On the Waterfront: A Survey of Georgetown’s Historic Industrial Buildings

Photo Courtesy of DDOT.

Recently, GM became alerted to the vast archive of historic photos that DDOT has been publishing in its Flickr feed. GM was particularly drawn to the above photo which shows a bird’s eye view of the Georgetown waterfront circa 1946. It inspired GM to start yet another building survey series (even though he’s a school or two short of finishing his survey on historic school buildings-by the way, if anyone knows anything interesting about the Corcoran School on 28th St., let GM know). Thus GM introduces today a survey of Georgetown’s historic industrial buildings.

Georgetown was industrial before it was residential. As the most upstream an ocean-going vessel could reach on the Potomac, Georgetown became an important port for Maryland’s tobacco farmers. George Gordon, one of the primary land owners of what would become Georgetown, opened a tobacco inspection station at the port in the mid-18th century. By 1751, merchants from the port petitioned the colonial legislature to authorize the creation of a town. Gordon and the other primary land owner, George BealeBeall, were forced to turn over their land, and Georgetown was born (no one knows whether the name is for the two Georges or for the king).

As a result of the river, and eventually the canal and the B&O Railroad, lower Georgetown developed into an industrial section. We can still see some remnants of this past today, but much of the above scene has been wiped away.

Rather than jump right in with a particular building, GM wanted to share a personal history he recently received from former CAG president Ray Kukulski. It tells his and Don Shannon’s stories of living in lower Georgetown during the twilight of the neighborhood’s active industrial period. GM can’t think of a better way to kick off this series than with a personal link to the past:

Stay tuned for a closer look into some of these old buildings…




Filed under On the Waterfront

6 responses to “On the Waterfront: A Survey of Georgetown’s Historic Industrial Buildings

  1. Jonthan

    Great post, but you mistakenly identified one of the George’s as George Beale, but the proper spelling was George Beall.

    I make the important distinction bc there was also a man named George Beale of the same vintage, whose son George Beale II moved from Newport News, VA to Georgetown in 1809 and became a prominent DC resident. His grandson Robert Beale was married at Christ Church on O St. and is buried in Oak Hill Cemetery. George Beale’s great-grandson was Gen. Edward F. Beale, an owner of Decatur House.

  2. GM

    Yes, you are right. I always get that mixed up.

  3. Walter

    The Detroit Publishing Company took a set of photographs from the Washington Monument circa 1906. In the photograph looking northwest out Virginia Ave., one can make out various industrial buildings crowding the streets of lower Georgetown. Perhaps the most surprising building, location-wise, was a large illuminating gas tank on the south side of M St. between 29th and 30th streets. The tank was about five stories high, and covered much of the block.

    I am very interested in finding the source photographs that were used for the stone engravings at the Waterfront Park, and which record how the waterfront looked pre-WWII.

  4. Abigail Adams

    “[Georgetown] is the very dirtiest hole I ever saw for a place of any trade, or respectability of inhabitants.”

  5. louise

    Per Walter’s comment, I’m also interested in those engravings particularly the one showing the Indians. The DC State Historic Preservation Office holds that there are no tribes in DC but what tribe is being represented there? Did they disappear or relocate?

  6. Gordon Brown

    For Jonathan, re the various George Beales:

    I noticed your posting of July about the Beales and hope you may lessen my confusion. The George Beale who moved to Georgetown in 1809 was the second of the same name, and had a son who was #3. That George Beale was the father of Edward F. Beale. So far so good. But there were other George Beales, as well, which is where I get confused. The post Civil War newspapers write of Mrs George Beale of Georgetown (sometimes her husband seems to be given the rank of General), who was a grande dame socialite. Then there’s another Mrs George Beale who lived across the Creek at 20th and F in the winter, and Bloomingdale in the summer. Can you sort out these ladies and their husbands for me?
    Many thanks, even if you can’t. Gordon B

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