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History


Car Barn shows remnants of DC's brief foray into cable cars

At the far western end of M Street 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 one feature in the building's architecture 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. It constructed the Car Barn with an intent for it to be a Union Station.

As Wikipedia describes:

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. Its successor, Capital Traction, ran cable cars through the city.

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 closely, 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.

Cross-posted at the Georgetown Metropolitan.

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