Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Kilns and Cannons - Exploring DC's Not So Hidden Past

These days, if I'm being extremely generous, I'd say DC's primary export was policy. Heck, we even pass a law or two, now and then. But it wasn't always so. And if you look around the city, you can see traces of a far more industrial DC.

These last couple of weeks I've used my running time to hit up two different historic sites that reflect this era.

First off, I visited the Godey Lime Kilns. Back in the 1860's, these bad boys were producing lime for various local building projects. Apparently, they were preserved back in the 1960's, and the site looks quite neat and tidy today:

You can read about the history of the kilns here. If you've lived in DC long enough, you may have caught a glimpse of them from the highway. In fact, they're quite accessible to the curious. Just find your way to 26th NW and L street NW, and then walk to the dead end of L street. When I visited the site I found one sketchy looking tent setup in a neighboring field, but had no problem reaching the kilns.

Tonight I made my way to a second site: the ruins of the Columbian Cannon Factory. During its heyday it produced a wide range of artillery and even managed to miraculously survive the British torching DC. Read the whole story here.

This site took a bit more sleuthing to find. The ruins are located off the Capital Crescent Trail, about half a mile in from its start. I'd been on that section of the trail numerous times and never noticed any ruins. And so it was this evening:

But sure enough, behind that wall of brush are the ruins of an old structure:

Finding my way to these sites isn't just a chance to bulk on my local trivia. It's a simple way to embrace the best values of Urban Exploration:

I find it sad that most people go through life oblivious to the countless — free — wonders around them. Too many of us think the only things worth looking at in our cities and towns are those safe and sanitized attractions that require an admission fee. It's no wonder people feel unfulfilled as they shuffle through the maze of velvet ropes on their way out through the gift shop.

Urban explorers strive to actually earn their experiences, by making discoveries that allow them to get in on the secret workings of cities and structures, and to appreciate fantastic, obscure spaces that might otherwise go completely neglected.

For me, Urban Exploration conjures up thoughts of risk taking and law breaking. But not so with these two sites, and no doubt many others around the city. They're waiting for you to discover them; you just have to be curious enough to look.

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