Now that Silver Spring, Maryland’s, Talbot Avenue Bridge has a new history can it also have a new future?
Last year Montgomery County officials and many county residents learned that the Talbot Avenue Bridge was more than just some old metal and wood assembled in 1918 by the B&O Railroad spanning the CSX Railroad tracks. They discovered its important ties to the county’s civil rights history. Once slated for demolition and replacement to make way for the proposed Purple Line light rail project and closed since April for safety reasons, the bridge’s fate is now undecided.
My research into Silver Spring’s history as a sundown suburb, a place where people of color were unable to live unless they were domestic servants for most of the 20th century, exposed the bridge’s history beyond the Lyttonsville residents I was interviewing for my work. Longtime Lyttonsville residents have deep attachments to the bridge. Residents in the adjacent North Woodside and Rosemary Hills neighborhoods have mixed feelings about the bridge but acknowledge that before last year they knew little about its history. Even County Executive Ike Leggett told me in a recent interview that my research had changed his understanding of Lyttonsville’s history and the bridge.
The bridge is contested space where competing interests now collide. There is the newfound interest in the bridge’s history that is shared by people well beyond the railroad tracks and the neighborhoods the bridge connects. And, there are the compelling arguments originating in those neighborhoods: some folks in North Woodside want the connection closed to reduce cut-through traffic and people on both sides of the tracks make a strong case for keeping the crossing open to vehicular traffic, including emergency vehicles.
Talbot Avenue Bridge, closed approach from the North Woodside neighborhood, June 2017.
Silver Spring Armory. Historic American Buildings Survey photo by Bill Lebovich.
In 1998, crews demolished the Silver Spring Armory. Located in the heart of the suburban Washington suburb’s central business district (CBD), the Armory occupied prime real estate earmarked to provide parking for a new urban renewal project.
Built in 1927, the Armory quickly became unincorporated Silver Spring’s de facto city hall and civic center. In 1984, the State of Maryland declared the property surplus and it was transferred to the Maryland-National Capital Parks and Planning Commission. After rehabilitation work, the building opened as a community center and in 1984 it was listed in the Montgomery County Master Plan for Historic Preservation. Continue reading →
Residents who will be impacted by a new master plan proposed for a part of Montgomery County, Maryland, asked me to testify at a hearing before the Montgomery County Council. This post contains the testimony I submitted for the official record. A substantially abbreviated version was presented in the hearing session held September 29, 2016.
Montgomery County Council Public Hearing on the Greater Lyttonsville Sector Plan Testimony of Dr. David Rotenstein September 29, 2016
Good Evening. My name is David Rotenstein. I am a professional historian, a Silver Spring resident, and a former chairman of the Montgomery County Historic Preservation Commission. I am here to speak against the proposed Greater Lyttonsville Area Sector Plan because of fatal deficiencies in a key area of the plan before you: its treatment of history and historic resources.
Last Sunday the Washington Post published an article about the Talbot Avenue Bridge. Relying heavily on my work, the reporter interviewed several Lyttonsville residents, two of whom spoke here Tuesday evening, about the bridge’s history and its importance to the community. They told the reporter, and me two months earlier, that the bridge was an important artifact that conveys significant information about Lyttonsville’s past as an African American community segregated from Silver Spring, a community that excluded African Americans from buying property and living there for most of the twentieth century. Lyttonsville was Silver Spring’s other side of the tracks. The Talbot Avenue Bridge, as longtime Lyttonsville residents told me (and the Post), does much more than carry traffic over a railroad. It connects communities and it is a palpable reminder of the Jim Crow segregation that defined Montgomery County social and economic life for a significant period of time. Continue reading →
Decatur, Ga., blogger Dan Whisenhunt has been covering the impending demolition of a former African American church by a developer who proposes to build 20 townhomes on the site. Built in 1965 by Decatur’s oldest African American congregation after it was displaced by urban renewal, the building housed the former Antioch AME Church until 1995.
The church was not included in Decatur’s 2009 citywide historic resources survey despite widespread knowledge of its transcendental historical significance among the city’s longtime African American residents. Whisenhunt has been reporting on residents in nearby homes – many of them built during and after the 1960s urban renewal project – concerned over the new density coming to the parcel as well as the developer’s plans to cut down an old tree on the property to comply with City stormwater detention requirements. Continue reading →
Does a cell tower built across the street from a historic cemetery adversely affect the property? If there are significant visual impacts, as this article suggests, could historic preservation laws and regulatory reviews have prevented or reduced the impacts?
South-View Cemetery is Atlanta, Georgia’s oldest and arguably most historic African American cemetery. Yet, as Georgia State University historian Richard Laub noted in a 2010 interview with alt-weekly Creative Loafing, it’s an “unjustly ignored site” that doesn’t receive the same amount of support, recognition, and respect that its better-known Atlanta counterpart, Oakland Cemetery, gets. The article for which Laub was interviewed was titled, “Atlanta’s forgotten black history.” Continue reading →
“The Plan” is deeply embedded in Washington, D.C., urban lore. According to Washington author Harry Jaffe,
“The plan” is a persistent conspiracy theory among many blacks in the District. It assumes that whites have had a plan to take back the nation’s capital city since the advent of home rule in the 1970s, when the city started electing blacks to local office. The white power structure is bent on moving blacks out and whites in, and it will always control the levers of power.
The Washington “Plan” is easily dismissed as contemporary conspiracy theory that dates to 1979. Academics, journalists, and pundits generally agree that despite demographic changes to the city once dubbed “Chocolate City,” there is no systematic plan to relocate Washington’s black residents beyond the District limits.
Decatur-Dekalb News, 1960.
Although Decatur, Ga., has never had an African American “power structure” despite having a whole two African American city commissioners in its 191-year history, longtime black residents believe that Decatur does have a “plan” to eliminate them from the city’s ranks. Like Washington, the demographic data support popular observations that Decatur’s black population is declining. And, like Washington, that trend is easily explained by market forces and gentrification. Continue reading →
Antioch. They call it Hibernia now but it was on Atlanta Avenue. I watched my neighbors sell ice cream, fish sandwiches, having teas and dinners, sacrificing to buy the windows and to buy the bricks. I mean they were doing labors of love, you know, and trying to pass it on to the next generation. And when I pass by the building now, it almost breaks my heart because they were working the sweat of their brows, trying to establish a place for this generation. — Sarah Kirk, March 2012.
Former Antioch church facade, Jan. 2014.
Sarah Kirk¹ recently drove by an abandoned brick church north of Hibernia Ave. in Decatur, Ga. The 75-year-old Decatur native had heard that the property had been sold. Built for the congregation in which her family had worshipped since the last decades of the nineteenth century, she was struck by the gutted edifice. The building’s last congregation, Decatur United Church of Christ, had acquired the property from Antioch AME Church, one of Decatur’s oldest African American religious institutions.
I’ll make another comment about value engineering. It’s not just the numbers, but it is what we’ll be doing as far as memorializing a very important piece of history in the city of Decatur. And while there are opportunities for cultural gatherings and so forth, this will be a very specific one that has a very specific history and is someplace that needs to be noted as to what the Bottoms and the segregation of the City of Decatur and how far we’ve come. So thank you for your care in maintaining that piece throughout this project. — Decatur City Commissioner Kecia Cunningham.