Posts Tagged ‘Maryland’

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Capital Bikeshare Program

Over the past few years I’ve found out first hand that biking around D.C. is a great way to get to know the city and explore all that it has to offer.  It’s also a fun way to exercise and stay healthy.  I go for a ride everyday.  And I have a convenient and secure place to store my bikes.  So I chose to own my bikes.  But another alternative to owning a bike, especially if you’re only an occasional rider or don’t have anywhere to keep one, is to rent a bike.

Renting a bike in D.C. has been something that has been possible for quite a long time.  Dating back to the early 1940’s, bike rentals were available through bike shops and gas stations at different independent locations in the city.  But today the Capital Bikeshare Program provides a network of stations that makes renting a bike easy, convenient and affordable.

Capital Bikeshare, which first began in 2010, makes over 3,500 bicycles available for rent at over 400 stations across D.C., Arlington and Alexandria, Virginia, and Montgomery County, Maryland.  Whether it’s for a short trip, a commute to work, to get to the Metro, running errands, going shopping, visiting friends and family, or for any other reason, you can simply rent a bike at any nearby station.  And then when you’re done, you can return it to the same station where you started, or to any other station near your destination.

You can join Capital Bikeshare online or at one of their convenient a commuter store locations.  Membership options include a day, 3 days, a month, a year or try their new Day Key option.  This gives you access to their fleet of bikes 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. The first 30 minutes of each trip are free. Each additional 30 minutes incurs an additional fee.

The city’s increasing amount of bike lanes and biking infrastructure combined with the convenient availability of bikes makes it easier than ever to get out there and explore our nation’s capital.

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[Click on the photos to view the full-size versions]

Left – A bicycle rental shop on 22nd Street, near Virginia Avenue N.W., Washington, D.C., on a Sunday. (Library of Congress Control Number fsa2000056770/PP.  Contributor:  Marjory Collins.  Circa June/July 1942.)
Right – Bicycles for Rent, Washington, D.C. (Library of Congress Control Number fsa1998024089/PP.  Contributor:  Martha McMillan Roberts. Circa 1941.)
Center – Washington, D.C. Renting bicycles at a gas station on East Potomac Park. Notice the “no gas” sign on the nearest gasoline pump. (Library of Congress Control Number fsa2000056780/PP.  Contributor:  Marjory Collins. Circa June/July 1942.)

Note:  Historic photos obtained from the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division and used with the permission of the U.S. Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information/Office of Emergency Management/Resettlement Administration.

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Autonautilus

During my lunchtime bike ride today I happened upon an eye-catchingly unusual vehicle parked on 8th Street in northeast D.C.’s Brookland neighborhood (MAP).  When I first saw it I thought of the DeLorean time machine in the “Back to the Future” movies.  At the end of the third and final movie, Doc Brown was married to Cora, and they had two sons, Jules and Verne.  And this vehicle is how I imagine their station wagon would look like if they ever had (or is it will have?) a family vehicle.

By far my favorite of the many unusual vehicles that I’ve run across during my daily bike rides throughout the city, I found out that this vehicle is actually a mobile art exhibit entitled “Autonautilus.”  But more than that, it also happens to function as a vehicle for its artist owner, Clarke Bedford.  Bedford is a local sculpture, performer and artist from nearby Hyattsville, and when he’s not working on his own creations or performing, he is also a conservator at the Smithsonian’s Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden.

Autonautilus is one of several vehicles Bedford has created.  He refers to them as “art cars”, and thinks of them as “assemblages that live outdoors and which also happen to move down the road.”  And since they are the only cars he owns and drives, they are durable as well.  Comprised predominantly from metal parts such as metal tubes, fans, statues, car parts, and almost anything else he can salvage or buy and re-use as forms of art, they have to be durable in order to withstand driving down the road, or being parked in the elements at his house since he doesn’t have a garage.

And Bedford’s art is not confined to his cars.  Both the outside as well as the inside of his home is filled with works of art, or works in progress, or bits and pieces of miscellanea which will eventually be incorporated into future works.  Bedford is not a professional artist getting rich from his creations.  But as evidenced by what he surrounds himself with, it is more than a mere hobby.  Bedford thinks of himself as existing somewhere in between the realms of professionals and hobbyists.  A place where most artists live.  I think that it is a place inhabited by the type of people who English poet Arthur O’Shaughnessy described in his poem “Ode”, which reads:  “We are the music makers, And we are the dreamers of dreams, Wandering by lone sea-breakers, And sitting by desolate streams; World-losers and world-forsakers, On whom the pale moon gleams: Yet we are the movers and shakers of the world for ever, it seems.”

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[Click on photos above to view full size versions]

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The Woodrow Wilson Memorial Bridge

You would think that a mile and a quarter long, multi-span drawbridge which carries a twelve-lane interstate highway used by more than a quarter of a million vehicles every day would not be a very good location for riding a bicycle, but that is not the case with the Woodrow Wilson Memorial Bridge.

The Woodrow Wilson Memorial Bridge, commonly referred to as the Wilson Bridge, was planned and built as part of the Interstate Highway System created by Congress in 1956. Construction of the bridge began in the late 1950s, at which time it was called the Jones Point Bridge. It was renamed the “Woodrow Wilson Memorial Bridge” in honor of our country’s 28th President in 1956 by President Dwight D. Eisenhower as part of that year’s centennial celebration of Woodrow Wilson’s birth on December 28, 1856. President Wilson was an advocate of automobile and highway improvements in the United States, and during his presidency reportedly spent an average of two hours a day riding in his automobile to relax and, as he would say, “loosen his mind from the problems before him.”

The Wilson Bridge opened to traffic on December 28, 1961. First Lady Edith Wilson, the widow of President Wilson, was supposed to have been the guest of honor at the bridge’s dedication ceremony honoring her husband on what would have been his 105th birthday. However, she died that very morning at the family home they had shared in northwest D.C.

The Wilson Bridge as it was originally constructed was designed to handle between 70 and 75 thousand vehicles a day. But by 1999 the bridge was handling 200,000 vehicles a day. This caused not only traffic issues but serious maintenance problems as well. Despite undergoing continuous patchwork maintenance beginning in the 1970’s, and being completely re-decked in 1983, the overuse took its toll and in 2000 construction began to replace the bridge with two new side-by-side drawbridges. The massive $2.357 billion construction project utilized 26 prime contractors and 260 subcontractors employing 1,200 full-time workers.  The 230 thousand ton, 1.2-mile long structure was completed almost a decade later.

The Wilson Bridge currently consists of two parallel bridge structures, each with 17 fixed spans and one 270-foot twin double leaf bascule span. The northern span carries the Inner Loop of the Capital Beltway, which is comprised of Interstate 95 and Interstate 495, while the southern span contains the beltway’s Outer Loop.  And with eight leaves, each weighing four million pounds, giving the drawbridge 32 million pounds of moving mass, it is the biggest drawbridge in the world.

Connecting the city of Alexandria, Virginia, with National Harbor in Oxon Hill, Prince George’s County, Maryland, the Wilson Bridge also crosses the tip of the southernmost corner of D.C., giving it the distinction of being the only bridge in the United States that crosses the borders of three jurisdictions. The 300-foot mid-span of the western portion of the bridge is also the shortest segment of Interstate Highway between state lines.

But to me, one of the most impressive features of this massive structure was the forethought to make it bicycle friendly. The northern span of the bridge includes a pedestrian and bike passageway known as the Wilson Bridge Bike Trial. The 3.5-mile trail extends from Oxon Hill Road across the Potomac River to the Huntington Metro Station in Virginia. The trail connects to the network of trails, including the Mount Vernon Trail at Jones Point Park in Virginia.  And future plans call for it to connect with the Potomac Heritage Trail in Maryland. The trail has a steel railing on the north side called the bicycle barrier and a concrete barrier with a short steel railing on top called the combination barrier to separate the bikeway traffic from the highway traffic. The trail, which opened on June 6, 2009, is approximately 12 feet wide, with “bump-out” areas where users can stop to observe views of D.C. and Old Town Alexandria.

The Wilson Bridge Bike Trial has a speed limit of 10 m.p.h., which is a good idea due to the bridge’s many steel joints that can damage bike tires and rims at high speeds. The speed limit for bikes is also a good idea since the trail is also used by many pedestrians.  While riding on the trail it’s also a good idea to remember that it is a drawbridge and may open periodically, so paying attention to warning lights and bells is necessary. The trail is closed between midnight and 5:30 a.m.  It is also closed during snowstorms, so much like the D.C. area, it has had a rough go of it this winter.

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[Click on the thumbnails above to view the full size photos]

Miniature Stonehenge

Miniature Stonehenge

Stonehenge is a prehistoric monument located in Wiltshire, England. It dates back to approximately 3100 B.C., and was constructed in three phases over a 1,500-year period. It is comprised of roughly 100 massive Bluestone, Sarsen and Welsh Sandstone boulders which were placed upright in a circular layout. And it has been estimated that the monument’s construction required more than thirty million hours of labor.

Although it is one of the most famous sites in the world, it has puzzled historians and archaeologists for centuries.  Many currently believe it to be markings of an ancient burial ground, however, speculation continues on what other purposes the megalithic monument may have also served. Theories for its design and the reason it was built range from astronomy, to human sacrifice, to a temple made for the worship of ancient earth deities. Although nobody knows for sure, only something extremely important to the ancients would have been worth the effort and investment that it took to construct it.

Adding to the mystery is that scientists have yet to determine and how a civilization without sophisticated tools or modern technology – or even the wheel – produced the mighty monument built from stones, some of which weigh more than 40 tons each. Its construction is all the more baffling because, while the sandstone slabs of its outer ring hail from local quarries, scientists have traced some of the non-indigenous bluestones that make up its inner ring all the way to Wales, some 200 miles away.

On this lunchtime bike ride I did not go to Stonehenge. That is because it is 3,591 miles from D.C., and my lunch break at work does not give me enough time to go all the way there and back. Besides, crossing the Atlantic Ocean on a bike is very difficult.

But I did ride to a miniature replica which was loosely based on the original monument. Located on a slight hill overlooking the entrance to National Harbor, near the intersection of Waterfront Street and National Harbor Boulevard in Fort Washington, Maryland (MAP), is a public art installation comprised of boulders arranged in a Stonehenge-like circular fashion. Very little information about the replica is available, giving it a slight air of mystery, much like its larger and more famous inspiration. But unlike the original, which receives nearly one million visitors per year, very few people, including those passing by it on their way to National Harbor, even know this stone monument exists.

Historic Fort Lincoln

Historic Fort Lincoln

After getting temporarily lost on a recent bike ride, I got out a map when I got back to my office to see where I had been.  It turned out that the area where I had been riding, which is just north of The National Arboretum, has as many, if not a greater number of historical sites than practically any other location I’ve seen of comparable size.  While looking at the map I also noticed that I had been very near historic Fort Lincoln, so on this ride I went back to explore.  There was too much too see in one trip, however, so I’ll have to plan to go back again.

Fort Lincoln was a Civil War-era fort constructed by the Union Army in 1861 for use in the defense of the national capital city.  The remnants of the fort are just past the D.C. city limits in Prince George’s County, Maryland, and is located at 3401 Bladensburg Road (MAP) in Brentwood, Maryland.  The fort is located within the boundaries of Fort Lincoln Cemetery, near the Old Spring House and adjacent to the infamous Bladensburg Dueling Grounds.

The area surrounding D.C. had 68 major enclosed forts, as well as 93 prepared, although unarmed, batteries for field guns, and seven blockhouses surrounding it during the Civil War.  This system of forts is known collectively as the Civil War Defenses of Washington, or the Fort Circle Parks.  Fort Lincoln was part of this system of forts.

Much of what remains of the system of forts is now a collection of National Park Service properties, while other forts have become state and city parks in the area.  Forts Foote, Greble, Stanton, Ricketts, Davis, Dupont, Chaplin, Mahan, and Battery Carroll are administered by National Capital Parks-East. Forts Bunker Hill, Totten, Slocum, Stevens, DeRussy, Reno, Bayard, Battery Kemble, and Battleground National Cemetery are administered by Rock Creek Park. And Fort Marcy is administered by George Washington Memorial Parkway.

There is also a trail connecting four of the parks, the Fort Circle Park National Recreation Trail, which is also operated and maintained by the National Park Service.

The inscription on the historic marker at the entrance to Fort Lincoln reads, “These earthworks are a portion of the original fortifications which made up Fort Lincoln. This fort was built during the summer of 1861 to serve as an outer defense of the city of Washington. It was named in honor of President Lincoln by General Order No. 18, A.G.O., Sept. 30, 1861. The brigade of Major General Joseph Hooker was the first to occupy this area. In immediate command of the fort was Captain T.S. Paddock. The Civil War cannons have been placed here through the courtesy of the Department of Defense to commemorate this auspicious occasion.”

I look forward to going back to the area near Fort Lincoln to explore more of the history there, as well as eventually visiting all of the other remaining Fort Circle Parks.

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[Click on the photos above to view the full size versions]

Frederick Douglas House on Capitol Hill

Frederick Douglas House on Capitol Hill

The Frederick Douglass National Historic Site, which is administered by the National Park Service, is located in Southeast D.C.’s Anacostia neighborhood. Established in 1988, the site preserves the home and estate of Frederick Douglass, one of the most prominent African Americans of the 19th century. Despite the home at the historic site being better known and more visited, however, this was not Douglas’ original D.C. home.

When he moved to D.C. in 1871, Douglass purchased an Italianate-style house at 316 A Street (MAP) in the Capitol Hill neighborhood of Northeast D.C. Two years later he also bought the adjacent house at 318 A Street. It was not until years later that Douglass moved to a house he had built on 17th Street in northwest D.C., and finally to the house in Anacostia, where he lived until his death in 1895.

Frederick Douglass was born Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey in February of 1818. His mother was a slave woman in Talbot County, Maryland, and his father was a white man, rumored to be her master. As a boy, he realized the importance of education, especially after his master forbade the reading lessons that a kindly mistress had begun to give him. So he secretly taught himself to read and write. While working as a slave in Baltimore, he met and married a free woman named Anna Murray in 1838. This was the same year he fled Baltimore to escape slavery, briefly passing through New York. After settling in Bedford, Massachusetts, he changed his surname to Douglass, taken from Sir Walter Scott’s poem, “Lady of the Lake.”

Douglass was a firm believer in the equality of all people, whether black, female, Native American, or recent immigrant, and famously stated, “I would unite with anybody to do right and with nobody to do wrong.” It was this belief that helped influence him to become involved in the abolitionist movement to abolish slavery.  Douglass conferred with President Abraham Lincoln on the treatment of black soldiers, and with President Andrew Johnson on the subject of black suffrage.

However, as his involvement in the movement and his outspokenness brought recognition, it lead to his identity being found out. This resulted slave hunters trying to hunt him down, and caused Douglass to have to flee once again. This time he left the country and moved to England, where some British friends purchased his freedom in 1846, letting Douglass go home to Massachusetts as a free man and well-known public figure. In 1847, he settled in Rochester, New York where he continued his work, for which he gained even more recognition and popularity for his speaking and writing skills. As a leader of the abolitionist movement, he became known as a social reformer and American statesman, who stood as a living counter-example to slaveholders’ arguments that slaves did not have the intellectual capacity to function as independent American citizens.

He then moved to D.C. in 1871, eventually being appointed by President Rutherford B. Hayes to the position of U.S. Marshal for the District of Columbia in 1877, and the Recorder of Deeds in 1881. It was also while living in D.C., in 1884, that he married his long-time friend Helen Pitts, a white feminist from New York, after his first wife to whom he had been married for 44 years died. After mounting criticism, including from both their families, Douglass responded by saying that his first marriage had been to someone the color of his mother, and his second to someone the color of his father.

The original houses on Capitol Hill stayed in the Douglass family until 1920′s, and remained in private hands until the mid-1960s when Warren Robbins established the Museum of African Art in them. Later Robbins gave the properties and the museum collection of 5000 works and an extensive photo archive on African art and culture as a gift to the Smithsonian Institution. To help subsidize the cost of the new Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture currently being built on the National Mall, the Smithsonian institution sold the property.

The exteriors of the houses have changed very little since the Douglass family live there in the 1870s, and have been partly restored and furnished with period pieces. They currently house The Frederick Douglass Museum and Caring Hall of Fame.

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Francis Scott Key Park

Francis Scott Key Park

The small but formal park and memorial located at 34th and M Streets (MAP) in northwest D.C.’s Georgetown neighborhood was the destination of this bike ride. It is named Francis Scott Key Park, and is adjacent to the Francis Scott Key Bridge, which traverses the Potomac River to connect Georgetown to the Rosslyn neighborhood of Arlington in Virginia. The park honors the man who wrote the poem about the British attack on Fort McHenry in Baltimore in 1814 which was turned into a song called “The Star-Spangled Banner,” and in 1931 became our national anthem.

Francis Scott Key Park features gardens with floral and other plantings, a bronze bust of Francis Scott Key, and a a tall flagpole.  A flag with 15 stars and 15 stripes, a replica of the one that flew over Fort McHenry back on that fateful night in 1841, flies night and day in the park.  It opened in 1993, and was designed by Friedrich St. Florian, the same architect who designed The National World War II Memorial located downtown on the National Mall.

Key was originally from nearby Carroll County, Maryland, where he was born on August 1, 1779. While he spent a lot of time in Baltimore, Key lived a good number of years in Georgetown, where he and his family moved in 1803. They lived in a house at the corner of 34th and M Streets, where the park is now located. Unfortunately, the house was demolished in 1947.

While living in D.C., Key served in the Georgetown field artillery unit.  After the British burned Washington in 1814, Key traveled to Baltimore to help negotiate the release of American prisoners. It was during this trip that he wrote the Star Spangled Banner.

In addition to being an amateur poet, Francis Scott Key was an American lawyer and author. He was a successful as an attorney in D.C. for many years. Upon returning to D.C. after the war, Key assisted his prominent lawyer uncle Philip Barton Key, including in the sensational conspiracy trial of Aaron Burr, and the expulsion of Senator John Smith of Ohio. Key’s extensive trial practice flourished, as did his real estate practice as well. During his time as a lawyer he went on to help negotiate with Indian tribes, assist President Thomas Jefferson’s attorney general in a case in which he appeared before the U.S. Supreme Court, and serve as the attorney for Sam Houston during his trial in the U.S. House of Representatives for assaulting another Congressman.

Key’s legal career culminating with his appointment as the United States Attorney for the District of Columbia, serving from 1833 to 1841.  It was during this time as U.S. Attorney that he prosecuted Richard Lawrence, the person who unsuccessfully attempted to assassinate President Andrew Jackson.   He also handled private legal cases as well during this time.

It was also during his tenure as U.S. Attorney that Key, a slave-owner himself, used his position to suppress abolitionists.  Key purchased his first slave in 1800 or 1801, and owned at least six slaves by the time he became a U.S. Attorney.  Mostly in the 1830s, he represented several masters seeking return of their runaway human property.  However, Key also manumitted several enslaved persons, and throughout his career he also represented for free several slaves seeking their freedom in court. Key was also a founding member and active leader of the American Colonization Society, the primary goal of which was to send free African-Americans back to Africa.  However, he was later ousted from the board as its policies shifted toward abolitionist.

There is much more to Francis Scott Key than most people know, just like there is more to D.C. than most people realize. Francis Scott Key Park is an example of this. And just like the man, the park is worthwhile in getting to know better.

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[Click on the photos to view the full-size versions]

Mary Surratt's Gravesite

Mary Surratt’s Gravesite

Mary Surratt was a D.C. boarding house owner who was convicted of taking part in the conspiracy to assassinate President Abraham Lincoln. Sentenced to death, she was hanged on July 7, 1865, alongside three men who were also convicted of playing a part in the plot to assassinate the 16th President, thereby becoming the first woman executed by the United States federal government.

Mary Elizabeth Jenkins was born in Waterloo, Maryland, raised by her mother after her father died when she was still a toddler, and schooled in a Catholic female seminary. She married John Harrison Surratt at age seventeen, and they bought approximately 300 acres of land in Prince George’s County, Maryland, where they built a tavern and a post office.  There they raised three children, Isaac, Anna, and John Jr., on the property which became known at that time as Surrattsville.

After the Civil War began on April 12, 1861, Maryland remained part of “the Union,” but the Surratts were Confederate sympathizers. Isaac Surratt left Maryland and traveled to Texas, where he enlisted in the Confederate States Army, while John Jr. quit his studies at St. Charles College and became a courier for the Confederate Secret Service. And during the war, the tavern was thought to have doubled as a safe house for rebel agents and spies in the Confederate underground network.

When her husband suddenly collapsed and died in August of 1862, Mary found herself in dire financial straits and decided to move to D.C., where she lived in a townhouse her husband had previously purchased. The 39-year old widow rented out the family farm in Maryland, and converted the townhouse’s upper floor into a boardinghouse. Through renting the farm and operating the boarding house, Mary managed to eke out a modest living.

While debate among historians still continues over the role Mary and her boardinghouse played in Lincoln’s death, it is widely accepted that she hosted and possibly attended meetings about the conspiracy convened there by John Wilkes Booth and her son, John Jr.  Mary herself denied any involvement during her trial. After her conviction, attempts were made, particularly by her daughter, Anna, to persuade President Andrew Johnson to commute Mary’s death sentence. He refused, stating, “She kept the nest that hatched the egg.”

On this bike ride I chose to stop by some of the locations in D.C. that were part of both her life and her death. First I rode to the boarding house which she owned where John Wilkes Booth and his accomplices met. The building is still standing, and is located at 605 H Street (MAP) in northwest D.C.’s Chinatown neighborhood. Although the building has retained much of its original character, it is no longer a boarding house. The building is now a Chinese restaurant called Wok and Roll. An historic plaque next to the restaurant’s door reads, “A Historical Landmark, “Surratt Boarding House”, 604 H Street, N.W. (The 541), is said to have been where the conspirators plotted the abduction of U.S. President Abraham Lincoln in 1865, Plaque by Chi-Am Lions Club.”

I also rode to the location where Mary was hanged.  At the time it was the Parade Ground of the U.S. Penitentiary at 4th and P streets (MAP), fronting the Washington Channel in southwest D.C.  Today it is part of Fort McNair, and the courtyard where the hanging occurred is now a tennis court.

Lastly, during today’s ride I also rode to her final resting place, which is in Mount Olivet Cemetery, located at 1300 Bladensburg Road (MAP) in northeast D.C. This was the most interesting part of the bike ride. When I got to the cemetery I stopped at the front office to ask where Mary Surratt’s grave is located. Upon being told by the manager that they do not give out that kind of information, I assumed she did not recognize the name. So I explained that Mary Surratt was the Lincoln assassination conspirator who had been executed nearly 150 years ago. She said that Mary’s grave continued to be vandalized, even to this day, and that the family had specifically asked that information about the location of her grave not be given out.

However, because I was already there anyway, I decided to look around a little before I left.  I knew from researching it that she was buried in Section 31 of the cemetery.  A map at the entrance showed the different sections of the cemetery, but there was no Section 31 listed. So as I was riding around aimlessly looking at the very decorative gravestones of what must have been very wealthy and prominent people of that time period, it occurred to me that Mary Surratt would have been out of place among them. Having been a working class woman who was executed for her role in the assassination of the President, they would not have wanted her to be buried among them in that area of the cemetery. So I rode over to the other side of the cemetery – as far away as I could get from the most ornate gravestones in the cemetery. There I saw a small, very plain-looking gravestone that looked almost out of place for the cemetery. When I went up to it I saw that it read, simply, “Mrs. Surratt.”

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[Click on the thumbnails above to view the full size photos]

Note:  Historic photos obtained from the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

National Harbor

National Harbor

On this bike ride I decided to go on a longer ride than usual, and made the 30-mile round trip out and back to National Harbor in Maryland. National Harbor is a 300-acre multi-use waterfront development on the shores of the Potomac River in Prince George’s County, Maryland, south of D.C. near the Woodrow Wilson Bridge. Its official address is 165 Waterfront Street in National Harbor, Maryland (MAP).

The land developed for National Harbor was previously the site of the Salubria Plantation. Originally built in 1827 by Dr. John H. Bayne, the site was renowned by local historians for its connection to Black history and to the Civil War. It was on the Salubria Plantation in 1834 that a 14-year-old slave girl named Juda, thought to have possibly been influenced by Nat Turner’s slave rebellion a few years earlier, poisoned her master’s two sons and infant daughter, and attempted to burn the house down, as an act of resistance to slavery. She is listed in the Maryland Archive as the first Maryland woman who was reported to have resisted slavery. She was tried and hanged in nearby Upper Marlborough, thus earning the dubious distinction of being the youngest female ever executed in the United States.

Despite the murders of his children, Dr. John Bayne became a Union officer in the Civil War, and went on to help convince the state of Maryland to compensate slave owners to free their slaves. He also later worked to provide public education to freedmen.

Despite being called “Hallowed African American Ground” in a headline by The Washington Business Journal, the site lost its historical designation and opportunity to be listed on the National Register of Historic Places when the plantation house burned down in 1981. Despite Prince Georges County being a majority Black county which ranks as the most educated and affluent Black county in the United States, a vote was taken by the Historic Preservation Commission to take away, not to nominate it for the national register. The remains of the plantation were then offered for sale along with the surrounding land. It sold in 1984, and was subsequently rezoned for mixed-use development.

Now known as National Harbor, the site has a convention center, six hotels, restaurants, condominiums, museums, stores, and an outlet mall. The site also has amusement rides, including a children’s carousel, and the Capital Wheel, a 175-foot ferris wheel on a pier that extends out into the Potomac River. National Harbor also includes a beachfront, where an outdoor sculpture entitled “The Awakening” currently resides, and a walking path. And an MGM-branded casino is expected to open at National Harbor within the next couple of years. It also hosts outdoor activities such as a culinary festival, famers markets, concerts by local artists, an annual ice sculpture exhibition, and an annual international Beatles festival.

However, access to National Harbor remains an issue. National Harbor has road access to Interstate 95/495 (the Beltway), Interstate 295 (Anacostia Freeway), and Oxon Hill Road. The state of Maryland has funded over a half a billion dollars in road improvements in order to handle the number of vehicles expected to drive daily to National Harbor. Since National Harbor is not accessible by the Metro, the Washington area’s rapid transit system, the state of Maryland also pays approximatley $312,000 annually for bus access to National Harbor from the Branch Avenue Metro station. A water taxi line run by the Potomac Riverboat Company also connects the National Harbor to Alexandria, Virginia. The City of Alexandria also runs shuttles from the water taxi terminal to the King Street/Old Town Metro station. The service costs the city almost a million dollars each year. Despite the government subsidies, National Harbor remains difficult to access via public transportation. I did, however, find it to be accessible by bike via the separated bike lane that crosses the Woodrow Wilson Bridge, but lacking in secure parking and storage facilities for your bike once you arrive.

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The Metropolitan Branch Trail

The Metropolitan Branch Trail

On this ride I explored the Metropolitan Branch Trail, which is an eight-mile trail that runs through the middle of D.C. (MAP), from Union Station downtown all the way to the Baltimore and Ohio (B&O) Railroad Station in Silver Spring, Maryland. Seven miles of the trail are within the city limits, and one mile is in Maryland. The trail gets its name from the Metropolitan Branch Line of the B&O Railroad, which the trail parallels. It is technically considered a rail-trail conversion because a key section of the trail is on former B&O Railroad right-of-way.

The urban trail takes cyclists past graffiti, industrial sites, train tracks, a brewery, and a touch of greenery as it passes through several of D.C.’s vibrant and historic neighborhoods, including the NOMA, Edgewood, Eckington and Brookland neighborhoods. Used much more for utilitarian purposes than for recreation, the trail is an important transportation route providing connections to homes and work, as well as access to seven Metro stations, and the National Mall.

However, the Metropolitan Branch Trail currently remains unfinished.  Plans for the future include connections to the area’s trail network such as the Capital Crescent Trail, Anacostia Trails System, and integration into the East Coast Greenway.

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[Click on the thumbnails above to view the full size photos]