During the late 18th century and early 19th century, Georgetown was a busy seaport town, with nearly all business and social life along the waterfront south of Bridge (M) street.
Thousands of two-, three- and four-masted schooners visited Georgetown, bringing in sugar, molasses and rum from the West Indies, clothing and furniture from Europe, and blocks of ice from Maine. They took out tobacco, wheat, flour and fertilizer for the European market and Appalachian coal for New England -- arriving via the C & O Canal. The coal ships traveled seven days to Maine, where they were stocked with ice for the return trip.
By 1910, the port of Georgetown and the tall ships were on the decline, due initially to competition from nearby ports -- Alexandria and the Washington wharves at Maine Avenue, which were better protected by Hains Point, constructed in the 1890s by Army engineers.
Ultimately, railroads and more reliable and economical steam navigation replaced the tall ships and eliminated Georgetown as an industrial seaport.
The Aqueduct Bridge (1843) is visible at the left in the 1885 photo. It carried canal boats over the river to the Virginia canal system. The bridge was later converted to an auto toll bridge and was replaced by Key Bridge in 1923.
Today, the waterfront contains few historic structures, except the Dodge Warehouse at the corner of Wisconsin and K (Water) streets. The building with the spire, visible in both photos, is Healy Hall at Georgetown University, founded in 1787. The Whitehurst freeway (1923), prominent in the foreground and straddling K Street, replaced many of the warehouses. The new office/residential complex, Washington Harbour (1986), is located at the right in the current photo. The new pyramid-shaped building is the Waterfront Center. Recently a portion of the waterfront was developed into a park.