Georgetown Time Machine: Jack’s Boathouse

This week on Georgetown Time Machine, GM is exploring a fantastic photo of Jack’s Boathouse shortly after it first opened. The photo comes courtesy of the fantastic Old Time DC and dates to 1945.

Jack’s Boathouse was created that same year by John “Jack” Baxter, who had been a DC police officer for 11 years prior. From his 1999 obituary:

Mr. Baxter had been a D.C. policeman for 11 years in 1945 when he decided to go into the boating business. His primary beat was Georgetown below M Street, and he kept a canoe hidden along the riverfront. As a boy he had worked at Capt. Julius Wanner’s boathouse, and he knew his way around the neighborhood.

“I liked being on the waterfront. I’d started building boats down here, and the boat business began making so much money that I couldn’t see staying on the police force,” he told The Washington Post in 1995, 50 years after he established Jack’s Boathouse.

With six rowboats that he built himself, Mr. Baxter opened for business, just as World War II in Europe was drawing to a close. The charge was $2 a day. A half century later the rowboat fleet would be augmented by more than two dozen canoes and several motor craft, and the fees would rise to $10 an hour or $25 a day.

As mentioned above, Baxter died in 1999. Ownership of Jack’s passed to Paul Simkin, who operated the boathouse largely the same way it had always been run until 2013. Unfortunately for Simkin, the land that Jack’s stood on was claimed by NPS (in a lawsuit he claimed that the District still owned it.) And NPS wanted him gone. He fought the eviction, but was ultimately unsuccessful. Ever since NPS has operated the location as Key Bridge Boathouse using several different concessionaires.

At the time, GM was in high dudgeon about how this change would ruin the spirit of Jack’s and lead to a decline in the quality of offerings. On that he was just wrong. Key Bridge Boathouse has flourished. And though it might not be quite “an oasis of characters and vernacular of a bygone era” as Jack’s was, it’s still a pleasantly laid back place to start your river journeys from.


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