The work of David Ramos and his work on the site Imaginary Terrain that includes mapping, tours, and investigations of the hidden rivers of Washington DC. He comes at the task from the lens of designer, developer, and design educator and mentions: “I’m interested in how long-buried natural systems and historic land use patterns poke their way to the surface, shaping our cities today. I produce maps and lead tours that examine landscape history and planning issues, particularly in the D.C. area.” This is the point of departure for his work mapping the historic and modern of DC.
Some earlier maps show the evolution from the mapping of the creeks on the historical map and the modern street network.
As mentioned, the bulk of historical mapping data is derived from the Topographical map of the District of Columbia / surveyed in the years 1856 ’57 ’58 & ’59 by Albert Boschke which was published in 1861. It shows the plan for Washington DC as well as extensive outlying areas.
This followed the 1857 publication by of the Map of Washington City, District of Columbia, seat of the federal government: respectfully dedicated to the Senate and the House of Representatives of the United States of North America which was a more zoomed in version showing structures of the formal city.
These maps are both available via the Library of Congress, which also offers an interesting origin story:
“With the outbreak of hostilities in April 1861, it became necessary to begin preparing the defenses of Washington, DC. In 1857, Albert Boschke, a German born civil engineer, published his Map of Washington City, District of Columbia, seat of the federal government: respectfully dedicated to the Senate and the House of Representatives of the United States of North America which showed, for the first time, the location of every structure in the city as of the publication date. Following the publication of the 1857 map, Boschke and his surveyors continued surveying the entire District of Columbia, sometimes referred to as the ‘ten mile square’, which resulted in his landmark Topographical map of the District of Columbia / surveyed in the years 1856 ’57 ’58 & ’59. Published in 1861, near the outbreak of the war, this very detailed map showing the locations of all the structures in the city was a potential threat to the security of the entire city, the seat of the federal government. According to an 1894 article by Marcus Baker in the National Geographic Magazine, Boschke sold his interest in the map to the publisher, David McClelland. Shortly after publication, representatives from the War Department seized the original manuscript and copper plates from which the map was published to prevent dissemination of the map.”
I’m also intrigued by one of Ramos’ references, a circular from the late 1970s by the US Geological Survey (USGS) by Garnett P. Williams entitled Washington, D.C.’s Vanishing Springs and Waterways / Geological Survey Circular 752.
“This paper traces the disappearance or reduction of the many prominent springs and waterways that existed in Washington, D.C. , 200 years ago. The best known springs were the Smith Springs (now under the McMillan Reservoir), the Franklin Park Springs (13th and I Streets, NW.), Gibson ‘s Spring (15th and E Streets, NE.), Caffrey ‘s Spring (Ninth and F Streets, NW.), and the City Spring (C Street between Four and One-Half and Sixth Streets, NW.). Tiber Creek, flowing south to the Capitol and thence westward along Consititution Avenue, joined the Potomac River at 17th Street and Constitution Avenue. In the 1800’s, the Constitution Avenue reach was made into a canal which was used by scows and steamboats up to about 1850. The canal was changed into a covered sewer in the 1870’s, and the only remaining visible surface remnant is the lock-keeper ‘s little stone house at 17th and Constitution Avenue, NW. Because of sedimentation problems and reclamation projects, Rock Creek, the Potomac River , and the Anacostia River are considerably narrower and shallower today than they were in colonial times. For example, the mouth of Rock Creek at one time was a wide, busy ship harbor , which Georgetown used for an extensive foreign trade, and the Potomac River shore originally extended to 17th and Constitution Avenue, NW. (Woodard-USGS)”
The fact that this document was produced by the USGS I am curious what the motivation was, beyond mere historical interest. There is some reference to sedimentation in current creeks, due to development, and the cost of dredging to maintain navigability. Perhaps worthy of a follow-up post. Finally, I did find this interesting MLA Thesis from Virginia Tech student Curtis A. Millay, worth checking out: Restoring the Lost Rivers of Washington: Can a city’s hydrologic past inform its future?
“Can a historically-driven investigation of these buried channels lend credence to the resurrection in some form of a network of surface stormwater channels, separate from the municipal sewage system, to solve the city’s sewage overflow crisis? The following study is an initial exploration of the re-establishment of waterways through Washington with the purpose of improving the current storm sewer overflow dilemma and exploring the potential urban amenities that they could provide as part of a stormwater management plan for the year 2110.”