Friday, October 10, 2008

A Trip to Great Falls, Virginia: Then and Now

My maternal grandmother, Mrs. Margaret Gailliot, formerly Margaret Austel, of Burglen, Canton Thurgau, Switzerland. Hand-written caption indicates picture was taken at Great Falls on the Potomac River, on the Virginia shore. Picture taken circa Summer, 1917. Can you imagine crawling over those rocks and water rivulets in a long Victorian dress.

My maternal grandfather, Charles Antony Gailliot, of Braddock, Allegheny County, PA, sits on the rocks of Great Falls, Virginia, circa Summer of 1917 or 1918. Charles and Margaret were married at St. Joseph's Roman Catholic Church, in Braddock, PA, on 6 August 1917. Almost the day after they were married, Charles received his induction notice to report to the Army to serve in WW I. However, he also received at the same time an offer to work as a pattern maker for the Navy Yard in Washington, DC. Thus, Charles and Margaret moved to the District of Columbia. Since his job was a part of the war effort, Charles was not drafted and remained state side. Since Charles' wife, Margaret had their first baby, Helen, in May of 1918, I am certain that these pictures were taken in 1917. Note the trees were in summer foliage.

Image: Bob Kramp, that's me, looks over Great Falls from the Virginia shore, October, 2008, about 90 years after his grandparents visited the same site. The information sign at this overlook is titled, "River of Change", as the area has seen several floods and gone though the process of erosion. But for me, it was certainly a time change, a time warp as they say, since the times of my grandparents.

I grew up in Bethesda, on the Maryland side of the Potomac River. As young kids, the neighborhood boys and I would often come down to Great Falls and climb for hours over the rocks with fishing rods in hand- looking for that special pool where grandfather bass resided. When we got bored of fishing, we could easily switch to catching dozens of water snakes. That was a long time ago. Today, the National Park Service which administers park lands on both shores of the Potomac at Great Falls has posted signs to stay on the approved walk ways and avoid stomping over the sensitive environment off-trail. This is a good idea considering the number of people who visit the park each year and the number of drownings that occur among careless hikers. There are still areas which have been set aside for official rock climbing.

This image of the Great Falls from the Virginia shore was taken with the wide view setting of my digital camera (click to enlarge). I believe my grandparents were probably crawling over the upper rocks of the Falls back in 1917, because it is a long drop to the river where I'm standing to take this photo.

A few days later, I was bicycling the first 11 miles of the former Washington and Old Dominion Railroad which has been converted to the 45 mile-long rail-trail located within the W&OD Regional Park. I suspect my grandparents took the electric car ride out to Great Falls on a side track off the W&OD. Though I don't know for sure, the trip was probably a honeymoon for my grandparents for at the time they visited it was indeed a wonderful resort. The text of this historical marker along the rail trail gives a hint of what it must have been like in the "old days":

The Great Falls Line

The Bluemont Branch of the Washington and Old Dominion was not the railroad's only line. The Great Falls and Old Dominion Rail Road arose in 1906 from the vision of two prominent men. Senator Stephen B. Elkins of West Virginia had prospered through coal, lumber and railroads in his home state. John R. MacLean was involved in several businesses and owned the Washington Post newspaper. Elkins and MacLean bought land on the Virginia side of the Potomac River at Great Falls. They turned it into a resort, complete with a carousel, dance pavilion, and electrified Trolley line to bring the crowds from Washington. The largely undeveloped land along the line was ideal for residential communities including one named for MacLean. [One rides though MacLean and Fairfax City on the trail]

Images of Elkins, on top, and MacLean, are in the upper, right-hand corner of the historical marker.

This trip to Great Falls, Virginia, was made as part of my effort and enjoyment to re-visit sites which were also visited by my ancestors. Previously, I have posted blog entries on my ancestors' trips to the replica of the Lourdes (France) Grotto and the Bartholdi Fountain, both sites being in Washington City, District of Columbia.

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