Legend has it, George Washington once threw a silver dollar across the Potomac. While this is likely more tall tale than hard fact, the mythology surrounding our first president speaks to the Potomac’s important place in American history. Loosely translated, “Potomac” means “trading place.” In creating a destination aimed to inspire, entertain and bring people together by way of the waterfront, National Harbor honors that definition and fulfills Washington’s vision of a city rallied around the river.
Truly historic origins
During Revolutionary times, the river was central to Native American life, tobacco, trade and travel. Of all the estates that made their home along the Potomac, none were as pivotal as George Washington’s Mount Vernon. Washington was a champion of the Potomac Company, created in 1785, hoping it would improve trade and commerce. More than two centuries later, Washington’s vision is advanced by the Woodrow Wilson Bridge—visible just north of The Capital Wheel— which links Maryland, DC and Virginia.
The plans for National Harbor began in the late 1990s, when Peterson Companies found an underutilized plot of land along 1.25 miles of one of America’s most historic rivers. They set out to create an all-American, must-see waterfront destination dedicated to the preservation and celebration of George Washington’s vision for a city built around the Potomac River.
At the southernmost point in Alexandria, just west of The Capital Wheel, is Jones Point. It is one of only four remaining lighthouses in the region and home to one of the original boundary stones demarcating District of Columbia territory.
The Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail flanks the shores of National Harbor and runs nearly 3,000 miles along the Bay. Along the way, NOAA’s “Smart Buoy” system collects water-quality data, delivers real-time weather information and transmits navigational and historical information to the public.
North of National Harbor, the Blue Plains Wastewater Treatment facility employs cutting-edge technology and a new multimillion dollar facility to reduce nitrogen discharge by 45%. This feat is critical to protecting the ecological health of the Potomac, benefitting submerged aquatic vegetation and the wildlife it protects.