Streetcars on Wisconsin Avenue


Conductor Terrance Sellers on the open platform of car No. 1 of the Georgetown & Tenallytown Street Railway. (Photo courtesy of Mike Copperthite)

Conductor Terrance Sellers on the open platform of car No. 1 of the Georgetown & Tenallytown Street Railway, circa 1890. (Photo courtesy of a descendant.)


Streetcars were operating between the Navy Yard and Georgetown as early as 1862, and after the Civil War it was suggested that a new streetcar line might be in the interest of the landowners at the upper end of Georgetown. “The butchers of Georgetown are urged to build a trolley up High Street to improve their property value and make it eligible for residences.” (Georgetown Courier, July 11, 1868)

It is highly likely that the suggestion originated with the butchers themselves, and when a bill was introduced in the House to incorporate the Georgetown and Tenallytown Railway Company, its incorporators included three of the most prosperous meat dealers who resided in what is now Glover Park:  Joseph Weaver, Jacob H. Kengla, and Benjamin F. Hunt.  “It is mainly the butchers on the Heights who have the matter in charge.”  (Georgetown Courier, December 19, 1874; January 23, 1875)

“A bill to incorporate the Georgetown and Tennallytown Railroad Company was introduced in the Senate yesterday“. Incorporators included Jacob H. Kengla, William J. Thompson, Maurice J. Adler. (“The Free Bridge Bill”, Washington Post, May 11, 1886, p.1)

The Georgetown and Tenallytown Railway was not chartered until 1888, by which time the butchers had been relegated to the sidelines by other investors; chief among them, the banker and developer John W. Thompson (see Cathedral Heights and Massachusetts Avenue Heights). Besides Thompson, the incorporators the Georgetown and Tenallytown Railway were Richard H. Goldsborough, William J. Thompson, Henry H. Dodge, W.K. Ryan, Osceola C. Green and Norval W. Burchell, of the District of Columbia; Arthur E. Bateman, T.W. Pearsall and Harvey Durand, of New York; and Nathaniel W. Bowe and John A. Code, of Richmond.  (“The District In Congress––The Georgetown and Tennallytown Railroad Bill Awaits the President’s Signature”, Washington Post, August 9, 1888, p.6)


“Considerable progress has been made in the work of constructing the Georgetown & Tenallytown Railroad. The power-house, adjoining the Home Industrial School, is in course of erection.” (The Street Railway Journal, September, 1889)


W.H. Holmes and other antiquarians were on the scene during construction of the powerhouse and carbarn, looking for prehistoric artifacts in a ravine where they suspected a Paleo-Indian “workshop” might have been.



“The Georgetown and Tenallytown barn, on the east side of Wisconsin Avenue at Calvert Street. It had a coal fired steam power plant. The picture, probably taken in 1900, shows two ex-Columbia 60-69 series center aisle open motors in the barn.” (in LeRoy King, 100 Years of Capital Traction)



The photograph was taken in 1909, when the car barn was superseded by the Harrison Street Yard (still used by Metrobus today). By 1914 the car barn had gone the way of all disused frame buildings of that era, i.e. it had burned down.  (in LeRoy King, 100 Years of Capital Traction).


Service between Tenleytown and Georgetown began in 1890.


“Georgetown.––The Electric Cars Running.––The formal opening of the Tenleytown electric road took place yesterday afternoon.This morning the cars began running on regular schedule time. the officers and directors of the road, together with a number of invited guests, went over the road yesterday and inspected the appointments. At the power house, which is on the line of the road adjoining the grounds of the Industrial Home School, a lunch was served. The road is completed thus far to a point on the Tenleytown road just south of where Massachusetts avenue extended crosses the road. The company, however, expect to complete in a short time the line of the road as far as Tenleytown. The system employed is the same as the one in use on the Eckington electric road. Overhead wires are used and the power house is said to be very complete in its equipments. The tracks are laid from the foot of Water street, up 32d and out on the Tenleytown road. The president of the road, Ge. Dunn, has given his personal attention to the work of construction and the road is said to be first-class in all its equipments.”  (Star, April 25, 1890, p.8)


In 1897 the Washington and Rockville Railway was formed, and the track reached Rockville in 1900.


“A coal car of the Tenleytown railway loaded with 5 tons of coal got loose on “Pole Hill,” the steep grade beyond the power house a short distance above Tunlaw Road [Calvert Street]. As the coal car sped past the powerhouse a phone message was sent to the drugstore at O street, but the crash had already occurred by the time the message was received. The coal car reached more than 60 m.p.h. It crashed into a streetcar at the SE corner of Wisconsin and Dumbarton, Weaver’s Meat Store. Seconds before the collision forty people cleared out of the second car.”  (Star, August 28, 1899)


Real estate advertisements for the first houses on Hall Place stressed access to streetcars. “Convenient to modern double car line: excellent service. To reach these houses take Wisconsin ave. car and get off at Observatory Place.” (Star, November 4, 1911. Observatory Place was the original name of the east-west leg of Hall Place.)


“Take Tenleytown cars to W place northwest, walk one short square west.” (Star, September 21, 1912)


“The gas station was Amoco, and the drugstore was Pearson’s, where Dad got the streetcar to go downtown. Downtown the power for the streetcar was underground, but when it got to Georgetown the motorman stopped and attached the trolley line to a wire overhead, and continued up Wisconsin Avenue. After a few years we got bus service.” (Margaret Hunt: Childhood in Glover Park, 1926-1939)




Number 30, Friendship Heights Line, on Weaver Hill (2019-2106 Wisconsin Avenue), taken between 1955 and 1962.  (Joseph J. Jessel Collection, Historical Society of Washington)


A D.C. Transit streetcar in the 2200 block of Wisconsin Avenue, at W Place NW, June 1959. The southbound car is passing in front of the apartment building at 3507 W Place. (Old Time D.C.)




The last streetcar came up Wisconsin Avenue on January 3, 1960.  (LeRoy King, 100 Years of Capital Traction)




The streetcar’s successor: Capital Transit’s D1 to Glover Park, in the late 1950s.  (Clarence W. Sorensen Collection, University of Wisconsin; thanks to Andrew Ratliff, Old Time D.C.)



For more information, see:

John DeFerrari, “Capital Streetcars: Early Mass Transit in Washington, D.C.” (2015)

Peter C. Kohler, “Capital Transit: Washington’s Street Cars: The Final Era, 1933-1962” (2001)

Leroy O. King, “100 Years of Capital Traction: The Story of Streetcars in the Nation’s Capital” (1972)




Carlton Fletcher

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