A one-lane bridge in the western part of Silver Spring that enables Talbot Avenue to cross over CSX Railroad tracks hardly seems worth saving, according to some. The rickety structure has deteriorated and is scheduled to be demolished when the Purple Line is built.
But while the neglected bridge has yet to make it onto the National Register of Historic Places, its historic significance in Montgomery County is enough for the County Council to try to save it.
The council has instructed the County Department of Recreation “to find an appropriate location for it, hopefully near Lyttonsville,” said Council member Tom Hucker.
Talbot Avenue Bridge in Lyttonsville was built during the Jim Crow years, when laws mandated that black and white people lead separate lives. African-Americans, who weren’t allowed to live in most parts of Silver Spring, formed a community of their own.
But there were no stores in which to shop or places to work in the blackonly Lyttonsville. The bridge became its lifeline, enabling residents to walk to the grocery store and the houses they were permitted to clean but not live in, Hucker said.
Ideally, the bridge would be relocated over a stream or along a trail in a county park and those walking across it would learn of its history, he said.
With most of the Purple Line construction currently on hold, there is no set deadline to see if moving the bridge is feasible.
Purple Line plans include funding to demolish the bridge, and Hucker hopes that money will be used to move it instead.
If, however, it turned out to be too expensive to relocate, the future of the Talbot Avenue Bridge will be reconsidered, Hucker said.
David Rotenstein researched the bridge’s history for a paper he wrote about gentrification in Georgia. He used the Talbot Avenue Bridge and others in the area for comparative data, he explained.
According to his research, the bridge was built in 1918 by the B&O Railroad. Lyttonsville was founded in the 1850s by Samuel Lytton, a freed slave. It was one of several dozen African-American hamlets throughout Montgomery County that were created because the rest of the county had racially restrictive deed covenants and the public spaces and private businesses were governed by Jim Crow laws.
In the days of segregation, it was very common for African-Americans to live on the other side of the railroad tracks from white people, according to his research.
While learning about the bridge, Rotenstein found out that its metal girder construction made it eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places. However, it has not yet been included in the register.
While researching the area’s history, Rotenstein spoke with residents who lived in Lyttonsville during segregation. He learned that the bridge was the only way in and out of their community for much of the 20th century. It enabled residents to get to Grace Church Road and onto Georgia Avenue, where the public bus system took them to work, school and into the District.