Posts Tagged ‘Water Street’

The Maine Avenue Fish Market

The Maine Avenue Fish Market

On this ride I chose to ride along the waterfront in Southwest D.C. During the ride I stopped by the Maine Avenue Fish Market, which is located at 1100 Maine Avenue (MAP) just under the bridge for Interstate 395 connecting D.C. and Virginia. Also known as the Fish Wharf, or simply, the Wharf, the Maine Avenue Fish Market is quite popular with locals for its vast array of quality fresh seafood, including Chesapeake Bay blue crabs, soft shells, oysters, clams, shrimp, and more types of fish than you can count, all piled on top of mounds of ice. However, it is mostly unknown to the throngs of tourists who flock to the National Mall and monuments just a few blocks away to the north.

The Maine Avenue Fish Market is not just one of the few surviving open air seafood markets on the east coast of the U.S., but the oldest continuously operating fish market in the country. Founded in 1805, it is seventeen years older than New York City’s Fulton Fish Market, and decades older than Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco. The market almost met its demise in the 1960’s, when the original 19th-century Municipal Fish Market building was demolished to make way for a waterfront urban renewal project. However, the seafood vendors refused to leave. They were able to exercise a clause in their leases allowing them to stay for 99 years. So although it may continue to change as it has over the years, it won’t be closing down any time soon.

The Maine Avenue Fish Market is comprised of over ten stores, where the fresh seafood is sold on floating barges that line the pier along Water Street. The barges are a tribute to the original system in which fishing boats would journey back and forth from Colonial Beach, Virginia, where they would harvest the bay. Later, refrigerated trucks became more efficient and the “buy boats” were permanently docked. Eventually, they were replaced by the steel barges which exist today. The market is open each day of the week, but the largest selection of fish is on display Friday evening through Sunday.

In addition to being able to get some of the freshest seafood available without actually driving to the beach, customers at the Maine Avenue Fish Market can also choose from an array of ready-to-eat choices. From fried seafood platters to steamed crabs covered in Old Bay Seasoning, the take-out choices are seemingly endless. Other offerings include New England clam chowder and Maryland crab soup, raw oysters, fried clams, Jumbo lump crab cakes, ceviche, and fish sandwiches, to name just a few. The choices go on and on. And you don’t even need to be a seafood lover to enjoy the informal character of the place that sits just a short walk away from the Tidal Basin. It’s another side of D.C. that you might not get to see too often, but is well worth it.

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UPDATE:  If you plan to travel to the fish market anytime soon, exercise extreme caution.  The significant amount of construction going on to revitalize the waterfront is resulting in changing traffic patterns and various intermittent road and sidewalk closures.

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The Maine Lobsterman

If you go for a bike ride along D.C.’s Southwest Waterfront, you are likely to happen upon one of the most obscure, unusual and seemingly out of place memorials in D.C.  Located adjacent to the Cantina Marina and near Water Street and Maine Avenue (MAP) sits a statue entitled “The Maine Lobsterman.”   The statue serves as a memorial and was dedicated as “a tribute to all Maine lobstermen who have devoted their lives to the sea.”

The original Maine Lobsterman sculpture was cast by Victor A. Kahill, who was commissioned by the state of Maine to create a monument epitomizing the fierce independent spirit of Maine’s people and their contribution to the national economy.  The statue was commissioned to serve as the centerpiece of the Maine exhibit at the 1939 World’s Fair in New York.  The sculptor decided a lobsterman at work pegging the claw of a newly caught lobster would be an ideal subject, and selected H. Elroy Johnson to pose for the piece.  Johnson lived in Harpswell, Maine, and earned a living as a lobsterman.  He also frequently visited the State House, where he was known to participate in discussions regarding fishing policies, and was well-known throughout the state as a spokesman for lobstermen’s interests.

“The Maine Lobsterman” was supposed to be cast in bronze, but the state failed to raise enough money for its completion.  So the artist just put a coat of bronze paint over the plaster model and shipped it to New York.  After the Fair ended, the fake bronze statue returned to Maine and was placed on display in Portland, where the painted plaster statue eventually fell into disrepair.  No one seemed to want the man and his lobster, so it ended up being put in storage.  It spent the next several decades in a warehouse, where it was gnawed on by rats.

Shortly after Johnson’s death in 1974, renewed interest in the statue resulted in the Maine Legislature appropriating money to cast three bronze copies of the statue. One stood in the entryway of the building housing the State library, museum and archives in Augusta.  Another was on Casco Square in Portland.  And the remaining statue was located at Land’s End, the southern tip of Bailey Island, where Johnson spent his entire life.  Inspired by their leader, Ruth Heiser, the Cundy’s Harbor Camp Fire Girls later raised enough money by selling cookies and soliciting contributions to move the Harpswell statue to D.C.  According to the Senate Congressional Record, U.S. Senators Edmund Muskie and William Cohen subsequently sponsored a joint resolution to authorize the erection of the Maine Lobsterman statue on Maine Avenue, where it has been located ever since.

However, if you haven’t seen The Maine Lobsterman Memorial yet, you may want to do it soon.  Recent approval for the development of the Southwest Waterfront and soon-to-begin construction will result in the removal of the memorial, at least temporarily.  Wording to protect the statue was included in the statute authorizing the waterfront’s redevelopment.  But the memorial will be back in storage again, where it will remain until the multi-billion dollar construction project wraps up in a decade or so.

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