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The Hidden Block of Georgetown

by Lark Turner

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When coal floated down the C&O Canal, Canal Street was a seedy part of Georgetown, an almost-impossible to imagine circumstance today. Now, it’s a surprise: a secluded, quiet block tucked between 31st and Thomas Jefferson Streets NW, without even an image on Google Maps to guide visitors.

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UrbanTurf recently visited the hodgepodge of businesses and residences along the pedestrian towpath fronting the C&O Canal, where the properties have a seemingly incongruous Canal Street address (map), and wondered about the history behind the tranquil rowhouses.

“Especially when the canal was in operation, this was a pretty grimy, rough part of town because it was right next to a major transportation source for industry,” said Ahna Wilson, the cultural resource program manager for the canal. “It didn’t get developed as much.”

Today, the rowhouses remain, most of them with commercial tenants. The block, framed by the Canal Inn to the west and corporate offices to the east, includes a take-out sushi restaurant, an exclusive salon and a few other commercial spaces, one of which is for rent. On a recent visit, two passersby openly remarked: “Who opens a shop down here? How do they stay in business?”

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The canal in years past. Courtesy of the National Park Service.

A group of Georgetown residents and businesses are seeking to revitalize the canal and make it more of a focal point of the neighborhood as part of the Georgetown 2028 initiative, perhaps most famous for its vision of a gondola connection between Georgetown and Rosslyn.

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If the initiative is successful in bringing more foot and water traffic to the waterway, UrbanTurf doubts the businesses here would be so quiet — or that commercial vacancies along the canal would last long.

That could disturb the block’s few residents, one of whom is a newcomer: A two-bedroom, one-bath house at 3069 Canal Street NW sold in January for about $760,000.

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The 2028 plan also includes the idea of bringing back a boat to transport tourists along the canal. The old boat, The Georgetown, is currently in the towpath’s residents’ front yard, and was supposed to be destroyed by the National Park Service a couple of years ago. At least one of the neighbors loves the old boat, though, despite its state of disrepair.

“Removing the boat, for me, is like removing the Eiffel tower from Paris,” said Arlette Cahen-Coppock, the owner of The Fourth Lock salon, back in 2012.

See other articles related to: georgetown 2028, georgetown, dclofts, canal street dc, c&o canal

This article originally published at http://dc.urbanturf.com/articles/blog/fronting_the_canal_a_block_of_georgetown_rowhouses_hide_in_plain_sight/8230

10 Comments

  1. Beth said at 2:32 pm on Thursday March 13, 2014:

    This is one of my favorite short, off-the-beaten blocks in DC, and it is very cool to hear the back story.

    Walking along this stretch feels very European and as the article put it, tranquil. My husband and I frequently go down there to walk along the canal after stressful days.

  1. Jerry A. McCoy said at 2:43 pm on Thursday March 13, 2014:

    To anyone who would like to learn more about Canal Street, NW or any other aspect of Georgetown’s 250+ years of history, please visit the Peabody Room at the Georgetown Neighborhood Library, 3260 R Street, NW, Washington, DC.  For hours call 202-727-0233.

  1. Stephanie said at 4:03 pm on Thursday March 13, 2014:

    I work right off of the canal, between 30th & 29th, and I love this little stretch. It’s nice to hear a little bit about the past personality of this walk! Also, sushi to go, the little takeout place, is great sushi at slightly lower than normal georgetown prices - no place to sit, but the owners are lovely and the fish is always fresh. On I nice day, I highly recommend getting some and enjoying it in the park area right across TJ street across from the foundry.

  1. Joanie said at 9:13 pm on Thursday March 13, 2014:

    We were visiting about two weeks ago and walked along this “hidden block” of Georgetown.  It’s interesting to read about its history now and hard to imagine that it used to be grimy.  We used this route as a shortcut to our hotel and discovered that we particularly liked its undulating rugged brick walkway, which was different from the rest of Georgetown.  I sincerely hope that the canal will be revitalized because I think that it lends character to the neighborhood of Georgetown, which we really enjoy.

  1. Zesty said at 11:04 pm on Thursday March 13, 2014:

    This is a nice feature!....I work walking distance from this block and I have to think that the Sushi place and the appointment only hairdresser are either, A) Front companies to launder funds from illicit activities or B) Businesses that own their property and run their business for the joy of it. I almost never see anyone in the hair-saloon and the Sushi traffic doesn’t look like it would pay a Gtown lease based on their prices.

  1. Alex said at 4:33 pm on Friday March 14, 2014:

    Nice to look at, but it must be hell during summer with the heat and all the rats. Plus the chinese restaurant kills the “romantic” aspect of this block.

  1. Bill Gottfried said at 8:41 am on Saturday March 15, 2014:

    We used to go here all the time when I lived in DC, we would run through this section of Georgetown and along the C&O Canal up to Fletcher’s Boat House and back, wonderful area, thank you for the article, very glad that these historic townhouses and buildings have been preserved.  I wish I had invested in them when I lived in the area!

  1. Mike Nardolilli said at 10:38 am on Saturday March 15, 2014:

    We at the C&O Canal Trust, the official nonprofit partner of the C&O Canal National Historical Park, help care for this national treasure in the heart of Georgetown. To learn more about the Trust and how you can help, please visit canaltrust.org

  1. Julia Blakely said at 8:32 am on Tuesday March 18, 2014:

    When I first came to Washington, I use to get my hair cut at a salon on the corner, with a cute name I now can’t recall: “Locks &” ...
    and then, many years later, researched the block further up the canal:
    http://washingtonembassygardens.wordpress.com/2013/10/13/wine-and-computers-the-surprising-washington-origins-of-two-industries/

  1. Judith K. Claire said at 8:01 am on Wednesday March 19, 2014:

    Georgetown artist, Elizabeth Beer lived in one of those houses and she taught classes. We used to sit outside and paint pictures of the canal and the locks. It was and still is a wonderful, enchanting hidden secret for many visiting Georgetown. Residents of Washington may appreciate it more than “outsiders.”

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