The view from Minnie's Island offers nothing but sky, trees, rocky shore and the placid Potomac River near Cabin John. It is an eight-acre retreat from urban Washington, beloved by the families who owned it through the years.
And soon, it will be yours.
That's because the owners are donating Minnie's to the Potomac Conservancy, an organization formed last year to preserve the natural river landscape between Great Falls and Georgetown.
After today's private dedication ceremony, an open house is scheduled for tomorrow from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the island near Lock 8 of the C&O Canal.
Minnie's, one of only three privately owned islands inside the Capital Beltway, has an unbroken view because the National Park Service owns land across the river, but conservancy members are worried about construction creeping along the Virginia shore.
Minnie's Island's history is as varied as the Potomac River itself, spiced with a bit of mystery.
Through the years, the island and its one-room cabin have been used for picnics, nature study and even living quarters, although the cabin has no electricity or plumbing. Its owners included a zoologist, a businessman, a CIA historian and a woman named Minnie M. Jenkins, for whom it may have been named.
The current owners -- Margaret Reuss, Johanna Reuss Baskerville and Barbara Miller -- are donating the island in the name of Christopher Reuss, who died in a 1986 kayaking accident on Virginia's North River at age 43.
He was Baskerville's father, Miller's friend and law partner, and the son of Margaret and Henry Reuss, the former Wisconsin congressman who fought construction along the Potomac River in past years.
Margaret and her son Christopher bought the island in 1980. Margaret and Henry Reuss lived in Southwest Washington, and Chris in Adams-Morgan, so it offered escape when the nearby C&0 Canal towpath was not as popular as it is now.
"You'd come out and there was nobody here," said Margaret Reuss, a retired economics department chairman at the University of the District of Columbia. "It's the sense if you're out here of just having dropped into the land the way it used to be -- totally wild."
On Minnie's Island -- which is home to many rare species of plants brought by frequent floods -- wildflowers bloom in the spring, warblers sing in the towering trees and young mergansers hone their diving skills in the river. Canada geese nest in the rocks on the Virginia shore. Even though it's in the National Airport flight path and near the American Legion Bridge, it's a quiet place.
Chris Reuss loved Minnie's so much he lived there for two years, along with the bugs, poison ivy and snakes. He pumped water from a well, cooked on a kerosene burner and heated the plank-floor cabin with a wood stove. During the workweek, he'd wade or canoe the 100 yards to shore and drive to his law office downtown.
Others loved the island, too, but for different reasons.
Before the Reuss family, it was Elizabeth Gregory Kent, who acquired Minnie's with a business partner in 1954. Kent's husband, the late CIA historian Sherman Kent, often brought colleagues out. It was a retreat from the cares of the day.
"I used to go very frequently, especially during the Vietnam War," recalled Elizabeth Kent, 94. "It was a place that was immensely important in all of our lives, and in times that were difficult during the war."
Before Kent, Minnie's belonged for four years to the late James C. Dulin, a third-generation Washington banker, lawyer and businessman. He often brought boys' clubs out for hiking, hunting and camping, said Marianne Heston, a granddaughter by marriage.
Before him, the island was owned by two bachelor brothers, Ralph and Clarence Shoemaker, who lived on P Street NW in Georgetown.
Clarence Shoemaker, a zoologist, collected "spiders and other things" on Minnie's Island, some of which had not been identified before, said Suzanne Shoemaker, a niece by marriage.
The Shoemakers bought Minnie's in 1923 from the heirs of its original owners, John Trammell and Minnie M. Jenkins. Trammell and Jenkins essentially staked a claim to the island in 1904.
Minnie May Jenkins died in 1920 of pneumonia, years before antibiotics became available, and was buried in Great Falls. She was 35, according to her obituary in the Washington Evening Star.
It described her thus: "Miss Jenkins for many years conducted the eating house at Great Falls, Va., known as Trammell's. Many prominent personages, visiting the show place of the Potomac River, have eaten at her table."
What did Minnie Jenkins use her island for? A rumor passed down from Kent to the Reuss family is that the island once was a speakeasy, but they do not know for sure.
The conservancy plans to take down the cabin and probably give the land to the National Park Service.
Meanwhile, the Annandale-based group is seeking conservation easements from other river landowners along what conservancy co-chairman Mac Thornton describes as "the world's most outstanding semi-wilderness river corridor in an urban area."
"You can't help but love the place when you stand on the island," said conservancy Executive Director Paul Rosa. "That's our goal: The perception of a river landscape instead of an endless subdivision."
Researcher Mary Louise White contributed to this report.