A History of the Falls Road Streetcar Line
Speeding into oblivion - Very late into its existence, Peter Witt 6024 zips along Kelly Avenue along Route #48. Bill Volkemer Coll. from Dave's Rail Pix
Certainly among the most varied and interesting streetcar routes was the Falls Road Line, and its Cheswolde branch. This line was among the favorites of railfans for its rich and colorful settings.
This line derived from the Baltimore and Northern Railway, the rough and tumble enterprise that originally sought to connect Baltimore to the Interurban lines of South Central Pennsylvania. The line managed to make it as far Northward as Emory Grove, and was eventually realigned after B&N's consolidation to be fed from the Park Heights Avenue Streetcar line. The #25 line, as it was known came about from the branch of the B&N that served Electric Park, the famed Amusement Park located on the South side of Belvedere Avenue at present day Cordelia Avenue, and just across the street from what would be Belvedere Car House.
At the turn of the century, the Falls Road Line travelled from Calvert and Baltimore Streets in the city out Calvert, Read, Charles, Lafayette, Falls, Kelly, Cross Country, Ken Oak, Pimlico, and Belvedere to Electric Park and continued via Belvedere, a private right-of-way, Elderon, Laredo, Fernhill, another p-r-w, into Gwynn Oak, and terminating at Gwynn Oak Junction at Liberty Heights Avenue. Returning cars followed basically the same route, except using Fernhill and Granada to access Elderon.
At the same time as this, the original segment of the Baltimore & Northern mainline from Arlington Junction to Druid Ridge Cemetery was operated as a shuttle (jerkwater) between the two points. Most of this line operated along private rights of way, starting at Cross Country Boulevard, and following a curved treste to reach a side reservation running along side Greenspring Avenue. Upon reaching present day Cheswolde Road, the line then crossed Greenspring and headed West-Northwest for a distance (the start of the grade is still visible), eventually heading about due West along a stetch that is now Northbrook Road. Then, just after crossing current day Seven Mile Lane, the line swiftly curved Northwest and then West-Northwest to meet a stream at the curve in Park Heights Avenue just South of Old Court Road. At Old Court, the line turned West and followed the Southern boundary of Druid Ridge Cemetery to terminate at Reisterstown Road, just South of the gate.
This initial setup did not last very long. In May of 1901, the #25 routing was revised in the Hampden area to operate via 36th Street, Chestnut Avenue, 33rd Street, a private right of way, an impressive streetcar-only trestle across Stony Run that led the car into Huntingdon Avenue, 25th Street, and Charles Street to resume the line at Lafayette. This routing was drastically different from the original, and it believed that this original segment continued to operate either as a shuttle or as a tripper destination to which selected through trips operated. This perceived arrangement could have perhaps lasted as late as 1914.
In 1903, the elaborate routing along Elderon Avenue in West Arlington was simplified. Cars now used Belvieu Avenue and the private right-of-way in both directions in order to reach Gwynn Oak Junction. Baltimore's transit received an early dose of NIMBYism in 1907 when residents along the 1900 to 2400 blocks of Charles Streets protested for the removal of the Streetcars from their thorofare, and cars changed their course to operate along Maryland Avenue from 25th Street to North Avenue.
In 1909, the shuttle operation was slightly extended to operate to Mount Washington. Later, in 1910, the West Arlington-Gwynn Oak Junction service was relinquished to operate under the new Woodlawn extension of Route #3, and as a result, all #25 cars terminated at Electric Park, where Belvedere Car House also now resided.
The Downtown routing was revised greatly in 1915, as the #25 absorbed in most of its entirety, the former Centre Street Short Line. Cars now continued South on Mayland Avenue to Biddle, Park, Howard, Centre, Charles, and Redwood to loop via Calvert, Lombard, South and Redwood.
Several years later, in 1923, the Jerkwater was shortened, as the Druid Ridge service was abandoned. Cars on the Key Avenue line (as it oddly came to be called) now changed ends just in the beginning of the leftward curve that led off of the side reservation on Greenspring into the right-of-way through the woods. Sometime around 1928, the Falls Road Car House also closed, leaving this service to operate mostly from Belvedere Avenue Car House, with the possibility of some service supplemented from the car house at Oak (Howard) & 25th Sts.
Shortly after the arrival of the first batch of St. Louis PCCs to the line in 1936, the South Street terminus was discontinued in August of 1937, and #25 line cars were rerouted to operate using Howard Street to loop at Camden Station. This freeing up of space in the South Street terminus would allow Route #33 cars to terminate there about a month later.
Later, in 1939, as part of the City's effort to make Howard Street a "free-wheel" corridor, cars were taken off of most of Howard Street, and instead travelled into Downtown using Park Avenue and Liberty Street, and then making the Camden Station street loop. Wartime restrictions retarded any changes from 1941-1945, although there were few years left for the #25 line and its Key Avenue Jerkwater.
Shortly after the war, the Jerkwater was finally given it's own designation, as its schedules would carry #47. No photos are available showing cars marked as such, so it is assumed that they continued to run unmarked. Regardless of this change, more drastic changes were looming in the years following the war. With the NCL management in charge, conversion was imminent. Finally, on April 24, 1949, the line was taken over by the new #25 bus - almost!
It seems as if a particular section of line remained impassable - Kelly Avenue, quaint and rustic, and certainly not without its charms. This stretch made a complete and immediate conversion impossible. In addition, a lack of suitable parallel roads for bus traffic made an alternate route unfeasable as well. As a result, the conversion of the #25 line could only partially take place. Buses ran from Mount Washington to Camden Station, while a newly designated #48 line continued to run (along with the existing #47 to Key Avenue) from there out to Belvedere Loop. Interestingly, the company equipped the line with Peter Witts (which allowed the Route Number to be displayed on the scroll with its individually set curtains) and extended the rail into the loop built for the #25 buses. This made for an interesting expenditure for such a temporary arrangement. Perhaps there was a lack of suitable Double Ended equipment available to equip this #48 shuttle with Semis at the time, although it would appear that Semis operated on the #48 line for at least the first week, as the line commenced operations on April 24th, yet the Mount Washington Loop did not open until Saturday, April 30th.
This measure, intended as temporary until the isolated stretch of Kelly Avenue could be upgraded and paved for use by buses and autos. was indeed temporary. Effective with the schedule change of September 14, 1950, the #48 car was no more. It took another casualty along with it in the form of the #47 streetcar as well. This eventually resulted in the extension of the #25 bus out to Belvedere, after an interim period of operating the #48 as a bus line, and the establishment of new bus route #47, which somewhat paralleled the original route of the streetcar. The Falls Road Streetcar was lost for good, or so it was thought.
Fastforward nearly two decades to the late 1960's, as a hardworking group of volunteers struggles to develop a street railway museum along the right of way of the former Greenspring Branch of the Pennsylvania Railroad alongside Lake Roland. Despite their tenacity, the group faces mounting hurdles in thier plans thanks to neighborhood opposition and vandalism to the equipment. The group, a collaboration of Baltimore and Washington D.C. railfans, begins to look for other alternatives to the site. The Washington group heads to a new site at Wheaton, while the Baltimore group finds a more welcoming spot along another former railroad right of way - this time that of a portion of the former Maryland district of the Maryland & Pennsylvania Railroad, right beside the former original right of way of the Baltimore & Northern from which the #25 line was established. Around this time, they incorporated into the Baltimore Streetcar Museum.
An agreement is reached with the City, and the badly weathered cars are now moved into the new North Avenue Carhouse! It would be still years before the first car once again moved in 1970. Finally, on July 3, streetcars were now carrying passengers once again! This new Falls Road line carried #25 line markers, which would be observed by then MTA adminstrator Walter Addison, who later even designated the operation as #25 by the MTA. The line gave museum goers a treat to relive or explore what public transportation was like in the days gone by. Over the next 12 years, the line would expand North beyond 23rd Street to 27th St., and later as far as 28th Street, and talk even arose of the possibilities of heading further along the MPA right of way into the Stony Run Valley.
Although the expansion never took place, the line still rolls along today, giving visitors a rolling time machine ride on its nice cross section of streetcars through the decades. The rails for the line came from Eastern Avenue, Sparrows Point, West Baltimore Street Loop, and reportedly also the Greenspring Branch from the original site of the Musuem. The line is still reserved by the MTA as #25, and a new possibility of expansion has been recently raised in the possibility of extending the line into Penn Station to connect to the current Baltimore City Housing Authority building opposite Penn Station. The outcome of this possibility will be interesting to observe and to see what develops!
The references Baltimore Streetcar Routes and Baltimore's Streetcars were valuable tools in the preparation of this page. Special Thanks also go to Dan Lawrence for his valuable insights and information.
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