Just a few miles north of Fort Washington and a stone's throw from National Harbor is the Woodrow Wilson Bridge which allows the Washington Beltway to Cross the Potomac River.
The original Woodrow Wilson Bridge was completed in 1961. This bridge, just over a mile long, carried six lanes and had a drawbridge in the middle. Due to the relatively low height of the bridge, the drawbridge was required to open about 260 times a year. On most bridges, no big deal; but on the DC Beltway, which handles some 250,000 cars a day, this caused major traffic snarls. In 1999 Maryland, Washington, and Virginia, after years of planning, began construction on a new Woodrow Wilson Bridge, 12 lanes wide and taller than the previous structure. The new bridge has twice the automobile capacity as the original and will require only about 65 drawbridge openings a year. The new bridge not only allows more traffic, but it enables future expansion of the train or Metro system, and it has 12-foot wide pedestrian and bike routes along the edge with access to National Harbor.
Fort Washington Light sits just below the front of the Fort with the same name. The first lighthouse here was built in 1857, the second in 1870, and the current lighthouse was constructed in 1882 and converted to the lighthouse in 1901. Interestingly, Jefferson Davis, as Secretary of War, authorized the first lighthouse here in what would become a Northern State. The present day lighthouse was actually constructed near a previous lighthouse as a fog bell tower. Since then, the 1870 light house tower, the keeper's house, and the surrounding buildings were all demolished. Today the light stands alone by the Potomac.
Warburton Manor was located on a bluff high above the Potomac River. Built in 1661 by the Digges family, who were friends of George Washington. It is said that Washington would take the ferry across the river from Mount Vernon to spend time with the influential family that had ties to the governor of Virginia. Later, when L'Enfant was designing Washington, he resided with the Digges family for seven years. He died and was buried here before his body was moved to Arlington Cemetery.
Today all that remains of the mansion is the foundation and a historical plaque.
The sign on the site of Warburton Manor reads:
"Home of the Digges Family (descendants of Edward Digges, governor of Virginia, 1652–1668). The most intimate friend of George and Martha Washington in Prince George’s County, where they visited many times. Washington spent his forty-third birthday here. Now site of Fort Washington, designed by L’Enfant 1814.
George Washington Bicentennial 1932"
You would never know it just passing through, but the tiny village of Broad Creek is one of the oldest English settlements in the Washington DC area, and it has ties to George Washington.
Broad Creek Historic District consists of three existing buildings, the ruins of another, and the remnants of an old canal.
Harmony Hall was a plantation house built in 1760. It was restored in the 1930s by a local government worker.
St. John's Church was established in 1692 as one of the original thirty churches of the Anglican Church in Maryland. The current plain square brick structure dates from 1766. This is the most visible and easily visited of the Broad Creek sites.
Piscataway House dates back to about 1750. It was constructed in the nearby village called Piscataway, but was moved to the current location in 1932 to protect it from destruction.
Want Water is the name of a mansion built in the 1730s along the Broad Creek near the Potomac. The owner was a tobacco planter, but he didn't have a port for his goods so he created the nearby Want Water Canal. The house and the canal are both in ruins today, but significant evidence of both remain, particularly the towering stone end walls of the house.
Fort Foote is a Civil War-era fortress just a few miles upriver from Fort Washington. This is a National Park, administered from nearby Fort Washington, but I will go on record as saying this might be the worst National Park I have ever seen. Other than the standard brown park sign, the place looks like the dumpiest local park you might find deep in Appalachia, rather than just a few miles outside of the DC Beltway.
The dirt entrance road was rutting with a puddle big enough to swallow a car, the restrooms are in a trailer, and right behind the restrooms there was evidence of a recent car fire... In fact, I saw similar scorch marks in two other areas nearby. The trails are overgrown and unmarked, as well as blocked by a rusty old gate. The fort itself is in complete ruins, and even the view over the Potomac have been lost due to overgrown vegetation.
Basically this is a place to see wildlife and maybe burn your car if you feel like it.
National Harbor is the massive, brand new waterfront shopping and entertainment district along the Potomac just outside of the DC Beltway. The 300 acre complex opened in 2008 after some two billion dollars of investment and a decade of planning. The facility resembles a tiny six or eight block main street area of a city with its hotels, restaurants, retail stores, condominiums, marina, convention center, and commercial offices. The Gaylord Hotel and Resort dominates the site, and is now the largest non-casino hotel and convention center on the east coast.
Why is all this stuff built here, rather than in one of the blighted area of DC? Who knows! Who cares? Probably cheap land, good access from the beltway, and less government bureaucracy interference.
In the near future the National Children’s Museum will also have a home at National Harbor, alongside the statue called "The Awakening" that used to stand at Hains Point.
Fort Washington National Park lies along the Potomac River in Maryland, opposite Virginia's Fort Hunt and Mount Vernon. From Mount Vernon Highway you have several scenic overlooks providing excellent views of the fort and the lighthouse across this relatively narrow neck of the river.
The original Fort Washington was completed in 1809 as the primary defensive position protecting the new national capitol. During the War of 1812, the fort was destroyed by its American garrison during the British advance on Washington to prevent its capture. Fort Washington was reconstructed in 1824 with extensive remodeling in the 1840s and 1890s, including the addition of numerous smaller outlying fortification.
The fort is a stone structure with excellent firing lanes down the Potomac River. It was turned over to the Department of the Interior in 1946 after the Army closed the garrison. The park grounds have hiking and bicycle paths and picnic areas.
The Fort Washington Light, located below the fort, was established in 1857. The current tower was constructed in 1882, and it stands 28 feet tall.