Needing to take a break from my neighborhood visits, and feeling a desire to understand the War of 1812 better, I have decided to start taking a look at Francis Scott Key.
I’m hoping to visit the major sites associated with his life. These include his birthplace in Maryland, the Key Bridge, Memorial Park and Key House site in Georgetown, the two houses he lived at in Washington, the Francis Scott Key Bridge near Baltimore, the original Star Spangled Banner which flew over Fort McHenry and is on display at the Smithsonian Museum of American History in Washington D.C,. and of course, Fort McHenry.
I had hoped to order my visits in chronological sequence, but that would really slow things down. So let’s get started with a visit to Georgetown, where Key spent most of his adult life years, and where he is honored with both a bridge and a memorial park.
And before I forget, I’d like to welcome two new books – Sam Myer’s “Paradoxes of Fame: The Francis Scott Key Story,” and Ralph Eshelman’s, “A Travel Guide to the War of 1812 in the Chesapeake.” The latter was published this year.
The official name is the “Francis Scott Key Bridge,” but everyone in Washington just calls it the “Key Bridge.” Built in 1923 in the Classic Revival style, the span replaced the Aqueduct Bridge. In his book, Meyer rightfully notes that tourists and even Washington residents may not know the bridge was named after Key.
Hundreds of thousands have crossed it, but one has to wonder how many have taken the time to visit the park that rubs against its northern end. In fact, unless you are walking or biking by, it’s hard to notice it’s there, at least when the leaves are on the trees.
I count myself among those who knew the Key Park was there, but every time I drove by I was paying attention to the turns and traffic in front of me. Crossing the bridge the other day I was excited to know I had finally made up my mind to visit the park.
I knew the only parking would be down by the river so after the slog along M Street, I turned right on to Wisconsin, drove downhill to K Street, made a right, and parked near the bridge. The walk uphill is as steep as they come, but you can catch your breathe by the pedestrian bridge across the C&O canal. This approach also provides a somewhat dramatic entry into the park (Georgetown is safe, but you might not do it this way at night).
A cold wind blew the day I went, prompting regret for not coming in the summer or fall. Still, the half-acre park, dedicated on September 14, 1993 (the anniversary of Key writing the Star Spangled Banner) is impressive with a concrete pergola, landscaping, the winding footpath, three interpretive markers, a bust, the 14-star flag, benches, a stone marker and a concrete marker on the bridge.
The three interpretive markers suffer as others do from the wear of time and are hard to read. Still, they convey excellent information on Key.
The first has a map of the area, showing where Key lived, about 75 yards west of the park. (I'll have more on the Key Mansion next time).
Marker 3 is a short bio on Key. Key carved out a unique life as a poet-lawyer-patriot.
The bronze bust was sculptured by Betty Mailhouse Dunston in 1985. The flag reflects the number of states in 1812.