Northwest D.C.

The Aqueduct Bridge: What Remains

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.


The surviving structure of the Aqueduct Bridge.

The surviving structure of 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.


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The Aqueduct Bridge, circa 1865


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.



The Aqueduct Bridge (or rather its remains) as it stands today.


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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.





McMillan Park: New Development



After the years of abandoning McMillan Park, recently, starting from 2006, the District Government asked Vision McMillan Partners (VMP) to propose a plan to develop the site. The plan that VMP brought up was the mix of uses: housing, shopping, offices, the Washington Hospital Center, and to get rid of 19 of the 20 underground water purification cells. Because the site was originally a park, they included some portion of maintaining the park. Those portions were, 6.25 acres on the southern end of the site, a 1-acre healing garden on the north end, and an acre of green space over a preserved cell at the north end.




However, VMP’s propose of mixed uses of McMillan Park met oppositions of the surrounding community. According to the recent survey, 85% of the community wanted any development to include at least 50% of the park, an open space. A revised plan was to remain 50% of park space and to create large community recreation center.








2012 -2013

During the summer of 2012, Bloomingdale and LeDroit Park experienced the flooding, and DC came up with another plan. DC Water made plans to use parts of the site to store storm water, and to demolish number of cells to create a sewer tunnel under First Street, NW to manage water system better.

So, you might want to visit McMillan Park, full of Washington DC history, before the renovation.

McMillan Park



The McMillan Park Reservoir Sand Filtration Site is a 25-acre Olmsted park bounded by North Capitol Street, NW; Michigan Avenue, NW; First Street, NW and Channing Street, NW.




McMillan Park Reservoir Sand Filtration Site was first operated in 1905 until 1986, when US Army Corps of Engineers built and operated new water filtration system on the McMillan Reservoir ground. It was the first water treatment plant in Washington DC. When the sand filtration site was first developed, it was innovative system of water purification, which many people needed. This was a system that used sand to purify water instead of using chemicals. Sand using water-purifying system was a slow sand filtration system that reduced many communicable diseases and spread of typhoid.




Why named McMillan

The park is name after Senator James McMillan to memorialize his work on the Improvement of the Park System and his effort in developing the city.

How park created

The plan of McMillan Park was the result of United States Senate Park Commission. Many people, not only including Senators and Congressman, but also people involved in City Beautiful Movement, architect, planners, and artists, joined to create the park.

The site has been described as …

“An imaginative combination of landscaped park, with promenades, sculpture, curving carriage drives, careful grading and the placement of trees planned and personally supervised by Olmsted.”


McMillan sand filtration site to help relieve flooding


McMillan Park was a place that helped people escape from urban life. The space was at the hilltop, forming “emerald necklace” park in the city. The underground of the park was the Sand Filtration Site, and the ground was the park for people to rest and enjoy. A pink granite fountain was placed at the corner of First and Channing Street, NW. This fountain is removed now, but the original fountain’s statue is visible inside the First Street, NW gates of the reservoir facility. However, it is not open to the public.

In the beginning of World War II, to protect the city’s water supply from enemy’s usage. Most parts of the fountain were removed and even the stone benches were removed.


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Until 1986, The Army corps of Engineers used the facility, and when they created a new water filtration facility, they decided to sell the site to the District. The District of Columbia Government purchased from the federal government for $9.3 million to develop the land. However, since the land was purchase, the property has remained unused and closed to the public.