Fletcher's Boathouse is Washington's window on the Potomac, on its changing moods and metamorphoses, its transitions from torrent to trickle. One hundred years ago, tourists and Washingtonians came to the boathouse to relax and enjoy themselves, and today, despite the more sophisticated temptations of video arcades and white-water amusement parks, they still do.
A few scenes from a midsummer's afternoon:
Atop a cliff rising from the river, Friedegune Horzmann sits quietly reading. A summer breeze and the sound of the river together create a sense of tranquility and harmony. She is so absorbed in her book that a visitor's approach startles her.
She is a German tourist from West Berlin visiting friends in Washington. At home, she works as a physical therapist for handicapped children. She says she has "enjoyed very much reading a book about peace in a peaceful environment."
About 200 yards away on the other side of the boathouse, a group of 50 youngsters from a local summer camp shriek with laughter as they cycle along the canal. The noise and energy is a reminder of one's childhood.
Along the bank of the river, James Dattsia, a longtime resident of Washington, stands at attention, fishing. His weather-beaten face is a legacy of many years spent along the riverside, and although the shallow water has made for an unproductive day, he concentrates on his fishing pole as if he might will the fish from the water.
"Being a retired man, I fish mainly for economic reasons," said Dattsia, 57, who had worked for the government. "Things go cheaper this way, you know," he said with a smile.
Their bicycles at rest on the ground, two retired women picnic under the shade of a tree. They must have been hungry because in minutes their lunch boxes are empty.
Both native Washingtonians who live now in Arlington, the women consider the boathouse an indispensable part of their lives.
"It is a little bit of Washington we have known for years, something that we grew up with," said one of the women. "We bike to the boathouse both in summer and in winter. We've fished and boated. On our way back home, we sometimes buy tickets at Kennedy Center."
"Being here keeps us out of trouble, because we would have spent a lot of money buying things we don't need in big shops," said the other woman.
For five genetions, the Fletcher family has lived off the river, catering to visitors from all over the Washington area. Since their father's dath in 1978, Fletcher brothers Joe and Ray have operated the boathouse.
"More and more people are attracted to Fletcher's doing all kinds of physical activities--jogging, bicycle riding, frowboating and canoeing," said Ray Fletcher, 37. "But the majority of people come here for one reason: staying away from the hustle and bustle of city life to enjoy themsthe fresh air. Catching fish is only secondary."
"I enjoy my work and have no other distractions in my life," he added. "It is something like being a farmer or a commercial fishn, working one generation after another."