Fulton's Visit to Washington
By James Croggon, The Evening Star, date unknown
It was at Kalorama that Robert Fulton, inventor of the steamboat, stopped during his sojourn at the capital a hundred years ago, he guest of Joel Barlow; and it was here that he explained his inventions to the President and other government officials, and on Rock creek, skirting the grounds on the west and north, made some experiments in steam navigation. Tradition has it that it was here a miniature Clermont demonstrated the success of his steamer on the Hudson in August, 1807; but this is doubtless incorrect, for Mr. Barlow did not take possession of Kalorama until three months after. Mr. Fulton, however, after the successful trip of the Clermont, made improvements as to steam propulsion, and some of his experiments were here, the waters of Rock Creek being right at the door of Kalorama. It is not unlikely that he made trials here of his plunging or diving boa and of other inventions, for his was a busy mind as to improvement, as was evident by the many models and drawings in his applications for parents which were destroyed by fire with the post, patent and other offices December 15, 1836. With these was a painting of the Clermont on her voyage up the Hudson from Fulton's brush.
Kalorama before it passed into the hands of Mr. Barlow was owned by W. Augustine Washington, a nephew of the general. It was known as Belair, and consisted of forty acres so beautifully situated that Mr. Barlow changed the name to the Greek for fine view. The mansion on the hill was enlarged by wings and the grounds laid out in accordance with the plans of Mr. Latrobe. Overlooking the valley of Rock creek, then unobstructed, with plenty of fish therein and game in abundance on its shores, it was an ideal place for the enjoyment of life.
Visited by Presidents
Of Irish descent, a native of Lancaster county, Pa., at the age of twenty-one Fulton had met with success in Philadelphia as a landscape and portrait painter, and to improve in his profession, in 1786 went to London and studied under Benjamin West. Twenty years he remained in Europe, but other matters than his profession engaged his attention--navigation by steam, canal transportation, devices for spinning flax, making rope, sawing marble, exploding powder under water and diving or submarine boats being among his studies. He obtained several patents in England. In his plunging or diving boat, with three companions, he remained one hour under water and by his torpedo blew up a vessel, but no nation would then adopt them.
Returning to his native land in 1806, backed in his steam navigation experiments by Chancellor Livingston, he built the Clermont, whose initial trip is the subject of the celebration in New York, and before his death in 1815 he built fourteen other steam vessels. During this interval he continued his studies and under congressional appropriation in 1810 he blew up a brig in New York by his torpedo.
The government went no further, but nearly a hundred years afterward the torpedo and diving boat are in use.