A Trolley Line Mystery

Trolley station at Great Falls Park, circa 1910While studying maps of western McLean, Va, where I grew up, I uncovered a mystery.

In 1902, magnate John McLean and politician Stephen Elkins started building a trolley line from Washington, DC, to Great Falls Park (photo at left; see Wikipedia). The tracks show up on maps from 1904 until their removal in the 1930s. The roadbed became Old Dominion Drive, one of the “main streets” of McLean, Va.

Here’s the mystery: The earliest maps showing the tracks between McLean and Great Falls route them differently from today’s Old Dominion Drive. The older maps show the tracks crossing Georgetown Pike near Madeira School, at a village called “Prospect Hill.” The tracks then cross Difficult Run next to the Pike’s bridge. Starting in about 1915, maps show the tracks following today’s Old Dominion Drive.

Why did it change? Was the first map wrong? That seems most likely to me, but still pretty surprising. I’m asking around for evidence that the tracks might have moved. I doubt there is any, but it’s worth investigating. [See update in a newer post]

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100 years of my childhood neighborhood

neighborhood

My neighborhood went through dramatic changes while I grew up. I was 10 miles from Washington, DC. Changes are even more dramatic since I left, about 40 years ago.

I went to the US Geological Survey and collected every map I could find of my neighborhood from 1890 through 1994. I lined them all up and made it into a video. It could be better, but it’s interesting.

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