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Alexandria Junction Tower
The Alexandria Junction Tower, also commonly known as the JD Tower, was located at the intersection of Gallatin and 46th streets near Franklin’s Restaurant along the railroad tracks in Hyattsville. This significant historical and architectural landmark played a vital role in the operations of the B&O Railroad as one of a series of interlocking towers located at important junctions along the line. The Alexandria Junction Tower received its name because it controlled the Washington branch of the B&O as well as “the switches to the Alexandria (Potomac Yard) branch where it joins the Washington line” (DeLeuw, Cather/Parsons, p. 13). Interlocking towers like the JD Tower served an important role in railroad operations as operators manipulated switches and signals to ensure the correct and smooth passage of trains along the railroad tracks.
Constructed in 1904 in a standard interlocking tower design, the JD Tower housed the machinery necessary to regulate the tracks, switches and signals of the Washington and Alexandria branches. Photographs of the tower reveal a two-story frame structure with wood panels and clapboard siding on the first floor and wood shingle siding on the second. Exterior stairs led up to the second story, which had numerous windows to provide an unobstructed view of the tracks for the operator. The National Register Determination of Eligibility Report, which found that the tower met National Register criteria for listing, indicated “the basement level houses the furnace, the first floor contains the signal operator’s office and the interlocking machine’s mechanism, while the second floor houses the operator and the interlocking machine and levers.”
Allen Brougham, a retired interlocking tower operator, described the closure of the tower. The Railroad Revitalization and Regulatory Reform Act of 1976 called for improvements to the Northeast Corridor rail passenger service, including diversion of trains and upgrading of signal and communications equipment. Since the project would use federal and state funding, resources potentially eligible for the National Register along the proposed route would have to be studied as part of Section 106. As the Section 106 Case Report on the project noted, the proposed Traffic Control System could “remotely control rail traffic movement between Washington and Philadelphia at a central point in Baltimore,” thereby effectively rendering the tower obsolete. Operators like Brougham would be made redundant. On March 5, 1992, a closing ceremony was held at the tower that included reading from the last entry of the logbook, sounding of the horn, and turning out the lights of the tower.
In March 1993, the Hyattsville Preservation Association in conjunction with the City of Hyattsville developed a plan to purchase and move the tower. CSX agreed to sell it for $1, and plans were considered to adapt the structure for use as a railroad museum. Unfortunately, the tower burned down, probably due to arson, and an important piece of Hyattsville’s railroad history was lost.