Before the 1872, Constitution Avenue in Washington, DC was a small creek and later, it was turned into a shipping canal, as part of the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal system.
The original Tiber Creek was widened during the initial construction of the Capital City between 1810 and 1815, when it was converted into part of the the Washington City Canal. The canal ran almost the length of Constitution Avenue, coming within a coupe blocks of the Capitol Building. (See map for original path.)
Since Washington had no public sewer system at the time, the Washington City Canal was used by many residents as a place to dump their garbage. It quickly became a notoriously smelly open sewer, especially at low tides.
In 1871, after railroads had replaced canals and barges as a method of transporting goods around the region, the head of the DC Board of Public Works, Alexander “Boss” Shepherd (later the Governor of DC) started many large-scale public improvement projects to upgrade Washington’s infrastructure. One of the major projects was to pave many of often muddy streets. Another was to install sewers. By combining both, one project built a huge underground tunnel from the Potomac River to the Capitol Building. The tunnel, reportedly large enough for a modern bay bus to drive in, carried sewage and rain run off. The project also filled, buried and paved the existing canal. Thus “B” Street (now Constitution Avenue) came into existence.
There is little evidence remaining of the original Washington City Canal that ran were Constitution Avenue now runs, except for the occasional basement flooding of government buildings (IRS and National Archives buildings in June, 2006) and the Lock Keeper’s house, located at Constitution Ave. at 17th Avenue.
The small home, built with Potomac Bluestone was erected around 1835 and housed the lock keeper and his family (all 13 children).
The house is located kiddie-corner to the Second Division Memorial.
Lock Keepers House
Constitution Ave. at 17th Ave., NW
Washington, DC (map it)
Visiting – You can visit the house daily, 24 hours-a-day, but the house is not open for tours.
Parking – Limited metered street parking is available.
Images – Map – Wikimedia, house photos – personal collection – © 2008 – Jon Rochetti