Day 96

Hains Point (September 17, 2020)

On an overcast day, we decided to do a somewhat different walk from the usual urban streets we hike, and headed down to Hains Point. Despite its name, Hains Point is not so much a point as an island, bounded by the Tidal Basin, the Washington Channel and the Potomac River. An artificial island built between 1880 and 1892, the island is named for Peter Conover Hains (1840-1921), a Major General in the United States Army. Although he served in the Army during the American Civil War, Spanish-American War and the First World War, Hains is best known for his engineering efforts. Among other projects, he designed the Tidal Basin which sits at the northwestern end of the Point and lobbied for the Panama Canal to be located at its present location rather than in Nicaragua.

We started our walk on the channel side of the island. Across the narrow channel is the newly constructed Wharf neighborhood.

This wildly popular area of apartments, bars, restaurants and music venues continues to expand as more and more buildings are being constructed along the channel.

Further along the channel toward the point where the channel, Anacostia River and Potomac River all converge is Fort Leslie J. McNair. The fort, named for a general killed in action in World War II, is one of the oldest forts in the United States. It was first established in 1791 but was captured and destroyed by the British during the War of 1812. It was subsequently rebuilt between 1815 and 1821. The conspirators accused of assassinating president Abraham Lincoln were imprisoned and tried at the Fort and a number were hanged there. Those included Mary Surratt, the first woman to be executed by the US Federal government.

The Fort contains, Roosevelt Hall, an immense Beaux Arts style building built between 1903 and 1907. It currently houses the National War College and is designated as a National Historical Landmark.

A large part of Hains Point consists of the East Potomac Golf Club which offers an 18 hole and two 9 hole courses. The courses are very popular public courses and appeared to be in full use as we passed. Mal, who truth be told isn’t much of a golfer, has enjoyed some of his most memorable games there when he and some colleagues would occasionally sneak away from work for a quick round. The club house is quite impressive for a public course.

The point is also a favorite with cyclists who take advantage of the largely traffic free road that encircles the island.

It is also a popular spot for fishermen.

As we rounded the point, the Potomac was very serene with not a boat in sight.

Across the river, in Virginia, Washington National Airport was also very quiet. Normally, planes are landing and taking off every minute but things have changed dramatically during the time of Covid.

In fact, during our entire walk alongside the Potomac which took over half an hour, this is the only plane we saw coming in to land.

There are numerous bridges crossing this part of the Potomac, and we passed by and under a number of them.

Sitting practically under one of the overpasses is what has been called Washington’s most obscure memorial. The Cuban Friendship Urn, also known as the Maine Memorial, commemorates the 266 crewmen who died in 1898 when the USS Maine exploded and sank in Havana’s harbor. The disaster sparked the Spanish-American War, during which the United States liberated Cuba from Spain. The urn resided in front of the Cuban embassy for a number of years but when the relationship between the two countries deteriorated it was removed to a warehouse where it languished for several decades. It wasn’t until recently that it was rediscovered and placed in its current location.

We also passed by the George Mason Memorial. Dedicated in 2002, it is a rather modest memorial for one of the country’s most prominent founders. The bright red purse sitting next to Mason made us smile.

As the author of the Virginia Declaration of Rights in 1776, Mason created the first constitutional protection of individual rights. The Declaration of Independence, United States Bill of Rights, and the United Nation’s Universal Declaration of Rights all drew inspiration from Mason’s writings. Certainly, the similarity between Mason’s words from the Virginia Declaration and Jefferson’s words from the Declaration of Independence are unmistakable. Here’s Mason “All men are born equally free and independent and have certain inherent natural rights . . . among which are the enjoyment of life and liberty, with the means of acquiring and possessing property, and pursuing and obtaining happiness and safety.” And here’s Jefferson “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Speaking of Jefferson, we also passed his memorial, a much more impressive structure. It was under repair and surrounded in scaffolding so not particularly photo worthy at the moment. On the other hand, the view from the platform in front of the Memorial and across the Tidal Basin to the Washington Monument and the Bureau of Engraving and Printing was worth a picture. Normally, the Basin is dotted with tourist driven paddle boats. But tourists are a rare sight in Washington at the moment and consequently not a boat was in sight.

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