For decades, the land on the western bank of the Potomac River that is currently home to the Pentagon, Ronald Reagan National Airport, Roache’s Run Bird Sanctuary, and part of the George Washington Memorial Parkway was disputed territory. Did it belong to Virginia? The District? No one seemed quite sure.
If you think you know why Georgetown doesn't have a Metro stop, think again! Though many believe it is the outcome of neighborhood resistance, in reality it has much more to do with geography, geology, expense, and WMATA's original vision for Metro as a commuter rail. The origins of the Georgetown Metro myth are just as interesting as the debunking of the myth.
At the beginning of the First World War, the United States decided to undertake the largest shipbuilding effort in the nation's history. But before these ships could set sail, the war ended. Thus began the curse of the Ghost Fleet, a large group of unwanted ships that would eventually be abandoned in Mallows Bay on the Potomac. For decades many saw them as an eyesore and hazard. But after years of the neglect, the ships would eventually find their purpose -- in a most unexpected way.
The battle lasted about half an hour, and when the smoke cleared, Captain Frank Whitehurst lay dead in a pool of his own blood on the deck of the Albert Nickel, a Baltimore oyster schooner. While Whitehurst met a fate avoided by most, the so called “Oyster Wars” had been brewing for more than 100 years prior to that fateful night on the Severn River.
For nearly two centuries, Maryland and Virginia were engaged in conflict over one of the region’s valuable resources — oysters. Full of inconsistent enforcement and rampant law-breaking, it took the president’s signature to end the Oyster Wars.
When the stresses of life in Washington became too much, John Quincy Adams calmed his nerves by taking early-morning swims in the Potomac River. In a move that might be considered questionable by today’s standards, he especially liked to soak in the brisk, cold water wearing nothing but his own skin. According to local lore, it once got him into a bit of trouble: Anne Royall, a trailblazing journalist, caught him in a very awkward situation. But is there any truth in the tale?
How did Washington's most famous river get its name? Though the name is of American Indian origin, historians can’t really agree on its exact meaning. It’s been called a lot of different names, depending on who you talked to. And, until 1931, most people weren’t even sure how to spell it!
As a centuries-old legend has it, three young women attempted to cross the Potomac River late one night. They drowned in a horrific storm, however, and marked the place of their deaths with a cluster of rocks: the Three Sisters Islands. Today's kayakers and canoe paddlers may not feel the dread of the three sisters' curse, but their final promise may explain D.C.'s failure to build a bridge over these islands. If we cannot cross the river here, then nobody else ever will. The unbuilt Three Sisters Bridge played a crucial role in mid-20th century politics, especially the subway vs. freeway debates that would determine the future of transit in the nation's capital.
Nowaways nearly everyone knows that Orville and Wilbur Wright were the “First in Flight,” but that wasn’t always the case. A local scientist almost knocked them out of the history books... twice. In 1903 a team under the direction of Smithsonian Institute Secretary Samuel Langley attempted a manned flight of a motor-powered airplane from a houseboat in the Potomac River. If successful, it would have been the world’s first flying machine.
The flight was a spectacular failure, but for 30 years the Smithsonian recognized Langley's Aerodrome -- and not the Wright Brothers' flyer -- as the world's first manned aircraft capable of flight. Needless to say, Orville and Wilbur were not pleased.