1930s

The C&O Canal Owes a Lot to Black Workers of the CCC

CCC Workers at Camp NP-2 in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. (Source: National Archives Catalog)

Today, you may know the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal best as a destination for outdoor activities, roaring waterfalls and historic lockhouses (which can be rented, thanks to the Canal Quarters Lockhouse Program!)  But, the C&O Canal has a history with more twists and turns than the route of the canal itself. One of the most interesting chapters in C&O history was from 1938-1942, when two all-Black Civilian Conservation Corps companies worked to refurbish the decaying canal.

The Lesser-Known National Aquarium

Photo of empty National Aquarium in basement of Department of Commerce, 1932. Image Source: Library of Congress.

Since opening in 1981, the National Aquarium in Baltimore has proved a popular tourist destination, an educational excursion, and a great refuge from the heat in summer months. Many people don’t know, however, that there was a smaller, more modest National Aquarium in D.C. for years before the one in Baltimore popped up.

Those who recall the original National Aquarium will remember it as a dark, tiny exhibit tucked away in the basement of a gigantic government building. But how exactly did this little-known Washington spot end up on the lowest floor of the Department of Commerce—today known as the Herbert C. Hoover building—on 14th St NW?

A King at Mount Vernon

“Close up of President Roosevelt and King George VI as they drive from Union Station to the White House. June 8, 1939.” (Photo Source: FDR Presidential Library & Museum Flickr) https://www.flickr.com/photos/fdrlibrary/7366008204/in/album-72157630051202255/

On June 8, 1939, a royal train rolled into Track 20 at Union Station. The station had been cleaned and shined, the columns lining the track had a fresh coat of green and white paint, and a blue carpet was rolled out from the platform to the newly redecorated station reception room. The visitors arriving in Washington that day were King George VI and Queen Elizabeth, who made unprecedented history by becoming the first reigning British monarchs to ever set foot on American soil. Of the various activities that the King took part in during his stay, the irony of his visit to Mount Vernon was, quite possibly, the most intriguing.

The Hurricane That Created the Ocean City We Know Today

When readers of the Washington Evening Star opened their papers on August 25, 1933 they needed no reminder of what had just befallen the city. Two days earlier, the fiercest storm the nation’s capital had seen in decades pushed a wall of water up the Chesapeake Bay and Potomac River. In a matter of hours, over six inches of rain fell on D.C. 51-mph winds toppled trees. Floodwaters submerged highways. Roofs were torn off buildings. A train crossing the Anacostia River was swept off its tracks. The list went on… Damage was even worse in Ocean City, yet the storm was also a cause for celebration. Huh?

The Bumpy Road to Washington National Airport

Washington National Airport Terminal

Early in the 20th century, a modern, accessible, airport became a necessity for any major city, and Washington was no exception. However, while there was general agreement on the need for an air hub to serve the nation’s capital, the road – literally – to achieving that goal was fraught with delays and obstacles. It would take 12 years of debate and a president stepping in for the city to finally get the airport it so desperately needed.

Washington’s Best Thing Since Before Sliced Bread

Dorsch's Ford truck, 1923. (Photo Source: Library of Congress)  “Dorsch’s Ford Truck.” 1923. Photo, print, drawing. Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. 20540 USA. Accessed October 30, 2017. https://www.loc.gov/item/npc2007007765/.

The industrial revolution was reshaping the United States in the 19th and early 20th centuries, as the country shifted from a pure agrarian structure, to a more industrial one. While many major American cities of the early 20th  century were home to bustling factories and mills pumping smoke into the air, Washington’s largest processing industry filled the air with a different smell—fresh baking bread. In the same neighborhood as the former Griffith Stadium in Shaw, family-owned bakeries lined the streets. Among the most prominent of these bakeries were Dorsch’s White Cross Bakery, Holzbeierlein Bakery, and Corby Baking Company, which were responsible for producing almost all of the bread, cake, and pastry products sold in the Washington area, consequently making them all household names in D.C.

Whatever Floats Your...Orchestra

Washingtonians in canoes listen to the NSO. Photo Source: Washington Evening Star. Used with Permission by the DC Public Library

On the evening of July 14, 1935, just behind the Lincoln Memorial, on the steps of the Watergate Amphitheatre, 10,000 Washingtonians, dressed in flannel and gingham, sat on blankets and newspapers. Out on the water, hundreds of others dressed in bathing suits floated in canoes, eager to experience Washington’s newest summertime tradition: floating concerts by the National Symphony Orchestra. The NSO was taking to the water, inaugurating a new “Sunset Symphony” series, wherein the orchestra would offer summertime performances on a 75 foot concert barge bobbing in the Potomac River.

Two Steinways and Three Roosevelts

Gold Steinway in the East Room of the White House (Photo Source: Library of Congress)

In 1903 and 1938, Steinway & Sons gifted their 100,000th and 300,000th custom, art-case grand pianos to the White House. The pianos, crafted with the White House East Room in-mind,  were unlike any other Steinway pianos ever produced--they had extravagantly painted cases, gold leaf designs, and intricately carved wood. The pianos quickly became beacons for art and culture in the East Room and Entrance Hall of the White House where the second one still resides today. Theodore, Edith, and Franklin Roosevelt utilized and dedicated these two Steinway pianos to help establish the White House as a hub for music in Washington moving forward into the 20th Century.

The Humble Beginnings of the National Symphony Orchestra

The National Symphony at their inaugural concert on January 31, 1930 (Photo Source: Used with Permission from the NSDAR Archives)

At 4:45pm on January 31st, 1930 the “new and shaky ensemble known tentatively as the National Symphony Orchestra of Washington D.C.” took the stage of the recently finished DAR Constitution Hall at eighteenth and C streets northwest. Conductor Rudolf Schueller and the musicians were welcomed into the hall by vigorous applause from an audience of 2,000 music-loving Washingtonians who eagerly awaited the newly established orchestra’s first notes. Arriving at this moment of glory did not happen easily, or quickly for that matter. While Washington is typically considered a capital of arts and culture today, this was definitely not the case in the early 1900’s.

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