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]
A HISTORY OP TIBER GREEK
WASHINGTON, D. G.
Prepared for membership into
TAU BETA PI
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.
A. HISTORY OF TIBER CREEK
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
"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-
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
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
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.
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
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