Skip to main content

Full text of "A history of Tiber Creek, Washington, D.C."

See other formats

There are two blueprints too large to scan. 

file:///X|/Special%20Collections/purgatory/Phi%20Mu/Owens,%20H.%20Malcolm/Blueprints.txt[5/10/2011 1:46:35 PM] 


Prepared for membership into 

H. Maloolrr Owens 
April 33, 1937 


Through the center of Washington, D. C. there flowed 
a number of years ago a stream known as Titer Creek or Goose 
Greek. Late in the eighteenth century this creek made its peace- 
ful way from north of the site of Washington down to the center of 
the proposed city. Here it forked, part flowing into the Potomac 
and part into the Anacostia River. This creek was a noted land- 
mark in early Washington. 

It was early in the nineteenth century that there began 
a series of city improvements that changed considerably the aspect 
of Tiber Creek. First of these was the construction of the 
Washington Canal. The route of the canal followed very closely 
the course of lower Tiber Creek. The canal, supplied with water 
from the Tiber, was for a long time important in Washington 
commerce. The first bridge across Tiber Creek was built at 
Pennsylvania Avenue in 1817, This later became the starting 
point of the sewer. 

The construction of Tiber sewer was begun in 1864. It 
was carried forward bit by bit by various contractors and was 
finally completed in 1876. The sewer for the most part consisted 
of a low brick arch of very wide span. 

Work on the sewer in recent years has consisted essentially 
of repairs, replacements, and abandonments which are slowly causing 
the Tiber to disappear from Washington' s intricate sewer system. 


Few Washingtonians are aware that through the very 
heart of their native city there onoe flowed a creek which, 
in size and beauty, riveled the notable Rock Greek. Not many 
know that this creek, after a rather varied career, was finally 
confined ingloriouely within the walls of an underground sewer. 
Perhaps some of the oldest inhabitants can recall the days when 
it was still a promenant Washington landmark, but none living 
can remember the stream as it originally was before District 
engineers began their activities. 

To the earliest settlers this stream was known as 
Goose Greek, although later the name was changed to Tiber. 
There are several stories told about the manner in which the 
name was changed. One of these reports that early city com- 
missioners, not liking the commonplace name of Goose Greek, 
changed it to Tiber, so as to conform with ancient Rome, where 
the Tiber river flowed around the foot of the hill upon which 
stood the Roman capital. This story may or may not be true, 
but it is known that Goose Creek and Tiber Greek are the same 
thing. This is verified by many references, among which is a 
poem written about 1803 by the Irish poet Tom Moore on a visit 
to Washington: 

"In fancy now, beneath the twilight gloom, 
Gome, let me lead thee o'er the second Rome, 
Where tribunes rule, where dusky Davi bow, 
And what was Goose Creek once is Tiber now; 
This embryo capital, where fancy sees 
Squares in morasses, obelisks in trees, 
Which second- sighted seers even now adorn 
With shrines unbuilt and heroes yet unborn," 


T'he original stream is clearly Ehown on the old map 
as having its source in the vicinity of Soldiers 1 Home, north 
of Florida Avenue, and "being fed by many tribitaries. From 
this source it flows generally southeast, until it reaches a 
place near the present intersection of North Capitol Street 
and New York Avenue. Here it bends south, and follows roughly 
North Capitol Street as far as "G" Street North, where it 
again bends and flows generally southwest. At a point directly 
west of Capitol Hill, the stream seems to fork, part of it 
flowing east into St. James Creek, while the other part flows 
west and forms a rather large inlet along the line of Constitu- 
tion Avenue, 

An early map shows the perpendicular height of the 
source of Tiber Creek above the level of the tide in the Creek 
to be 236 1 7 5/8". This indicates that the velocity of flow, 
of the upper part of the stream at least, was rather rapid. 
The lower part of the stream, we know, flowed through marshy 
tidal flats, and consequently the velocity was small. 

It was in the year 1802 that Congress first passed 
a bill authorizing the construction of the Washington Canal, 
but it was not until after a delay of more than a score of 
years that the cenal was actually completed. This canal was 
built along the western branch of the Tiber, following the line 
of what is now Constitution Avenue, and working its way south- 
west until it finally flowed into the Ana cost is River at the 
foot of New Jersey Avenue, This canal wiped out the lower part 
of Tiber Creek, and made it end where it intersected the canal 
at Third Street and Maine Avenue, S.W, 


With the growth of the City of Washington, it became 
neceesary to have means of crossing the stream, and, naturally, 
bridges were built. The most important of these was at Penn- 
sylvania Avenue, which is described by James F. Duhamel as 
"a low brick bridge of very wide span and walls at the sides." 
The shape of this bridge probably was a controlling factor in 
the design of the arch some years later to cover the creek, 
since the arch was started at this bridge and built in both 

The first section of the old Tiber sewer to be built 
ran under the Botanical Gardens from the bridge at Penna. Avenue 
and Second Street, N.W. to Third Street and Maine Avenue, £5.711., 
where it intersected the canal. The sewer was an elliptical 
brick arch of 30' span and 7' 6" riee, with side walls of 
stone masonry six feet thick, the whole resting on a flooring 
of 6" planks on 12"xl2" transverse sills. This section wai 
started in 1864 and completed in 1869. The latter part of the 
work was under the direction of G-eneral N. Mlchler, then Chief 
of Engineers, U, S, Army. 

A After this nothing more was done until 1872 when a 

contract was let to Joseph Williams and Le ster A . Bartlett to 
arch the creek from the point where the previous section 
stopped to the south side of Maryland Avenue. At the same 
time, these contractors were directed to arch the creek north 
from the bridge at Pennsylvania Avenue to North Capitol and 
"E" Streets. 

it is interesting to note that for this section, . 
the floor of the completed sewer was about 9" above the original 


bed of the stream. In general, a condition similar to this 
existed throughout sll of the lower sewer as its course followed, 
where ever possible, the course of the stream, and a minimum of 
excavating had been done. 

Between the years 1873 and 1876 several more sections 
were constructed. Frequently the work was being done in two or 
more places simultaneously. The Morth Capitol Street section 
was completed late in 1875, and was constructed by Bartlett and 
Williams. It consisted of a 20' span, whose section was similar 
to the older 30' span. It ran under Morth Capitol Street from 
"E" Street, where it emptied into the 30' tube, to hanover Place. 
At this point the sewer contracted to a previously constructed 
13* span which ran diagonally to "0" and First Streets, K.W. , 
where it subdiveded again Into two 9' diameter semicircular 
pipes, which made their individual ways northwest and north to 
Boundary Street ^Florida Avenue). 

At "E" Street, Worth, there also emptied into the '30' 
span a sewer of 9* 6" span, which went under what is now Union 
Station Plaza and out"F" Street, N.E. , where it was fed by 
numerous small sewers. This sewer ws s built by Thompkins and 
Ruckel, and was completed late in 1874. 

Until the year 1874, Tiber sewer emptied into the old 
Washington Canal at Third and Maine Avenue, S.W. But with the 
decision to fill the canal, it became necessary to continue the 
sewer. Gal la her, I*oane, and Co. received the contract to con- 
struct the sewer from Maryland Avenue and Third Street to "U- 11 
and South Capitol Streets. The sewer was a 30' span, and ran 
down Canal Street and South Capitol parallel to and beside the 
old canal. This section emptied into the newly constructed 


Jaffles Creek Canal at "&'' Street. The last section to be put 

In was the connecting link through the old canal at Third Street. 

A peculiar feature of the sewer was the Is ck of grade 
in the lower section. The floor of this part wqs at a uniform 
reference of 3.08 feet below mean high tide through Its entire 
length. It was built this way not only because of the diffi- 
culty of constructing a graded sewer over such low, level ground, 
but also with the object in mind of keeping the sewer free from 
debris. The Theory was this: is the tide comes up, allow It 
to raise the level of water in the sewer. When It reaches its 
peak, close Hates at the end of the sewer, thus trapping water 
In It. When the tide Is low, the gates should be opened, allow- 
ing the outrush of water to carry with it all the debris collected 
in the sewer. 

This was the system used. The gate was located at "tx' 
and South Capitol Streets, at the head of St. James Creek Canal, 
and the water backed up in the sewer as far as Pennsylvania 
Avenue and Second Street, a total distance of about one mile. 
This plan was in operation for a number of years, although its 
success was questionable. 


Tiber Sewer was used from the time it was completed 
in 1876 until 1902 without suffering any major changes. After 
that year, however, it's history became a story of repairs, 
replacements, and abandonments. The first of these occured in 
1902, when It was neatly cut in half at a point between "C" 
and "D" Streets and Mew Jersey Avenue, and First Street, it - "W * 
by a more modern sewer. This sewer took the water from the 

■»£) — 

upper Titer and conducted it under the western edge of the 
Capitol grounds down Delaware Avenue, and eventually to the 
Sewage Pumping Station at the foot of New Jersey Avenue. The 

lower section of Tiber Sewer was left In place to carry the 
water from numerous small sewers entering into it below "0" 
Street. The Second of these was the abandonment of the 9 1 6" 
sewer that flowed across "F" Street into northeast. Washington. 

This was replaced by the modern Union Station trunk. 

It was in 1910 that the Job of relining the sewer with 
concrete was begun. This work has been going on intermit- 
tently ever since, the most recent job being completed in 193!?. 
In 1910 the necessity for relining was a direct result of the 
construction of Union Station Plaza. In order to raise the 
ground level sufficiently to form the Plaza, a fill of some 30' 
was required. This great quantity of earth was dropped directly 
on old Tiber Arch. The large load was more than the arch coula 
stand, and it began to oraek, thus making Immediate the necessity 
for strengthening and relining the old sewer. This was done by 
constructing within the sewer a concrete shell two or more feet 
thick. The concrete was reinforced with 5" railroad steel bent 
to fit the top of the sewer and placed 24" apart. This reduced 
the span of the sewer from 30' to 24' , and the height from 10' b" 
to 9.62' . The relining was started at the point where the 30' 
stan ended at "E" and North Capitol Streets, and extended down 
the span a distance of 107'. 

In 1911 the relining was continued after the same 
fashion as that of 1910 with the exception that a concrete floor 
1' thick was added. Prom 19 26, and again 1932, a little more 


rellning wa s done, bringing the 24' section to the point where 
the 1902 sewer intercepted Tiber sewer near "C" Street. 

The lower section of the sewer has been treated in a 
different manner. In this part, only the floor has been 
replaced, the walls being left as they were. Between First and 
Second Streets on "B" Street, H.W. the Job of constructing the 
floor was started. The floor was of concrete one foot thick, 
having a 6"x24" cunette running down the center. By January 20, 
1917 the work had been completed as far as Maryland Avenue and 
Third Street. 

B By 1919 the floor had been laid from Maryland Avenue 
and Third Street as far ae Canal and Second Streets; by 1920 
as far as Canal and First Streets; and by 1924 as far as "E H 
Street and South Capitol. Because the flo->r of this part of 
the sewer was flat, as previously described, it was impossible 
to secure a continuous grading. Therefore the invert was 
designed with the grade of the cunette following from both 
directions to connections placed at intervals along the line 
which discharge into the deep sewers and intercepts of the 
Sewage Disposal System. This section of the sewer down Canal 
Street is paralleled by the "B" Street and New Jersey Avenue 
Trunk which 16 at a lower level. The tap- off s are 24" in dia- 
meter, and occur at intervals of about 400 feet. 

Farther down, at "E" and South Capitol Streets, old, 
Tiber Sewer has been completely Intercepted and connected to the 
"B" Street and New Jersey Avenue Trunk, This construction was 
completed early in 1924. The New Jersey Trunk now conducts 
the water from Tiber sewer down New Jersey Avenue to the pumping 


Perhapa the most recent construction work to be done 
on the sewer is that which was completed January 21, 1935, It 
it a short section of small sewer constructed inside the existing 
Tiber arch under Pennsylvania. A venue. This sewer is 33,5' long 
and consists of a concrete semicircular arch of 9* diameter 
running do^n the center of old Tiber sewer. The old sewer was 
then backfilled. This makes a much stronger structure under the 
Pennsylvania Avenue crossing where it is needed. 

Tiber sewer, as it exists now, draining some 2,000 
acres of metropolitan Washington consists essentially of two 
branches. The first runs down North Capitol Street from New 
York Avenue to "E" Street, where it is joined by the Union 
Station trunk. It then turns diagonally into "G" Street, where 
it is intercepted by a sewer which conducts the water under the 
Capitol grounds, and to the pumping station. The other part 
starts at "B" and Second Streets, N.Y/. and, fed by many small 
sewers, runs under the Botanical Gardens and down Canal Street, 
where it is tapped off and intercepted by the New Jersey trunk 
which takes the water to the pumping station. 

The increasing demands on the sewer system of Wash- 
ington are slowly making obselete old Tiber Sewer, which was 
originally the backbone of the system. It is probable that 
before long its value will have become practically negligible. 


SCALE l^"*!' 

Typical cross-section of the old 30 foot span of Tiber 
sev;er. At Virginia avenue and South Capitol Street this arch was 
crossed "by the tracks of the Perm. r ilroad which subjected it 
to a considerable live loadand necessitated additional masonry. 
At this point there was only eight inches of earth separating the 
rr. ilroad tracks from the top of the sewer. 

This type of construction was used throughout the sewer 
With only minor changes. 


S' RAIL a 1 C-JOC 

Cross-section of Tiber sewer showing the first section 
of the relining. This part of the work started at E and Horth Capitol 
Streets and extended southwest 107 linear feet. The work was completed 
on July 26, 1910. 

Showing the construction of the floor In the section 
shown above and also the manner of relining of the se^er as far 
as the intercepting sewer near C Street. 



1- Report to the Commissioners of the District of Columbia 


2- Operations of the Engineering Department of the District 

of Columbia 

3- Investigation into the affairs of the District of Columbia 

Report f72 House of Representatives, 2nd session 42nd 

4-"History of the National Capitol" Bryan 
5- Records of the Department of Sewers, Washington, D. 0. 
S- City Surveyor's Office, Washington, D. C. 

7- Files of the Washington Star 

8- Files of the Washinertoniana Division- Washington Public 


9- Mr. T. B. Cooke, Sewer Department