The Montgomery County Council has directed the county to explore moving a century-old bridge that served as a lifeline to African American residents during segregation, potentially saving the crossing from being demolished to make way for the Purple Line.
The Talbot Avenue bridge, which was included briefly in a growth plan approved for the Lyttonsville area northwest of downtown Silver Spring, should be considered for another “appropriate site” in the community, the council said Tuesday.
The Maryland Transit Administration (MTA) has said the wooden and steel bridge, built in 1918, is badly deteriorated and too short to span what will be a wider rail corridor once the Purple Line tracks are built adjacent to the CSX freight-rail tracks. Political momentum to save the bridge grew after a Washington Post story in September highlighted residents’ and a local historian’s concerns about its planned destruction.
Demolishing the bridge would have meant losing one of the last structures from the area’s history as a vibrant African American community, a longtime resident said Tuesday.
“We have deep feelings about the bridge,” said Charlotte Coffield, 83, a third-generation Lyttonsville resident. “People who grew up here and the people here years before us have a very close connection to that bridge.”
Mike Riley, director of the Montgomery parks department, said Tuesday that he will begin seeking a new home for the bridge in county parks, perhaps as a footbridge over a trail or stream. He said he would need to request county funding for its relocation.
“We’d be excited to have any historical artifact in our parks that speaks to the county’s African American heritage,” Riley said.
The MTA also has asked artists competing to design public art for the Purple Line to include physical pieces of the Talbot Avenue bridge or photos and renderings of it in their proposals for the Lyttonsville station. MTA spokeswoman Sandy Arnette said Tuesday that the county has not asked the state to move the bridge but that the MTA “will continue to actively work with the county” on the issue.
For much of the 20th century, the one-lane Talbot Avenue bridge connected residents of Lyttonsville, a community founded in 1853 by a free black laborer, to stores in downtown Silver Spring and to neighborhoods where black residents were allowed to clean homes but not live. The bridge also allowed residents to cross the CSX freight-rail tracks to reach the closest public buses a mile away on Georgia Avenue to travel into the District.
Major construction on the 16-mile light-rail Purple Line between Montgomery and Prince George’s counties was scheduled to begin this fall. However, it has been postponed until a federal lawsuit opposing the project on environmental grounds and its ridership forecasts is resolved. The line is scheduled to open to passengers in spring 2022.
Coffield said she is happy the council has recommended saving the bridge, but she said she is concerned about whether the county will pay to move it.
“I think the intent is good,” Coffield said, “but I don’t see a lot of teeth in it to make it happen.”
Council member Tom Hucker (D-Eastern District) said he and other council members, as well as the county planning staff, supported saving the bridge. He said the county “will make the best effort” to do so.
“There’s sort of the ‘Where will it go?’ question, but it was on track for demolition, so this is a step in the right direction,” Hucker said. “I think there’s going to be every attempt to find a site.”