The Metropolitan Branch of the B&O Railroad, which commenced passenger and freight operations on May 25, 1873, stretched at its completion from the northwest corner of Washington, D.C., to the mouth of the Monocacy River and revolutionized transportation and trade in Montgomery County. Washington Grove had a dedicated stop along the Metropolitan Branch, which carried excursionists and residents to the camp meeting’s annual gatherings. In 1873, the railroad built a train depot (no longer extant) at the Washington Grove station. It was a large, frame structure that sheltered an open waiting area.
The Metropolitan Branch was integral to the development of Washington Grove. Indeed, the founders of the camp meeting deliberately selected a site that was located along the route of the railroad, and the popularity of its trains (as many as twenty Sunday excursion trains a day during camp meetings) contributed to 12,000 people attending on a Sunday in 1882. The freight carried on the trains, delivered to Washington Grove’s freight yard, brought camp supplies and the building materials used to construct the camp meeting cottages and later era structures.
Following completion of double-tracking between Washington and Gaithersburg by 1893, the railroad expanded its facilities at Washington Grove in 1906 when it built a station house on the opposite side of the tracks from the depot. The station house had a ticket office and separate men’s and women’s waiting rooms.
The railroad was instrumental in the transition of Washington Grove from a seasonal resort to a thriving suburban enclave. In 1919, there were nine trains stopping at Washington Grove per day, enabling residents to commute to work. With the emergence of the automobile, use of the train declined. The station house was closed in 1954 and torn down soon after. The railroad also fostered the development of Oakmont, the late nineteenth-century subdivision across the tracks from Washington Grove, and the growth of Emory Grove, a nearby Methodist camp meeting established by African Americans.
(Note: The Metropolitan Branch of the B&O is listed on the Maryland Inventory of Historic Properties and was determined eligible for the National Register of Historic Places in 2000 due to its significance in the areas of architecture, community planning, economics, engineering, exploration/settlement, industry, transportation, and local history.)
Today a segment of the 66-foot-wide railroad corridor extends along the southern municipal boundary of Washington Grove and the northern edge of the rail corridor forms part of the boundary of the historic district. Views in both directions along Railroad Street of the railroad corridor and Washington Grove station, views from Railroad Street of the Humpback Bridge and its approaches, and views north from Railroad Street along Grove Avenue and Grove Road were important to the experience of arriving at or departing from Washington Grove, and these views continue to contribute to the setting of the historic district.
In the 1870s, the B&O Railroad built a timber, pony truss bridge about 600 feet northwest of the Washington Grove station. Called the Humpback Bridge after its distinctive shape, the structure greatly facilitated local travel, trade, and communication by providing a safe above-grade crossing at a blind curve in the tracks. By 1945, the bridge had become dilapidated, and, in response to complaints from Washington Grove residents, the railroad replaced the nineteenth-century structure with a new bridge in the same location. The new bridge was a three span, timber bridge with a humpback shape.
In 1986, CSX Transportation took over ownership and authority of the B&O line, and two years later carried out a major rehabilitation that replaced the timber beams with steel I-beams. Additional changes occurred in 2001, when the bridge was re-decked and the railings were replaced, and in 2009, when the timber bents supporting the bridge superstructure were replaced in kind. The most recent rehabilitation occurred in 2014. At that time, the bridge superstructure was disconnected from the approaches and substructure and demolished. The cap timbers of the bents were replaced with new cap timbers to raise the height of the bridge and support five new curved, steel I-beams. New wood decking cut to the original 22-inch width and new laminated guardrails were also installed. The rehabilitation preserved or replaced in-kind the character-defining elements of the structure related to its dimensions, details, profile, approaches, and landscape, and did not impact its eligibility for the National Register.
(Note: In 2009, the Humpback Bridge was determined eligible for the National Register of Historic Places due to its significance in the areas of transportation and community planning. As one of only two bridges built by the B&O over the Metropolitan Branch, the Humpback Bridge is also significant as a scarce historic resource. The other, the 1918 Talbot Avenue bridge, a steel girder bridge near Silver Spring, in the way of construction of the Purple Line light rail project; was demolished in 2019.)
Railroad Park, a small parcel of land on the south side of Railroad Street between Washington Grove Lane and Hickory Road, is owned by the town and comprised of land that was part of the original tract acquired by the Washington Grove Camp Meeting Association in 1873. It consists of a turf lawn informally planted with small trees and shrubs, and sits in the shadow of the silos and former feed mill at 671-681 East Diamond in adjacent Gaithersburg. Salvaged railroad ties are used as retaining walls in the park. Dedicated in 2003, the park commemorates Washington Grove’s historic ties to the B&O Railroad.