Joining the contractors with their jackhammers and saws at the construction site on 36th Street were cameras and National Park Service (NPS) historians. The O and P Street project has entered into a new phase, removing historic streetcar rails from 36th Street between O and P Streets. Today, NPS personnel documented the Georgetown streetcar rails and yokes to enter the project in the Historic American Engineering Record (HAER) at the Library of Congress (LOC).
Justine Christianson is an historian with HAER. She helped initiate the partnership between the District Department of Transportation (DDOT) and NPS after first learning about the O and P Streets project at an historic road conference last year.
She approached DDOT about allowing HAER to document the rails once she saw that the project was under way. DDOT has "been very agreeable" throughout the process, she said.
"It's such a unique system" said Christianson. The electric rails relied on ground-level currents rather than overhead wires to power the cars. The only similar systems in the world were in parts of the New York and London streetcar systems.
Contractors are working to uncover and remove the rails, which will be stored until construction and rehabilitation wraps up on O and P Streets. They will eventually we restored to the road.
Christianson will ensure that the unique rail system's history is safeguarded through her work at HAER, a partnership with the LOC that began in 1969.
The streetcar project is the only D.C. engineering site the HAER team is currently documenting; they work on projects across the country.
In the hot early morning hours Wednesday, NPS photographers Renee Bieretz and Jet Low took a series of black and white photos to document the rails before they are removed.
Christianson said they have to take large format black and white images to meet durability standards. NPS will process the images and then send them with a narrative to the LOC to be digitized.
Christianson said she expects to return once the rails have been restored to take additional photos. The whole process will take several years, but eventually the images and narrative history will be available on the LOC website.