Many Washingtonians remember with appropriate horror the drive between the nation's capital and Annapolis before Rte. 50 (the John Hanson Highway) became part of the freeway system in the late 1950s. The journey -- made easily in less than an hour today -- took double that or more by car then, and it seemed even longer.
My first such trip was as a soldier on a three-day pass in 1945, and the journey to Washington seemed endless. My Annapolis hosts seemed to take the twist and turn of every farm road before entering Washington along Central Avenue and heading downtown over the Benning Road bridge. The East Capitol Street bridge, named now for the late Whitney Young, did not exist.
Let's go back farther, to a time in 1816 when Mary Bagot recounted the journey between the cities in her journal. She was the wife of Charles Bagot, the first British diplomatic minister to Washington after the War of 1812. The Bagots spent three years here, arriving by ship at Annapolis on March 17, 1816. They had sailed up what she called the "Chessapeak," seeing "nothing but . . . low sand, hills & beyond these the tops of the pines & trees on interminable forests" and later some "houses & small farms."
Here are Mary Bagot's observations on the trip from Annapolis to Washington on March 18, condensed from an article prepared by Rutgers University historian David Hosford for the 1984 edition of the Records of the Columbia Historical Society of Washington and published by the University Press of Virginia (with her spelling errors preserved):
"Got up before daybreak but did not succeed in getting off from Anapolis till 9 o'clock . . . . Each carriage of two was driven . . . by a black driver & the horses were sent from Washington. The day was so intensely cold that I never in my life before had felt any at all to be compared with it.
"The roads were actually worse than ploughed fields & we went down such precipices & up others & into such holes that we expected every moment to be overturned . . . .
" We stopped only once at a log house about half way between Anapolis & Washington for half an hour to bait feed the horses. The country struck me as wild, dismal & dreary & our road was thro' a succession of never ending forests of pine, cedar, oak . . . the only cultivation we saw being occasional spots cleared for . . . maize & the only sign of population being occasional wretched looking log houses & a few miserable looking blacks . . . until we reached Bladensburg.
"Got to Crawford's hotel at Washington which is 36 miles from Anapolis at 1/2 past six" -- a journey of nine hours.
More of Mary Bagot's journal tomorrow.