The Francis Scott Key Bridge, spanning the Potomac River between Washington, DC and Arlington, Virginia, is a skillfully designed reinforced concrete arch bridge. Originally constructed to provide automotive, trolley, and pedestrian transit, the bridge has served as an important link between Washington and northern Virginia. Nathan C. Wyeth designed the bridge in 1916 and construction was completed in 1923. The structure is noteworthy for its elegant and simple Classical design.
The construction of the Key Bridge was necessitated by the dilapidated condition of the Aqueduct Bridge which formerly stood on roughly the same site. The earlier bridge was constructed between 1833 and 1843 of stone (gneiss) piers with a superstructure of queen-post trusses with a weatherproofed timber trough. The bridge carried boats from the C & O Canal over the Potomac River to a canal in Virginia. This seven-mile-long canal, which led to Alexandria, was constructed by the Alexandria Canal Company as a means of competing with the port of Georgetown and was also built between 1833 and 1843. The superstructure was modified several times over the 19th century to accommodate changing modes of transportation. By 1915, Secretary of War Lindley M. Garrison wrote in a condition report of the bridge: "The present superstructure of the Aqueduct Bridge is a rather light iron truss which was erected in 1888. The vibrations under heavy loads appear to me excessive."
Recognizing the need to have a stable, reliable bridge on the site to provide access to and from the burgeoning Virginia suburbs, Congress authorized the demolition of the existing bridge after a new bridge "not to exceed one million dollars" was constructed. The actual total cost of the structure was $2.5 million. The resulting Francis Scott Key Bridge was opened on January 17, 1923. It is named for Key, author of the "Star-Spangled Banner," who was a resident of Georgetown in the early 19th century.
DC Inventory: November 8, 1964
National Register: March 1, 1996