WASHINGTON DC TOUR DESCRIPTIONS
Choose one of the following historical explorations of the Nation's Capital. Or let us custom-design one for you!
WHY IS THERE A CITY HERE IN THE FIRST PLACE?
How did Washington come to be? This tour begins at Malcolm X/Meridian Hill Park, which was the city’s original northern boundary and the exact longitude of the District of Columbia mile marker placed on April 15, 1791. At the foot of the park, we will discuss the impact of the eastern fall line on the settlement of Georgetown and the eventual location of the federal city. From there, we will cycle into Rock Creek Valley to Peirce Mill, where we will discuss the impact of wheat milling and other 19th century industries upon the fabric of a multitude of U.S. cities, including Baltimore and Philadelphia. From Peirce Mill, we will ride to the point where Rock Creek meets the Potomac, where we will gaze across the river to what is known today as Theodore Roosevelt Island, but what was known to Native Americans as Nameroughquena. There, we will discuss the reasons why Native Americans settled the area straddling the fall line (which we will be standing right on top of) and considered it a vital nexus for trade. We will then compare their motives with those of George Washington, Pierre L’Enfant, Benjamin Banneker, George Ellicott and others who scouted, surveyed, designed and built the American capital city.
THE HISTORICAL, NATURAL, AND CULTURAL SIGNIFICANCE OF ROCK CREEK PARK
Created by an Act of Congress in 1890, Rock Creek Park is the most spectacular urban wilderness park in the United States. It was the third established national park in the country when it opened and remains to this day a model for how cities should balance man-made and natural environments. Congress chartered it at a time when rampant industrialization and lack of regulation was felling trees, polluting rivers and endangering wildlife nationwide. The park continues to remind its many daily users about the importance of respecting and preserving nature. The tour begins where Rock Creek meets the Potomac. There, we will discuss the reasons why Native Americans valued the region’s natural resources and the reasons why Congress ultimately chose to protect them by establishing a park along the creek’s valley. Then, we will proceed up the valley as its ridges steepen and widen out under spectacular bridges and through the impressive Beach Drive Tunnel. At the National Zoo, we will stop to contemplate the impact that the automobile had upon the natural environment and the fabric of America, particularly its national parks. Then we will proceed to Peirce Mill, where we will discuss the impact of wheat milling and other 19th century industries upon the fabric of a multitude of U.S. cities, including Baltimore and Philadelphia. Next, we will ride as far north as Boulder Bridge, the oldest bridge in the park. It was designed to look rustic and take those who came upon it to an almost mystical place. If we have time, we will continue up the park to other notable lookouts… and for more experienced cyclists, climb from the valley floor to the Western Ridge where we can gaze out over some of the park’s most spectacular vistas!
WASHINGTON DC: RACE AND SPACE
How have natural boundaries and man-made structures influenced racial and ethnic pattens of life, work, and leisure in Washington? This tour begins at 14th and U Sts., N.W., which was the epicenter of DC’s uprising following the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. on April 14, 1968. We will discuss the impact of that event upon the city and the entire region, then cycle into Rock Creek Valley along the eastern fall line to visualize how the valley’s natural boundary has historically separated White from non-White and discuss the impact of 20th and 21st century gentrification on the fabric of the city. At the point where Rock Creek meets the Potomac River, we will discuss Georgetown’s 18th and 19th century interactions between African-Americans and White Americans and spotlight the roles that Pierre L’Enfant and Benjamin Banneker played in DC’s original design. We will then ride to the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial on the Tidal Basin, where we will critique its design, and explore its significance and contributions to DC’s monumental environment.
"REMEMBER THE LADIES"
In a letter dated March 31, 1776, Abigail Adams urged her husband John and other members of the Continental Congress not to forget about women as they developed the blueprint for a new, independent nation. As strong as Abigail’s plea was, it took 150 more years for women to gain the right to vote in the United States. The National Mall is framed by monuments to men like Abraham Lincoln, George Washington, and Ulysses S. Grant. If Abigail were alive today, how would she process the thought that 250 years after she wrote her letter, the landscape still reflects the idea that men should dominate the public sphere, while women should remain unseen? The reality is that Washington does have some monuments to women… but you have to know where to look. This tour begins at the Washington Monument. There, we will look out over the National Mall from its very center and talk about the ways the landscape reflects or doesn’t reflect cultural assumptions about men and women. From there, we cycle to the Vietnam Women’s Memorial, then the Eleanor Roosevelt Monument within the larger monument to her husband Franklin. We then proceed to the site of the 1913 women’s suffrage parade, the first ever civil rights demonstration in the capital. Finally, we ride up Capitol Hill to the Belmont-Paul Women’s Equality National Monument and discuss the contributions that women like Alice Paul, Phyllis Wheatley, Elizabeth Cady-Stanton, Clara Lemlich, Harriet Tubman and others made to the United States.
HOW PASSENGER RAIL SHAPED WASHINGTON'S SUBURBS
How did railroad construction in the 19th century change the ways people lived and worked? The tour begins at Union Station, Washington’s grand rail terminal, which opened to great fanfare in 1907. There, we will discuss the station’s history and how it’s opening connected the capital to an ever-expanding national rail network. Then, we will cycle north along the Metropolitan Branch Trail, which was built along the path of what was once DC’s most traveled passenger rail line. We will stop at Alethia Tanner Park, named for the remarkable African-American woman who, among other prominent institutions, helped found the first school for free Black children in the city. From there, we will proceed to Brookland, the site of the horrific Terra Cotta train crash of 1906 that killed 53 people and injured scores more. The tour will culminate in Takoma Park, one of Washington’s first railroad suburbs. There, we will discuss how the railroad, and later the automobile and the jet engine, contributed to the rise of the American suburb. We’ll finish with a visit to Lost Sock Roasters, a small-batch specialty roaster with terrific coffee and various other goodies!
NATIVE AMERICA ON THE POTOMAC
Before Captain John Smith navigated and charted the Potomac River in 1608, the area we think of today as Washington was a major Native American trading center. The region teemed with migratory fish, and the surrounding soils and forests yielded corn, squash, beans, potatoes and all sorts of wild game. Against that abundant backdrop, the Anacostans established three villages: Nacotchtank, Nameroughquena, and Tohaga. This tour begins or ends at Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian. Morning tours end at the museum so participants can visit in the afternoon if they would like to. Afternoon tours start there so participants can visit in the morning. From the museum, we ride past the U.S. Capitol, the Supreme Court, and Nationals Park to the Anacostia River. After we cross the river, we stop in Anacostia Park, which lies at almost the exact spot of Nacotchtank. There, we will visualize what the region may have looked like to the Anacostans who lived there, talk about their ways of life, and imagine what it may have been like for them to first encounter Smith and other Europeans. From there, we will ride back over the Anacostia and along the banks of the Potomac to Theodore Roosevelt Island. There, we will visit the monument to 26th president, which stands almost atop of Nameroughquena, and reflect upon that symbolism. From there we cross the Potomac again, ride past the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Watergate, through Georgetown Waterfront Park, and onto the Capital Crescent Trail, which takes us to the site of Tohaga. If the tour is booked far enough in advance, we may be able to meet up with a local expert on the region’s native history.