When City Was Young
By James Croggon, The Evening Star, August 17, 1906 [pt. 4 p. 1]
When the city of Washington was a weakling-in fact, before it had under its incorporation assumed the name of city of Washington in lieu of the Federal City-the pioneer settlers turned attention to improving facilities for trade and intercourse with the world. There was at the time, of course, communication by water and a mail route running through Georgetown, but the want of bridges over the Potomac and the Eastern branch made land communication with Maryland and eastern Virginia difficult and circuitous. There were no bridges leading out of Washington, either to Maryland or to the Virginia portion of the District, Alexandria county.
There was communication northward by stages-more than one line to Baltimore-but for a number of years Georgetown was the starting point. Indeed, that place, separated only by Rock Creek from Washington, and having had a start of fifty years, retained her position as to trade for more than a quarter of a century after Washington was acknowledged to be in existence, and, being on the great post route, which swept around from north of the city by stages through Georgetown, it was from that office the Washington office was supplied.
A ferry at Georgetown was a link in the great post route and a packet ran between that place and Alexandria. Georgetown at that time, and long after, had some trade across the seas, and some of the early settlers, especially the Carrolls, Laws, Youngs, Capt. Barry, Peter Miller and others, were optimistic as to that section where Carrollsburg had been laid off prior to the revolution. A sugar house and bakery had been erected near the eastern terminus of the city, and the ship biscuit from the bakery found a ready sale. In the interest of trade closer intercourse with Alexandria was sought, as well as in other directions. There was a goodly depth of water around Turkey Buzzard Point, and visions of large vessels in the "Port of Carrollsburg" encouraged the first settlers to make extra effort for country as well as maritime trade.
The Eastern branch was then a navigable stream, and until 1843 quite large vessels were wont to take on cargoes of tobacco at the Bladensburg wharfs for foreign ports, but in the year named the last vessel of any considerable size, the brig Rover, passed down to Alexandria, where her cargo went to complete that of a larger vessel. From the fact that there is preserved in the Trunnel family of Georgetown a bill of lading of a ship which cleared the port of Bladensburg in 1763, the port of Carrollsburg was mentioned in English journals, which included also Alexandria and Georgetown, and there was thus four seaports within six miles of the capital. There are among the old residents of Washington some who participated in a democratic barbecue at Bladensburg July 4, 1840, going up on a steamboat from the navy yard.
Bridge Over Anacostia River
The second bridge constructed over "the branch" was that known as Benning, on the line of H street extended. This bridge has been in use for over 100 years. It was built by the Anacostia Bridge Company, of which Benjamin Stoddert, Thomas Law and John Templeman were the incorporators under the act of Maryland of January, 1798.
The Navy Yard bridge was the third structure over the Anacostia river, and today is on its original location. It was built by the Navy Yard Bridge Company under an act of Congress in 1819, with Wm. Prout, Wm. Marbury, Samuel N. Smallwood, Timothy Winn and Adam Lindsley as the incorporators. This was until the forties a toll bridge, 3 cents being exacted for each passenger, horse, mule of head of cattle, 2 cents each for hog or sheep and for each vehicle 7 cents per wheel.
A ferry boat running from the south end of New Jersey avenue to Poplar Point opposite was a link in what was to many a popular route. The ferry was established by Capt. W. Booth about 1800 and reaching roads leading to a point opposite Alexandria, Piscataway and other places, it was much appreciated. That this was the case with people bound through the city is shown by an old map of Washington in which is depicted a serpentlike road from the northeast boundary of the city to the ferry wharf.
With bridges over the Eastern branch, new stage lines to Maryland points came in operation. Marlboro, Annapolis, Port Tobacco and Leonardtown had horse connection with the capital-or, rather, with Georgetown; for until about 1820, as far as business was concerned, that was the central point. But the stages took in the Washington hotels, and soon afterward Washington became the starting point.
Staging a Lucrative Business
Early in the century a closer union with Alexandria by bridging the Potomac was agitated. In 1801 meetings were held at Stelle's Hotel, and books opened for subscriptions for that purpose. It was not, however, till February, 1808, that a company was incorporated to build what has long been known as the Long bridge, which was opened for business the following year. The commission to carry this act into effect was Robert Brent, Daniel Carroll of Dudington, Thomas Monroe, James D. Barry, Frederick May, S.H. Smith, Jonah Thompson, Jonathan Swift, Thomas Vowell, Cuthbert Powell, Elisha Janney and Charles Alexander. The capital stock was fixed at $200,000 in $100 shares, and authority given to construct a bridge between the termination of Maryland avenue and Alexander's Island. A width of thirty-six feet, draw of thirty-five feet and wharf on each side of the bridge were prescribed. The tolls were based on the "fip and levy" currency of that day. The value of a fip, charged for a foot passenger, was 6-1/4 cents; three fips for a person and horse, and a two-horse coach or stage, 100 cents. Soon afterward a turnpike road between Alexandria and Bridgepoint, or Alexandria Island, and a toll bridge over Four Mile run were constructed by a turnpike company, opening up a new route, independent of packet or ferry, and it was soon an artery for the trade of Washington and Alexandria. The latter town was a competitor of Georgetown for Washington business, and daily goods were forwarded by wagon. There is ample evidence that this has proved to be a most important link between the north and south. It has not, however, proved much of a factor in city making. . The attempt to erect a vis-à-vis city to Washington near the second end of the bridge about 1820, when, with great éclat, a cornerstone was laid by Gen. Jackson, proved to be a failure. The site was named Jackson City, which subsequently became a locality famous in policy circles.
Introduction of Steamboats
"In 1819 great improvement had taken place in the city of Washington, Georgetown and Alexandria. The honor of this change may be ascribed to the merchants of Alexandria, Va., who had witnessed the great effects of the steamboat in Baltimore. They had seen its beneficial effects both in trade and commerce, which had kept in active operation from the most distant period of the history of that city.
"A ferry had long been plying on the Potomac river between Washington and Alexandria, and no change had ever taken place in this boat until 1818, either in the hours of leaving or arriving, or even in the fare for passengers.
"Capt. Joe Johnson lived on Buzzard's Point at the mouth of the Eastern branch, and ran the ferry boat from the Long bridge to Alexandria. He left Washington at 9 o'clock in the morning, arriving at Alexandria at 11; then started on the return trip, stopping at Buzzard's Point to get his dinner, letting the passengers remain on the boat during the dinner hour. He made but two trips a day.
"From the increase of traffic and of passengers his profits had become immense, and he thought of purchasing a steamer. He finally purchased a steamboat in Baltimore, and leaving his ferry boat in charge of his mate he slipped off to that city to complete the deal. A vessel was seen approaching Alexandria one day not long afterward which was thought to be afire, from the smoke issuing from her decks. Few of the people had ever seen a steamboat. The first intimation they had, however, of the absence of their old captain was when he was seen coming from the steamboat which had brought him around from Baltimore.
"This was the first steamboat on the Potomac.
"He was proud of his purchase and boasted that he was the first owner and commander of a steamboat on the Potomac."
Subject to Wind and Tide
Then came the little steamer Dandy, which, as related, was brought around from Baltimore. This ran from Alexandria to Van Ness' wharf, and sometimes into the canal a short distance.
Other boats came later, among them the Washington-captain, Henry Walker. This boat ran on the ferry line. Being a larger and faster boat, it captured the bulk of the patronage, and soon the Dandy ceased to pay and was sold.
Then came the Independence, which also ran to Van Ness' wharf-the Cygnet, Phoenix, Chesapeake, Fredericksburg, Sydney, Salem, Paul Jones and other old-time craft, which had their day as ferry steamers, sometimes making river landings. The Paul Jones was put on the ferry in the '80's, and is remembered by some as a very swift boat, which honored the naval hero not only by placing his name on the paddle boxes, but by bearing a figure of the admiral on the pilot house. This was in the shape of a fully uniformed naval officer armed with a sword in each hand, and being geared so that the arms revolved. This boat was burned in Alexandria in 18??.
It was the steamer Washington that late in the '20's opened a new route to the south, which afterward became the great southern mail line. She made regular trips to Potomac creek, at first tri-weekly and later daily, landing her passengers, who, by hacks or stages were carried to Fredericksburg, then connecting with an old-established line for Richmond and points further south.