A Brief History
After the Civil War, America's cities created new transportation systems that enabled them to prosper and grow. During this time, major rail lines were built to connect Washington, D.C. with other cities. Smaller electric streetcar or 'trolley' lines connected Washington with its outlying areas. In 1890, the Georgetown and Tenallyetown Railway Company operated trolley lines from Georgetown to Montgomery County, using High Street and Tennallytown Road. (later to become Wisconsin Avenue).
At about the same time, the Tenallytown and Rockville Railroad extended the line north to Bethesda (Alta Vista). At the end of the line they built a Victorian era 'Trolley park,' Bethesda Park, as an incentive for evening and weekend usage. By summer 1893, it was one of DC's most popular amusement parks, complete with roller coasters, daredevil aeronautic performances, a dance hall, an hotel. In the fall of 1896, Bethesda Park was destroyed by a hurricane and the park was closed, never to re-open.
In 1897, the two railroads merged and by 1900 they completed an extension to the county seat of Rockville. At the turn of the century, trolleys transported people to DC for work and carried throngs of city dwellers to the county for the annual agricultural fair in Rockville. Trolleys moved goods from Georgetown shops to those living in farming communities along the line and took local produce from these country farms to DC markets. Trolleys made it possible for local students to attend the new suburban schools, as well as secondary schools in DC.Washington Railway and Electric Company acquired these merged railroads in 1902. Washington Railway eventually became part of the Capital Transit Company. In 1935, the Rockville line ceased operation, leaving gasoline-powered buses to become the only mode of public transportation serving this corridor until the Metrorail Red Line extension to Shady Grove was opened in 1984.The new Bethesda Trolley Trail (BTT) utilizes much of the original trolley right-of-way. Since the opportunity for this rail-trail was first identified in the 1978 Countywide Bikeways Master Plan, the County has required new land developments to dedicate land and construct portions of the trail. In 2004, the County Council authorized funding for the Montgomery Department of Transportation to design and construct many of the missing segments.
Wherever possible, the Bethesda Trolley Trail utilizes low-impact urban design principles of environmentally 'green design.'