Posts Tagged ‘Rock Creek Parkway’

WatergateSteps01

The Watergate Steps

Ever since the infamous 1972 illegal break-in at the Democratic National Committee headquarters in D.C.’s Watergate complex, and the Nixon administration’s attempt to cover up its involvement in it, the word “Watergate” has become synonymous with the scandal and the office complex where it originated. But almost half a century before the scandal that took down a president began, a staircase between The Lincoln Memorial and the Potomac River (MAP) was built.   That staircase is named the Watergate Steps, and it was my destination for this lunchtime bike ride.

Designed in 1902 by the architectural firm of McKim, Meade & White, the Watergate Steps were built in 1930 as part of the Arlington Memorial Bridge and Lincoln Memorial approachway. The 40 granite steps are approximately 230 feet wide at the base near the Potomac River, and rise 50 feet to the level of the nearby Arlington Memorial Bridge.  The steps become narrower as they rise, and are approximately 206 feet wide at the top. The steps are also divided into two tiers by the Rock Creek Parkway.

The steps were initially intended to be used for ceremonial arrivals of heads of state, government officials and other dignitaries arriving via the Potomac River. Their boats would pull up to the steps, and there to greet their arrival would be the new memorial, which was less than a decade old. Unfortunately, the steps were never used for their intended purpose.

Eventually, someone realized that the steps would make an excellent venue for music concerts, and a proposal was approved to moor a barge with an orchestra shell on the water at the base of the steps as a stage for summer concerts. The first concert was held there on July 14th, 1935, at which the National Symphony Orchestra performed. These “Sunset Symphonies” became quite popular, and over the next three decades crowds as large as 12,000 were entertained each summer at a series of concerts. Within the first ten years, the National Park Service, which sponsored the concerts, estimated that two million people had attended symphony performances there, as well as concerts by the Army, Navy, Marine Corps and Army Air Forces bands.  Performers as diverse as Frank Sinatra and Paul Robeson also appeared there.

Alas, the concerts were discontinued in 1965 when jets started flying into Washington National Airport, and the noise was just too loud and would drown out the concerts. Failing to be used for their intended purpose, and with the discontinuance of the waterside concerts, the steps now serve mainly to provide tourists and other pedestrians with access to and from the Rock Creek Park Trail, which runs along the bank of the Potomac River. It is also a favorite location for local runners, who sprint up and down the steps for exercise.

So next time you hear the word Watergate, remember that it is more than just an office complex which was the site of a political scandal.  Not only did the Watergate Steps come first, but it is widely thought that the office complex was actually named after the steps.

WatergateSteps02     WatergateSteps03     WatergateSteps04

WatergateSteps01a     WatergateSteps02a
[Click on the thumbnails above to view the full size photos]

Advertisements
GodeyLimeKilns04

The Godey Lime Kilns

On previous bike rides I had seen a marker mounted on a small boulder on the other side of the busy traffic on Canal Drive, at 27th and L streets NW, just a few yards from Rock Creek Parkway under the K Street overpass (MAP), in the Foggy Bottom neighborhood of D.C. I had never made my way over to see what it is though. So, on this ride I rode back there to finally check it out. I found out that the marker commemorates the site where the Godey Lime Kilns once stood.

The marker reads: “Godey’s Lime Kilns, 1833 – 1908, These kilns were used as late as 1908 supplying Washington with a fine grade of lime. The limestone was brought from quarries just beyond Seneca, Maryland over the C&O Canal. United States Department of the Interior, National Park Service – in Washington, D.C.” The site is now an historical industrial building ruin which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

On the site, strategically located on the east bank of Rock Creek at the terminus of the Chesapeake and Ohio (C&O) Canal, William H. Godey founded the Godey Lime Kiln Company in 1864. The Godey Company’s facilities originally included four wood-fired ovens that were used to make lime and plaster, using limestone from Maryland quarries and brought to the kilns via the C&O Canal.

Godey made a fortune from the lime business because the growing national capital city had a nearly insatiable need for building materials. By May 1906, however, its fortunes had declined, and Godey’s was running ads to rent out its property. The kilns were taken over by John Dodson in 1897, and operated until 1907 when they were abandoned. Godey’s business closed the following year.

Only two of the original four ovens remain, and these two were half buried before the National Park Service and District of Columbia Highway Department combined efforts to excavate and restore them to the condition in which I was able to see them during this bike ride.

GodeyLimeKilns01     GodeyLimeKilns02

GodeyLimeKilns03     GodeysLimeKiln01a
[Click on the photos above to view the full size versions]