Do We Really Need Unspoken Prayer Requests?

The fate of a 100-year-old bridge that served as a lifeline for Washington-area African Americans during segregation remains in limbo a year after Montgomery County leaders asked that it be preserved when it’s removed for construction of the Purple Line.

State and county project officials say the historic Talbot Avenue bridge’s steel girders, which support it and form short walls on the sides, will be saved. However, they haven’t decided whether to incorporate them into artwork at a Purple Line station or place them along an adjacent recreational trail, as some residents have asked. Just as important, they haven’t determined who will pay to move and install them.

Longtime residents of Lyttonsville, a community northwest of downtown Silver Spring founded in 1853 by a free black laborer, have been fighting to save the decaying bridge for several years. It’s scheduled to be removed in mid-2019 to make way for a longer span across what will be a wider rail corridor once the Purple Line is built.

Residents say the one-lane wood bridge spanning the CSX freight rail tracks is central to the community’s history as an African American enclave during segregation. Some recall their grandmothers crossing it to reach nearby white neighborhoods where they were allowed to clean homes but not live. On rainy days, Lyttonsville residents hailed taxis at the bridge because drivers refused to use the muddy roads left unpaved long after those in surrounding white neighborhoods. Many used the bridge to reach buses that would take them to schools, jobs, restaurants and movie theaters in the District.

[A bridge that linked black and white neighborhoods during segregation soon will be lost to history]

A rendering shows artwork options for the Purple Line’s Lyttonsville station in Silver Spring. (Courtesy of David Hess)

“It’s a symbol of unity and a symbol of courage and conviction,” said Patricia Tyson, 75, a nearly lifelong Lyttonsville resident whose grandparents moved there in 1920. “At one time, it was the only way into and out of the community. . . . It was a gateway to life. It helped us do what we wanted to do.”

Roger Paden, who lives in the nearby Rosemary Hills neighborhood, said he joined the fight to save the bridge because he’s worried about the area losing a critical piece of history. He said he has seen how Lyttonsville has long gotten short shrift from the government. He noted that the area is home to a county bus facility, industrial zoning, and a future Purple Line train storage yard.

“Fighting for the bridge has been part of the fight for Lyttonsville’s survival,” Paden said.

Construction on the 16-mile light-rail line between Montgomery and Prince George’s counties started in August, but the design is still being finalized. The line is scheduled to open to passengers in spring 2022.

Officials at the Maryland Transit Administration (MTA) say they tentatively approved, with community input, two artwork proposals for the Lyttonsville station as part of the Purple Line’s $6 million art budget. One of the designs, by Maryland artist David Hess, shows one of the girders cut into two pieces and attached to the sides of the elevator shaft. The other girder would lie on the ground as a short wall between the station and the adjacent Capital Crescent Trail. The girders would be decorated with photos of Lyttonsville residents and other historic images as part of a “sculptural photo album,” according to draft designs.

[Montgomery moves to preserve century-old bridge with ties to segregation]

But some longtime residents say the design loses the feeling of a bridge. Instead, they suggested placing the girders along both sides of the trail so walkers and cyclists would still feel like they were going over a bridge.

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A historic bridge in the path of the Purple Line will be preserved, but how?
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