So much has changed in Washington over the last 100 years . . . except the weather. Summertime was just as hot and sticky in 1905 as it is now, but there was no air-conditioning, and swimming pools were rare.
What's more, people didn't flock to Ocean City in Maryland or Bethany Beach in Delaware the way we do today -- because there was no Bay Bridge.
So how did people escape the swelter and keep cool? Well, they managed -- in ways that might surprise you.
There was a beach on the Potomac River, near the Washington Monument, where thousands went to swim. In the water were wooden contraptions called floating baths, which let water in but kept children from drifting away in the river's strong currents. (In 1918, another beach, complete with white sand, was opened on the Tidal Basin near where the Jefferson Memorial now stands.)
Rock Creek Park had lots of swimming holes where kids could escape the heat by taking a dip -- sometimes without a bathing suit! One of the more popular spots was called Big Rock. The water there was deep and still, and the rock that gave the spot its name served as the perfect diving board. There were few cars to disturb the peace, just an occasional wagon on the quiet, dusty road.
Sadly, both the Potomac and Rock Creek were eventually closed to swimming because of water pollution.
Outside the city, along the Potomac and the Chesapeake Bay, were a number of beach resorts, including Piney Point, Maryland, and Colonial Beach, Virginia. These resorts attracted thousands of Washingtonians, who traveled by railroad and steamship to enjoy the cool breezes and a variety of amusements.
Chesapeake Beach in Calvert County, for example, was a little like Ocean City is today, and only 30 miles from Washington. There was a boardwalk and a roller coaster called the Great Derby. And, of course, there was the water.
Swimming was a lot less comfortable in 1905, however. Bathing suits were mostly made of wool, like your itchy winter sweater. Throw in some wet sand and you had a soggy, scratchy mess.
If that sounds bad, your great-grandmother would have had it even worse: Women's bathing suits also were wool and were shaped like knee-length dresses. Bloomers covered the legs, and the outfit was completed with a hat, stockings and lace-up slippers. Hardly fun in the sun.
With bathing suits like those, no wonder the kids in Rock Creek Park preferred to swim in their birthday suits!
-- Michael Farquhar