Riding Through the Past

The Washington Metro Area Transit Authority (WMATA) provides a popular bus service known as “Metrobus”–the sixth busiest bus agency in the country. Serving over 11,000 stops on 325 routes, Metrobus transports passengers across DC, Virginia, and Maryland.

Many contemporary bus routes have a connection the long tradition of moving both residents and visitors across the region. Some of the routes in operation today are continuation of older bus routes established in the mid-twentieth century, and some of those routes have an even earlier antecedents as streetcar lines.

Among the current 300+ routes, there are a handful that stand out as being especially popular with riders. Whether because of the neighborhoods served or downtown attractions featured, these routes have become standbys for many in the area.

In the 1970s, a fledging historic preservation organization called “Don’t Tear it Down” wanted to highlight the city’s history and its beautiful buildings. They decided to do so by developing a series of tours along popular bus routes. The Take One Tour series took the form of a run of printed brochures distributed directly to riders on buses.

Don’t Tear it Down and the historic preservation movement in DC built up momentum and were able to pass a robust preservation law for the city in 1978 . In the intervening decades, Don’t Tear it Down changed its name to the DC Preservation League, and the number of landmarks added to the DC Inventory of Historic Sites climbed past 700.

In April 2021, we will mark 50 years since the founding of Don’t Tear it Down. To honor this history, we wanted to bring back a new version of the Take One Tour on popular bus routes.

DCPL manages a free resource called “DC Historic Sites”—a website and mobile application that has geolocated information about the city’s landmarked sites and historic districts. Through a series of six new tours on DC Historic Sites, users can explore the history all around them on bus routes throughout the city.

Tours include sites featured on:

If you’re riding the bus, we recommend downloading the mobile application (from the App Store or Google Play) to easily follow along on the tour.

However, given the public health emergency, we recognize that many folks may not be riding their usual routes. Maybe you’ve found yourself even weirdly sentimental for some of your favorite Metrobus lines? If so, you can also explore the tours from your computer browser and click along the route to remind yourself of your favorite buildings and neighborhoods.