A drawing from Water's Edge
Alfred Rudolf Waud (1828-1891), Fishing Torpedoes Out of the Potomac, 1861. Albert H. Small Washingtoniana Collection AS 2018.189. Courtesy of The George Washington University Museum and The Textile Museum.

Between the end of the Revolutionary War and his first presidential election, George Washington tried to turn the Potomac River—running 405 miles from the Appalachian Mountains to the Chesapeake Bay—into the nation’s commercial backbone. The Potomac never fulfilled Washington’s vision; its shallow and often rough waters allowed competing commercial pathways to emerge, particularly the Erie Canal and eventually, the railroads. But that doesn’t mean the Potomac River corridor has lacked historical drama. The curators of the exhibit At the Water’s Edge: D.C. and the Potomac see the river, including its Anacostia branch, as embodying “the story of Washington: colonization, commerce, war, restoration, conservation, historic preservation and recreation.” This exhibit at Washington’s namesake university includes historical maps, prints, and documents, organized geographically from Great Falls to Fort Washington; it features a handwritten letter penned by Washington in 1799 and an image of Great Falls from the Illustrated London News, 1861. Not surprisingly, the Civil War era looms large, including a bird’s-eye view of Alexandria from 1863 and an illustration of the National Farm School for Children of Colored Soldiers and Colored Orphans from 1866. March 12 to Aug. 27 at George Washington University Museum and the Textile Museum, 701 21st St. NW. $8.

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