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The Navigation of the Northv/ast Branch of the Anacostia Kiver 

The source of the North." est branch is one half e 
southeast of Bnrnt Mills, rt -f lore in a ;-outhaasterly 
direction for about three and one half miles, passes about 
one eighth of a nil a soutirv^st of Biggs Mill, then turns south 
for about ona half mile pacing one mil a to the wast of the 
ITnivarRit-/- of Maryland, it then turns and flows southwest for 
a mile and a half, where it is joined by the Sligo branch one 
mile southeast of Chillum. At this po«nt It turns southeast 
again in v/hich diraction it flows for a distance of two miles. 
It crosses the Baltimore and Ohio railroad between h'/atts villa 
and Mt. Rainier, and flows on until it joins the Anacostia 
river at a point about midway between Ryattsville and 
Sladensburg. The Anacostia then flows on in a ganeral 
wo.ithaasterly direction, crosses the Washington Baltimore 
boulevard b^twean Bladensburer and Cottage City, flows on do-n, 
passing beneath the Bennings bridge, the Pennsylvania 
railroad bridge, and the Anacostia bridge, flows past? the 
Navy Yard and than Joins the Potomac river dov:n by Gieeboro 
Point. Besides tue Northwest branch* the Anacostia river is 
fad by the Beaver nam branch* and the Easter ns or as it is 

sometimes cull ad. tha Nortneastern branch. 

Tn 1791 the channel of 'the Anacostia river was 


suparior to that of the Potomac, in fact the Anacostia was 
the only- body of water on which vessels of large draft could 
reach trie snores of the proposed city of Washington close 
enough to land goods on temporary wharves. Thus we sea that 
at this early date the Anacostia river, or Eastern V. ranch 
■x it was than called, was considered of vary ;:raat 

En a 1 attar written to George Washington in l79l t 
f, f Enf antfthe engineer who laid out the city of Washington), 
said; "T^e harbor of the Anacostia river is in every respect 
to b3 preferred to that of the Potomae, Vain?; less impeded 

with ice, and never so swelled by freshets* He said; "The 
channel if deeper and will admit any vessel that may pass 
over the shallows down below! and vessels may be moored to 

wharves, while they must remain a half mile off from the 
bant of the Potomac, because the main channel b^ars from the 
entrance to the Anacostia immediately over to the Virginia 
shore, and continues up on that side until it reaches 

Georgetown; where the good navigation endsT 


In a report entitled, A Survey of the Eastern Branch 

of the Potomac, f AnaooHtia Klverj written in 1891. addressed 
to General flaseyf Chief of Engineers, from Colonel Hains, 
the conditions ware set forth as follows. From the mouth of 
the river' to the Navy Yard* the stream was wide and the 
3hannel though eighteen fact deep, was narrow and orooiced; 


so crooked in fact tliat a vessel one hundred and fifty to 
t" r o hnndrad faet Inns, and. drawing fifteen feet of water 
could scarcely navigate it. On the Bonth side of the deep 
channel, there were larra areas of shoal water or flats. 

Above the Navy Yard, the river narrow ad until the average . 
width was about twelve hundred feet, witn a ehannel depth 
of thirteen feat. .This continued up as far as the 
Pennsylvania railroad bridge, prom this point up to the 
gainings bridge, the channel was not lees than six faet deep 
and aueh of the way it was nine or ten feet at low tide, 
Between the farmings bridge and Eladensburg, the stream 
benar.e very narrow, with a depth of less than six feet, and 
T.ost of it lass than three feet. 

Accordingly to the Geological Survey of Prince Georges 
county in 1911. the river had shoaled considerably, and 
navigation was restricted at that time to very sho ft 
distances from the junction of the anacostla river with th» 
Potornao. It stated that the rivar was not navigable above 
the bridge between the Navy Yard and Anacostia. 

Til a Coast Pilot issued by the United States Coast and 
Geodetic Survey in 1916, said that from the mouth of the 
river up to the wavy Yard, there was a twenty foot channel, 

from the Navy Yard to the Pennsylvania railroad bridge there 
was a fourteen foot channel, and tnat the rivar up as far as 

Bladensburg was navigable for small boatN and lighters. 

All of these ftt at arrant s seem to contradict each other, for 
first one savs it 1b navigable up to a certain point* and then 
another says it is navirahle up to a different point t and yet 

another one comes in and says something else. [t am at "be 
remembered however, that the river bed is continually changing. 
tt is baing constantly being filled in by the deposits of silt, 
and then again it is being improved all the time, xn fact, 
hardly a Congress oonvenes but some bill is introduced providing 
for tne improvement of the Anaeostia river. 

Colonel Hains, in his first report which T have 
mentioned above, advocated considerable improvement of the 
river. The principal reason ha gave for its improvement, v/as 
that there might be an easy access to the Navy Yard for warships 

in time of war. He also advocated improving tne flats, or 
snoale, on the soutn side of the river, in order to increase 
the wharfage ares of the city, and at the same time as a 
sanitary precaution; i'or the flats, partially covered as they 

were with fermenting sewage, and a ranic growth of marsh grass, 
wer^ great br ceding placet* for the malarial mosquito. 

Lionel Allen's armimants for the improvement of the river 
In 189a, were praotioally the same as thosd of Colonel Hains 
in 1891. However, although the river was navigable at that time 

up as far ai> gladem/burs:. his proposed project was only for 
improving that part of the river which was below the Pi st riot 



Then attain in 1911 a "bill was brought up* for tha 
p rotation of the interests of tha United States In lands and 
waters comprising an/ part of tha Anacostia river and lands 


adjacent tharato. This bill provided for tha imp ro vacant of 
the channel, and the betterment of the sanitary conditions of 
tha flats* but to do this the government would have had to 
obtain all the land adjoining tha river and flats. This 


would have bean a hard thing to do t as in a good man/ oases 
tha titles wara in ouch a ohaotio condition that it was 
praotloallv impossible to trace tham out. Cons-enuently the 
bill was defeated. 

As to whether tha Northwest branch was ever navigable 

or not. I a™ unable to say. I was unable to find any infor- 
mation on this point in the Congressional Library, nor was I 

able to find ©lit fro™ the United Stater- Coast and Geodetio 
Survey, a history of Prince Georges county states* that at the 

time the county was founded; there were settlements ale rig the 
Anacostia river in the vicinity of Hyattsville and sladensburg, 
and at< far up the Northwest branch as the present Montgomery 
oountv line. This might be taKen as an indication that^the 
Northwest branch was navigable. This history states also 
that tha river bed is gradually being filled in with material 
brought down by its headwaters, and since the a alt lament of 
this ration tha river has shown an appreciable amount of shoal- 
ing. This may readily be appreciated, when it 

is known that the Northwest branch alone carries down 
relatively twenty times as much silt as the. Potomac* and that <*// 
the tributaries of the Anacostia together, deposit thrae 

hundred and forty three tons of silt per day. At this rate 
then, it would not take v^ry lon^ foer a navigable rtraam to 

fiV up, if it were not dredged out, and the river, as far 
as [ have been able to find out, has never, in reoent years 

at anv rate, been improved above the District i.ine. 

Thus wa see, although it may never have bean navigable, 

it was at one time very much deeper than it is at present.