One of the most fashionable neighborhoods in Washington, DC, Georgetown is full of high-priced houses and condos, trendy boutiques and high-power offices. So it is hard to imagine Georgetown in the 19th century: an industrial port town with factories, power plants and warehouses. You should be standing on the towpath about 300 feet west of the Wisconsin Avenue bridge, with its stone arch. Look across the canal, you see a huge red-brick building. This was a coal warehouse. Look carefully and you will see old archways that have been bricked over. Look toward the base of the building and you will see stone work. This is where all the canal boats would tie-up and begin unloading their coal.
To your left stands a high, rough-cut stone wall. Look up about two thirds of the way and you will see stones sticking out at regular intervals. Look up all the way and you might catch a glimpse of an old timber sticking out. The workmen at that warehouse had built a catwalk across the stones and attached pulleys and ropes to the timbers. They would lower down barrels to the awaiting boats, fill the barrels with coal, then hoist them up.
Now imagine this: a two-mile backup of the 90 foot canal boats, all waiting to unload their coal. Coal dust everywhere. The towpath- where you’re standing- covered in mule manure. Imagine smoke spewing from the smokestacks of the power plant that generated electricity for the trolleys; imagine the smoke and stench from the Georgetown incinerator; imagine the stink from the local rendering plant.
This was no place for respectable people. This was a place of workmen, stevedores and canallers… and mules.
For more information on this end of the canal click here: