National Geographic : 1953 Apr
Washington's Historic Georgetown 513 A Proud Colonial Port, Made Part of Young America's New Capital, Refused to Be Abolished and Now Sees Its Old Identity Restored BY WILLIAM A. KINNEY WE STOOD on the heights above a town abolished by Federal law more than half a century ago. The law was thoroughgoing ; it took pains to proscribe not only the town 's name, Geor ge- town , but also the very names of its streets. And the streets had interesting names- Gay Street (two of them) , Needwood , Fishing Lane, Cherry Alley , Niagara, West Lane Key s, Wapping. Southward past our vantage point a broad band of water slipped by in the sun. Trees along its banks wore a mist of faintest green under the fir st touch of spring. " This is the River of Swans, C ohonguroton," said my companion , well versed in local lore. " When the fir st white men came , the Pis- cataway Indians told them it was a very old name , the oldest they knew. " Looking down at the river , I could glimpse a small part of a water front where rich con- fusion s of cargo once piled the docks. So much shipping crowded the berths that mer- chants of those days dreamed of displacing New York as the Nation's foremost port! Only a scow idled in to tie up now. Not far from the shore , some two miles downstream , a swordlike shaft thrust up in sharp white against the sky . We were getting an unusual view of the Washington Monu- ment from venerable Georgetown-40 years old when it assisted at the birth of our Nation 's Capital, of which it forms a part. The River of Swans below us is better known by a later name: Potomac.* lndiamen Anchored in Rock Creek Our vantage point was a remote spot on the far edge of town. A short distance away sheep grazed , and an old vineyard was still cultivated. The pastoral touch seemed a bit unreal to me , for by taxi the White House was less than 10 minutes away. I left on foot , however , bound for my own house on the opposite side of town. It is hard by the valley of Rock Creek, the steep- sided moat which is Georgetown 's eastern boundary. In the golden days the mouth of the creek was a wide , deep estuary where large Indiamen rode at anchor , laden with goods from far ports of the world. Tides surged up the valley for a mile or more. Today the estuary has shrunk to a small stream. Few motorists who use the parkway snaking along its banks suspect they are driv- ing on what was once the bottom of a busy bay . For part of the way my homeward path led along the Georgetown-Bladensburg road , an important link in north-south communica- tions during the Revolution and through the early years of the Republic. I strayed once to window-shop at Stom- bock 's saddlery. Gen. George S. Patton, Jr. , stopped here just before departing for the north African invasion. He strode in to pick up the belt and holsters he had ordered for his pearl-handled pistols. The saddlery is on the Falls Street stretch of the old main road , which became Bridge Street as one neared Washington. (After the abolition law of 1895 the prosaic letter " M " replaced both names.) On Bridge Street I passed Stone House , one of the town 's few remaining pre-Revolutionary buildings. Tra- dition says Maj. Pierre L 'Enfant, the French engineer who served so ably in the Revolu- tionary War, had his headquarters here when he was laying out the Federal City (page 532). To Miz Hullybus's Corner The true gateways to Georgetown are side streets which lead away from the busy shop- ping section into sudden and unexpected calm. The houses seemed to doze in the soft weather that day, and my gait slowed before I reached my corner bookstore to stop for a book- and find coffee waiting, too. This corner of 28th and 0 Streets holds a fond place in Georgetown lore. It's Miz Hullybus's Corner, although she hasn ' t been there for a long time. Hullybus was not even her name ; it just sounded that way to children. She was Mrs. Gottlieb Hurlebaus, a kindly lady who kept Hurlebaus Bakery and Sweet Shop and made it an institution. There was mourning when it passed shortly before the turn of the century. I think Miz Hullybus must have left some of her obliging spirit about the premises . That might explain the helpful operations of the Francis Scott Key Book Shop, which occupies them today (page 514). Books may be purchased there , of course , but the shop seems to devote as much time to extracurricular odd jobs and emergencies. It produces baby sitters when none can be *See in the NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC M AGAZINE : "Down the Potomac b y Canoe," b y Ralph Gray, August , 1948, and "Potomac, River of D estiny," by Albert W. Atwood, July, 194 5.