cost of bike share memberships range from a $6 day-membership to a $65 annual membership. Regardless of membership type, the first hour of use is free and then costs $3 per hour. Similar to other bike share systems, riders can have unlimited rides at no additional charge as long as they formally end their trip at a station within one hour.


All images from Zagster unless otherwise noted.

mBike uses smart bike technology, which allows users to access a bicycle with a smart phone or text message. The app or the text message provides the rider with a code which gives them access to a key attached to the bike. The technology is fast evolving and it's possible that future versions will have Bluetooth or wireless locks.

Since the mBike bicycles have their own integrated bike locks, users can stop mid-trip and safely lock their bike share bicycle to any bike rack to run an errand or take a break before returning the bicycle to a mBike station in College Park.

The mBike system isn't compatible with the Capital Bikeshare system; College Park officials reached out to Motivate (formerly Alta), CaBi's operator, during the procurement process, but the company didn't submit a proposal.

Zagster, a bike share operating firm that manages programs in many cities and university campuses including Carmel, Indiana, Medford, Oregon, and the University of Ohio Ohio State University is managing mBike. Zagster also operates a bike share system for BWI airport, allowing travelers and airport employees to ride the BWI Trail.

This system will be an excellent opportunity for College Park, Prince George's County, and anyone interested in bikeshare to experience a system that uses a different type of technology than what has been used in other parts of the region, as well as being a valuable transportation option for people in the area.

In addition to bikeshare for College Park, Prince George's County is currently engaged in a feasibility study to determine the best approach for bringing bikeshare to the Anacostia Trails Heritage Area and National Harbor. Findings from the feasibility study are expected this summer.

There's a kick-off event for the launch today, at 3pm on the University of Maryland campus.

History


Learn about Spa Spring, a lost Bladensburg park

Our region is chock full of parks with histories as magnificent as the settings they created, but some have been forgotten. Land that's now part of the Anacostia Tributary Trail System used to be Spa Spring Park, a place with close ties to Washington's history as well as one of the city's most curious historical characters, engineer and reputed con-man James Crutchett.


Anacostia River Stream Valley Park, formerly Spa Spring Park. Photo by the author.

Bladensburg is an 18th-century Prince George's County town that hugs the east bank of the Anacostia River. Just outside of the original town limits there was an undeveloped and frequently flooded tract with free-flowing springs. Today it includes property within the Maryland-National Capital Planning Commission's Anacostia River Stream Valley Park and Bladensburg's light industrial fringes. But 200 years ago it was part of Henri Joseph Stier's 729-acre Riversdale plantation.

By the first decade of the 19th century the springs had been dubbed "Spa Spring" and they were becoming a popular early tourist attraction. Stier's daughter, Rosalie Stier Calvert (1778-1821), wrote some of the earliest surviving descriptions of the springs in letters to her father, a Belgian expatriate who had returned to Europe. "The waters of Spa Spring have suddenly gained such a reputation that Dougherty's house is not large enough to handle the crowds of the fashionable who come to drink the waters every day," wrote Calvert in 1803.


1804 Bladensburg tavern ad touting nearby Spa Spring. Photo credit University of Maryland Libraries.

Though Calvert's father encouraged her husband, George Calvert, to develop the property and be vigilant about "inconsiderate and tiresome" visitors, the spa spring property remained undeveloped for much of the 19th century.

Washington newspapers regularly ran advertisements for local pharmacies that were selling the spa spring's famed water. In 1890 a Virginia newspaper published an unflattering description of Bladensburg that included a section on the spring. "A spa spring of chalybeate water flows uselessly away at one end of the only street of the village," wrote the Fredericksburg Freelance. "And the picture of gloom is completed with two or three taverns, rendezvous for negroes."

Spa Spring changed hands, to a fabled owner

In 1852, Washington resident James Crutchett bought ten acres of the former plantation, including the spa spring site. Crutchett (1816-1889) arrived in Washington in the 1840s with plans to light the city using a gas manufacturing system he patented. His resume includes mounting a gas lantern on top of the Capitol in 1847 and selling objects carved from wood harvested at Mt. Vernon to fund completion of the Washington Monument. Accusations of fraud followed Crutchett from Massachusetts to Washington throughout the 19th century.

Controversy followed Crutchett throughout his life. Newspapers frequently wrote about his questionable reputation and, in 1861 when the Union Army seized his Capitol Hill property, Crutchett was sitting in a Massachusetts jail cell on charges of failing to pay a debt after being taken into custody in Washington.

Crutchett never exploited the spa spring or its water during the 30 years that he owned the property. In March of 1886, in failing health and into his third decade seeking restitution for the Union army occupation of his Capitol Hill property, Crutchett gifted the spa spring property to the federal government. "The use of said spring and land has for these many years not been developed," Crutchett wrote in the deed transferring the property to the United States.


1879 map of Bladensburg. Arrow indicates Spa Spring Park location. Credit: Atlas of fifteen miles around Washington by G.M. Hopkins.

Bladensburg in 1854 had annexed the Crutchett Spa Spring tract. Maps published after the Civil War illustrate the private property as "Bladensburg Park." Despite a clear chain of title, visitors and Bladensburg residents used the property as a recreational site, though it didn't become public property until Crutchett's donation.

Folklore misplaces Spa Spring Park

Today, a lot of people say that the spa spring site is where the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission built a sewage intake facility in the 1940s. Local historian Dick Charlton said in a 2008 interview with the Gazette newspaper that he believed that the spring was capped and that WSSC built a circular brick building on the site. "I suppose you have to do something with [the sewage], but to us, it's kind of a sacrilege," Charlton told reporter Elahe Izadi.


Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission building long believed to be built on Spa Spring site. Photo by the author.

That actually isn't true, though; the WSSC site was was constructed in the area historically known as Spa Woods, a tract situated east of the Spa Spring. The utility bought the property in 1935 from T. Howard and Josephine Duckett. Over the next several years, WSSC bought additional properties and rights-of-way to complete its sewage facility. The brick building constructed there first appears in a county real estate atlas published in 1940 and subsequent Sanborn fire insurance maps.

The actual Spa Spring location ultimately was transferred to the City of Bladensburg around the turn of the 20th century. In 1940 it was one of two parcels Bladensburg sold the M-NCPPC; the other was the city's former jail site (west of Baltimore Ave.). Both parcels were incorporated into new county parklands that flank the Anacostia River.

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