With the approval of the developer’s site plan for a mixed-use development—109 rental units plus retail space at 315 Diamond Ave., the property adjacent to Olde Towne’s Gaithersburg Community Museum, the City of Gaithersburg is considering the fate of two historical railroad artifacts currently in place on the parcel.
According to Assistant City Manager Thomas Lonergan, all options are being explored. A cost benefit analysis is being prepared to help Mayor Judd Ashman, the City Council and staff arrive at the best plan for the 1950s Budd Company of Philadelphia Car No. 1951 and a 22-foot-tall Baltimore & Ohio & CSX train signal tower. That is standard procedure when spending taxpayer money, Lonergan noted.
In a Feb. 15 letter to the mayor, Gaithersburg resident George D. Quinn asked that both structures be preserved due to their “direct connection” to Gaithersburg history.
“People even come from far and wide to see it in its resplendent Baltimore and Ohio silver, blue and gold railroad colors,” he wrote about the Budd Car, noting that it “serviced the main line through the City for many years” and recently has been useful as a community meeting space.
William F. Howes Jr., a retired B&O Railroad officer, also advocated for the Budd Car in a Feb. 21 letter to the mayor. “Certainly the Number 1951 is worthy of preservation and display at a historic commuter station—Gaithersburg—as a representative of a technological advance that led the way to today’s vibrant and growing Washington area rail commuter service.”
“This tower and its predecessors were located trackside near Chestnut Street by the Fairgrounds for over 100 years,” until it was donated to the museum and replaced with a more modern design in 2012, Quinn said. Also known as Color Position Lights, he added, they “were unique to the B&O Railroad starting in the early 1900s (and) used a combination of colorful lights and their positions to control the trains.”
As a volunteer, Quinn said he “carefully restored” the tower to full function during the past year. He suggested that adding an interpretive panel would make it a great educational tool for children and adults.
Two options, Lonergan said, are on the table for the Budd car. The first is having developer Ellisdale Construction remove the car at their expense and donate it to another site. The second would be moving the car closer to the museum, switching places with the smaller C&O Railroad Bay Window Caboose so that both would be visible from Diamond Avenue.
As such, conceptual designs have been proposed, Lonergan said, noting that the cost would be between $160,000 and $170,000—with the city’s portion, $70,000, and the developer picking up the remainder. He pointed out that the move would “require substantial infrastructure, including HVAC,” and that the car needs a lot of maintenance as its “roof leaks frequently.”
As for the tower, Lonergan identified a major obstacle: Illuminating it alongside working tracks would be prohibitively dangerous. “While the city recognizes the historical significance of preserving it, the challenge is finding someplace appropriate,” he said.
A final decision is expected in the spring, Lonergan said.