Aqueduct Bridge Abutment


The American landscape is littered with the detritus of failed commercial venture. Those who dream of becoming rich but who miss the mark, of making it with that one big idea that just doesn’t catch fire, rarely have the wherewithal to clean up after themselves. The business of bygone Washington, DC lingers on in the form of vacant storefronts, idled industry, and in the abutment of the Aqueduct Bridge. Like a corpse stripped clean to pure white bone, it is enigmatic and therefore beautiful. Denuded of its historic functionality, it is a mystery to modern eyes, like the most whimsical design for a scenic riverfront park that you could ever dream.


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

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Abandoned Washington DC by Thomas Kenning


One thought on “Aqueduct Bridge Abutment

  1. Very interesting piece of history. I’ve explored this area several times but thought it was the remains of a traditional bridge. Thanks

    Posted by Henry Foster | July 9, 2014, 7:42 pm

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