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Francis Scott Key Bridge

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1917–1923, Nathan C. Wyeth. Potomac River between Georgetown and Rosslyn
  • (Carol M. Highsmith Archive, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress)
  • Francis Scott Key Bridge (Franz Jantzen)

Connecting the District of Columbia with Virginia across the Potomac River, the Francis Scott Key Bridge is one of the vital segments of the economic dreams of the city's early promoters. Key Bridge replaced the 1833–1834 Aqueduct Bridge, which was part of the man-made water-based system linking Alexandria to the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal. The Aqueduct Bridge enabled products in canal boats to cross the Potomac River without being unloaded into other vessels. After the Civil War, a roadway replaced the boat channel.

As streetcar and later automobile traffic proliferated by the early twentieth century, Aqueduct Bridge was deemed inadequate. Architect Nathan C. Wyeth designed the new bridge, named in honor of Francis Scott Key, whose house stood near the District terminus of the bridge. (Key's house was demolished during construction of the Whitehurst Freeway.) The reinforced concrete bridge reaches across the Potomac River in five large segmental arches in a manner reminiscent of the great viaducts of ancient Rome. Each spandrel is open ribbed, allowing for the repetition of the arched design in the structure itself and creating a light, lacy pattern. The project was an architectural and engineering feat of the day, as well as an important example of Wyeth's work.

Writing Credits

Pamela Scott and Antoinette J. Lee


What's Nearby


Pamela Scott and Antoinette J. Lee, "Francis Scott Key Bridge", [Washington, District of Columbia], SAH Archipedia, eds. Gabrielle Esperdy and Karen Kingsley, Charlottesville: UVaP, 2012—,

Print Source

Buildings of the District of Columbia, Pamela Scott and Antoinette J. Lee. New York: Oxford University Press, 1993, 405-406.

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