Georgetown Time Machine: Oak Hill in 3D

This week for Georgetown Time Machine, GM is again passing on an amazing shot unearthed by the great Old Time DC account (you should follow them!). It’s taken from the back of Oak Hill Cemetery looking down to Rock Creek circa 1875.

The photo is sort of 3D. It is one half of a stereoview shot. An accompanying shot was taken a few inched to one side of this one using a camera like this:

The two prints could be viewed simultaneously using a special viewer and the combined effect was to give the viewer a 3D view of the scene. If you ever used a Viewmaster as a kid, you can remember the experience. This technology was the first steps towards the modern 3D movies we have today (which seem to wax and wane in popularity over the years).

This particular photo was taken by William Moody Chase, a longtime resident of Baltimore. A Civil War vet, he made a career out of touring the mid-Atlantic taking stereoviews of dramatic scenery, like this one. He operated from the end of the war until 1895 and published over 2,000 prints.

The shot itself is quite striking as it shows Rock Creek in a much different state to the one it has today. Of course the intrusive highway is not present. But beyond that the most notable difference is that there was a dam up river a bit:

It almost appears as if there is a road that travels down to and across the dam, which would not be suprising. This was long before the great bridges started to span Rock Creek. Rather than even building a small bridge, it was often easier to just create a spot where a wagon could ford the river, barring any flooding. (Cars crossed Rock Creek by fording into the late 20th century.)

That said, this 1861 topographical map doesn’t show a road crossing at this spot:

This map shows fords elsewhere, so it’s safe to assume that there wasn’t one here, at least not in 1861.

Oak Hill Cemetery was completed in 1853, so it was several decades old by the time this photo was taken. (If you’re interested in the cemetery in the time of the Civil War, GM highly recommends the bizarrely fascinating novel Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders.)

2 Comments

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2 responses to “Georgetown Time Machine: Oak Hill in 3D

  1. georgetowncitizen

    Thank you for this fascinating photo. A couple comments. The old dam/road across Rock Creek in the photo is right about where the Mass. Ave. bridge is now located. In the upper left one can faintly make out a road paralleling the creek along its bluff; that road is now a trail which is an extension of the Whitehaven Trail system accessible from Lover’s Lane or Wisconsin Ave. The stone cross appears to surmount one of the Oak Hill Cemetery family crypts built into the hillside overlooking Rock Creek. One of those crypts temporarily housed Pres. Lincoln’s son Willy from 1862 until he accompanied Lincoln’s body on the train back to Springfield, Ill. in 1865. There is a plaque identifying the crypt. (Ironically, Jefferson Davis before the Civil War also had a deceased young son temporarily buried at Oak Hill.) “Lincoln in the Bardo” may be a fascinating book, but I am reliably informed that the author George Saunders never actually visited Oak Hill Cemetery. The general area shown in the photo is far less treed than nowadays, presumably a reflection of continued agriculture in the area when the photo was taken.

  2. qstreeter

    Oh no! Posted a week too late to allow for on-the-ground reconnaissance of where the dam might have been – this stretch of trail closed last Monday for a few months for repair work. Too many trees now (even after they’ve removed a bunch of large trees along the creek to kick off the trail work) to see much from up on the Mass Ave bridge.

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