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The Alpha

About Alpha: The Bridge That Washington Himself Crossed

Alpha takes its name from an earlier structure at the present location. In fact, there have been eight successive bridges spanning the Potomac River just below Little Falls. The original, built in 1797, was the very first bridge in the Washington area to span the Potomac. The toll — a hefty 25 cents — had the famously thrifty George Washington complaining about the expense.

 

When the original bridge collapsed only seven years later, the Georgetown Bridge Company constructed a second. But at only 37 feet above low water, the wooden structure was carried away in a matter of months by floodwaters.

 

The third span was the eponymous Alpha. A wonder of engineering when it was constructed in 1808, it employed two wrought-iron chains to suspend the bridge from stone towers across 136 feet. By now, the toll had risen to $1 for a two-horse carriage. Unfortunately, just two years later, this structure, too, was washed away by the roiling Potomac.

 

Later designs abandoned the chains in favor of stone piers and arched trusses, but the name stuck. The Alpha you drive across today was built after the record flood of 1936. It was completed in 1939, using the piers of its predecessor, dating back to 1870. Rehabilitated in the early 1980s, the bridge is surely one of the most beautiful Potomac crossings.

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