Georgetown Time Machine: K St. Canal

This week for Georgetown Time Machine, GM visits a legendary event from Georgetown’s past: the Great Ice Flood of 1918.

The photo, taken February 15, 1918, shows the flooding along K St. through Georgetown. It was caused by a phenomenon called an ice dam. This occurs when a deep freeze is followed by a rapid thaw. What happens is that a thick layer of ice forms with the freeze, but then gets broken up by the thaw. The ice starts to float down river, but can quickly become jammed by bridge abutments, and other blockages. The jam then blocks the water flow and causes the river to rise over its banks. In the case of the 1918 flood, it caused catastrophic damages.

GM has written about this flood before, and the Post wrote a detailed account of how it occurred two years ago. But reading about it in the contemporary newspapers adds a whole new layer.

The flood was instantly compared with another huge flood in 1889. That flooding occurred in June and was simply the result of heavy rains. It caused half the National Mall to be flooded (all the areas within the dark blue line were flooded):

But back to the 1918 flood. The February 14th evening paper gave a blow-by-blow as the situation grew perilous:

By the next evening, the Washington Times was reporting photos of the scene of flooding along the Georgetown Waterfront, including the photo up top.

Although by this point, it was starting to play it a bit for laughs, as it compared Georgetown to the canals of Venice (which were still a war zone at the time):

This photo is one GM has explored before, but would have never guessed the exact context involved directing freight cars around:

And here are some photos of the flood taken from negatives, which show much more clearly the stunning scene the ice dam created:


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