Potomac River at Great Falls near DC epa.gov
Last time we checked in with author Garrett Peck, he was on a decidedly different path than he’s on today. Then, he had just written Prohibition in Washington, D.C.: How Dry We Weren’t, a page-turning account of D.C. during the Prohibition era, the second such book he had authored on drinking. Now he’s just released another book-his third-but this one has nothing to do with imbibing.
The Potomac River: A History and Guide, published in March, is just that-a historical guide of the 383 miles of one of our two hometown rivers. The book, which he started in the late 1990s but fell by the wayside as he worked on other projects, seeks to broaden the appeal of a river that many District residents only know from Harpers Ferry to the Wilson Bridge.
“People have probably heard of Harpers Ferry, Great Falls, Mason Neck and the C&O Canal. But how many people have been to Seneca quarry, which provided the bright red sandstone for the Smithsonian Castle? Or such obscure and wonderful places like the Mallows Bay Ship Graveyard in Charles County?”, he explained to us.
From the river’s humble source in Fairfax Stone, West Virginia to its merger with the Chesapeake Bay at Point Lookout, Maryland, Peck traces the length of the Potomac, putting each spot along it in historical, political and social context. He hits everything from Civil War battles to lighthouses-only five remain along the river-while setting aside full chapters for Great Falls, Harpers Ferry and Washington, D.C. And in a nod to its forgotten cousin, he includes a brief chapter on the Anacostia River.
Though the river is often neglected-it was just 1965 when President Lyndon B. Johnson called it “a river of decaying sewage and rotten algae”-Peck’s book stresses how important it was to the development of not just the region, but also the city. This is where the book is at its most valuable-in recounting the history of the sites and cities along the Potomac, he raises the very awareness that’s necessary to saving the river. (It’s not an idle dream-as part of his recent 20-year sustainability plan, Mayor Vince Gray said he’d eventually like to see people fish and swim in the Potomac.)
Peck is celebrating the publication of the book this evening from 6 to 8 p.m. at Congressional Cemetery. For $30, you get a signed copy of the book and-not surprisingly-great drinks from the D.C. Craft Bartenders Guild. Proceeds will go to support the cemetery. Registration is here, but walkups are welcome.