Georgetown: a charmingly historic, brick laden neighborhood contrasted with a pepper of contemporary retailers, restaurants, and bars. On any given day, you’ll find yourself shoulder-to-shoulder on its amber tinged sidewalks with visitors and locals alike. But if you dare to venture past the commercialized pull of M Street, you can still catch a glimpse of Georgetown’s humble beginnings as a central shipping hub and one of its key participants: The Aqueduct Bridge.
When the Chesapeake Canal was engineered in the 1820s, its developers had originally planned for the canal to span the expanse of the Midwest to the Ohio Valley, which lent a promising trade opportunity for Georgetown. Across the Potomac, Alexandria merchants insisted on a share of the commerce; this urging gave rise to the construction of the Aqueduct Bridge. Cargo-carrying boats would reach Georgetown via canal, and then be transported to Alexandria by way of the bridge.
However, development of the Canal took longer than expected, and plans for further expansion were halted not far from Georgetown. Subsequently, demand for the Aqueduct Bridge, especially after the construction of its successor, the Key Bridge, was abysmal. After 80 years of sporadic use, the bridge was finally demolished. It is now survived by its solitary jutting remains overlooking the Potomac.
A walk beyond 33rd and M will lead you to Georgetown’s “no-man’s land” (yes, the neighborhood does in fact exist beyond the confines of the boundary line that is Georgetown Cupcakes). Continue on 33rd Street towards the waterfront to intersect Capital Crescent Trail, a somewhat obscure off-road trail stretching from Georgetown to Silver Spring, Maryland. Follow the trail to the right for about a third of a mile and a set of stairs will mark your arrival to the bridge remains.
The remaining abutment currently stands as an impromptu riverside park, its concrete structure wholly claimed by a capricious display of graffiti. A site that once bridged two trading towns now bridges a gap of an entirely different kind: one between friends, lovers, and strangers alike.
I visited the Aqueduct Bridge on a Tuesday afternoon. A middle aged man, whom I later came to know as Matthew, was perched precariously close to the edge of the abutment, occasionally glancing at the water and scribbling in a journal as thick as one of my textbooks. We chatted briefly before I asked if he frequented this particular area often. He replied:
How couldn’t you? Best view of the Potomac I’ve ever seen.. hell I’ve been here 30 years. I come here a couple days a week to write but mostly just come to watch the world go by. The people change. There’s new graffiti every time I come back. But the spot? The Potomac? Always here, man.
When I inquired about the nature of other visitors to the bridge remains, Matthew told me:
Yeah this place definitely has some regulars. The good ones, though, are the ones that see it the first time, you know? You can always tell the first timers… Georgetown’s got some uppity folks. This place cuts through the bullsh*t.
Eloquently stated. Can’t help but agree with you there, Matthew.