Then Again Podcast
Steamboats / ep. 1
Welcome to Then Again, the podcast that takes a deeper look at urban histories. This season, we’ll be unpacking the coming and going of Washington residents by exploring the history of the city’s many forms of transportation. Join us as we uncover the stories and dramas of D.C.’s rivers, streetcars, highways, and airports.
In this premiere episode of Then Again, we explore Washington’s once-booming steamboat excursion industry and speak with author Patsy Mose Fletcher about its history of segregation.
Then Again is produced by Allison Arlotta, Melissa Wadley, Erika Rydberg, Victoria Riechers, David Ramos, and Elena Goukassian, in association with Knowledge Commons DC.
Music: “Rain Stops Play” and “Thought Projection” by Ketsa.
Facilities: DC Public Library’s Studio Lab.
- Historically African American Leisure Destinations Around Washington D.C. by Patsy Mose Fletcher
- Norfolk & Washington Steamboat Co. Brochure circa 1900
- DC Public Library’s Databases for Online Research (requires a DC Public Library card)
- Potomac Landings by Paul Wilstach
Random Extra Facts
Three Notch Road
In the 1700s in Maryland, notches on trees were used as road signs — different notches indicated different destinations. Any road leading to a ferry had three notches on the trees on both sides of the roads.
The word Potomac, which comes from Captain John Smith’s notes and the Algonquian term Patawomeke, did not refer to the river but instead to the group of people who lived on the Virginia side of the river below what we now call Great Falls. In fact, that’s probably what Captain Smith meant when he noted the word next to the river in his map.
Over the years people have claimed Potomac to translate to many things, including:
- “they are coming by water”
- “small fishes”
- “brushy river”
- “river of swans”
- “the burning pine”
In 1921, a University of Virginia researcher did a thorough investigation and found the most accurate translation to be “to bring again they go and come.” Essentially, “they” were being described as traders, potentially of graphite.
In 1956 — just before he got really famous — Elvis played a show on a Wilson Lines steamer called the SS Mount Vernon. That night, the ship had mechanical problems and didn’t leave the dock, so everyone who had a ticket instead got to spend the night listening to Elvis.
Historic wharfs in D.C.
- High Street Wharf in Georgetown (High Street is now Wisconsin Avenue)
- Sixth Street Wharf (now the Navy Yard — Sixth Street was disrupted by the freeway)
- Seventh Street Wharf (now the SW Waterfront)
- Alexandria Wharf (became heavily favored in the 1860s because of sedimentation issues in the Anacostia and Potomac)
More from Then Again
Allison Arlotta grew up in Takoma Park, and no matter how many times she tries to leave the D.C. area, it keeps sucking her back in. It looks like she’ll finally break free this fall when she joins the Historic Preservation program at Columbia University. Besides shedding a tear when old buildings are demolished, her hobbies include flying trapeze, yelling at the TV, and celebrity gossip.