The Aqueduct Bridge dates to the golden age of American canals in the early decades of the nineteenth century. Back before the advent of the locomotive, water was the only economical way to transport goods through America’s vast interior. Since the Potomac River isn’t navigable much above Georgetown, some visionaries conceived of the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal – the river they wished that nature had made. This 185 mile wonder – dug 100% by hand – was to stretch all the way to the headwaters of the Ohio River, channeling the bounty of America’s bread basket and the coal wealth of Appalachia into the pockets of eastern investors at the dawn of the capitalist age.
Naturally, the city fathers of Rosslyn over on the Virginia side of the Potomac River wanted a cut, too, and so was conceived the Aqueduct Bridge. This was no traditional bridge, but as the name suggests, it was a bridge of water over water, something that could only have made sense in a world of canals and rivers. Cargo coming down the C & O could be transferred across the river on the calm waters of the Aqueduct Bridge without ever leaving the flatboat. For various reasons – not the least of which was that canals were already on the verge of obsolescence as cutting edge railroad technology became faster and more reliable – the canal and its Aqueduct Bridge extension, for-profit ventures both, never performed as expected. After several renovations and reinventions as a Civil War-era military supply line, a toll bridge, and a leaky sieve, the Aqueduct Bridge was finally demolished during the 1920s and 30s. That is, all except the abutment on the Georgetown side and a lone pier near the Virginia bank.
The surviving abutment lies out of sight from the main drag of M Street, right at a distance where most wandering tourists turn back, returning to the familiarity of such authentically Georgetown institutions as ye olde Urban Outfitters and Häagen-Dazs.
In the shadow of Key Bridge
Abandoned Washington DC by Thomas Kenning