This week for Now and a Long Time Ago, GM is visiting the waterfront. Typically when GM explores waterfront pictures for Georgetown, the time period is the early to mid-20th century when it was an industrial area. But today he’s going further back: to June 1865.
What you see in the old photograph is a pontoon bridge between Georgetown and what was then called Analostan Island. Here’s a better view of the 1865 photo:
From 1724 until 1842, the island was owned by the family of George Mason (hence why the island was also known as Mason’s Island). One of the Masons who owned the island, John Mason, built a mansion and gardens on the island, which, as you can see, was pretty well cleared of trees. But by the Civil War, the island was owned by William Bradley. The U.S government temporarily took over the island to use it for military purposes.
Specifically the island was used to house the 1st United States Colored Infantry. There’s some great poetic justice that an island once owned by a slave-owning founding father was used by the first African-American military unit.
The pontoon bridge was constructed for the military use. And while the war had been over just about a month at the point this photo was taken, there appears to still be soldiers occupying the property.
If you’re interested in diving deeper, a post on this website goes into more speculation about the photo and the particular details from it.