Water Gate at the Watergate Complex – Washington, D.C. - Atlas Obscura

Water Gate at the Watergate Complex

Before Nixon, "watergate" meant canals. 


Most people are not aware that there is a literal water gate next to the world-famous Watergate Complex. Rotting wooden beams emerge from the river at low tide on The Mole cape that divides Rock Creek and the Potomac.

The water gate is one of the few extant remains of the period when Washington, D.C. was bisected by the Cumberland-to-Georgetown C&O Canal and the interurban Washington City Canal. It used to work kind of like a nautical version of an entrance/exit ramp, allowing river traffic to get in, and providing a shortcut for canal boats headed to Navy Yard or the Port of Alexandria.

Washington’s canals never quite delivered as city planners had hoped. Their backers had the misfortune of pouring money into upfront infrastructure investments around the same time that railroads began to dominate commercial transportation. The remaining photographs of the Washington City Canal nearly always show an empty and trash-strewn line of stagnant water. Worse still, it was actually something of a deathtrap in an age before streetlights or the widespread ability to swim. 

The Washington City Canal was filled in during the mid-1850s, and the C&O Canal slogged into the 20th century before it was acquired by the National Park Service during the Great Depression. 

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April 25, 2017

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