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Article Archive >> Autumn Tourism

Williamsport Historic District: Potential site for the nation's new capital

Williamsport Historic District
Potential site for the nation's new capital

The town of Williamsport is situated on the east bank of the Potomac River and is bordered on the north by the Conococheague Creek. Two major roads converge in Williamsport, U.S. Route 11 and Maryland Route 68, which become Potomac Street and Conococheague Street, respectively. Interstate 81 borders the corporate town limits on the east. The historic town of Williamsport was laid out on a grid pattern with wide streets of 80 feet to allow for turning wagons.
Founded by General Otho Holland Williams (in 1786), a friend of George Washington, Williamsport was once under consideration as a potential site for the nation's new capital.
Legend has it that Washington visited Williamsport in 1790 to study the likelihood of making Williamsport the new capital. Because the town's location is off the beaten track of the Potomac River's (then) unsailable watercourse and inability for large ships to navigate through, Washington decided to locate the capital elsewhere. This waterfront town is located at the confluence of the Conococheague Creek and Potomac River.
General Williams left the requirement that lots be developed with a building of brick, log, or stone. Almost 20% of the buildings in the district date from the late 18th and early 19th centuries. They are generally of log or brick construction until the 2nd quarter of the 19th century. Much of this early development occurred on the west side of town, particularly along West Potomac Street and Vermont Street.
Later as the C&O Canal and railroads led to a boom period, there was additional growth resulting in prominent late 19th century Italianate and Queen Anne style buildings for residential and commercial purposes and the renovation of some older structures. Slightly less than 60% of the buildings date from the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Of particular interest are a series of Italianate commercial/residential buildings with original storefronts along Conococheague Street. The addition of early 20th century Colonial Revivals, Foursquares, and Bungalows, predominantly on the east side of town, represent the last period of historically significant development.
The Williamsport Historic District is significant for the important role the town played in the settlement and development of transportation in Washington County and the Mid-Atlantic region. Its location at the confluence of the Potomac River and Conococheague Creek provided a ready source of power and transportation. One of the earliest migration routes from Pennsylvania to Virginia (now U.S. Route 11) passed through the early settlement site.
With the construction of the C&O Canal in the mid-19th century, Williamsport became a center for the transportation of products. The closure of the canal in 1924 served as an end-point for significant development within the Williamsport Historic District. The result is a remarkably intact district of buildings from the initial settlement period of the late 18th and early 19th century, the establishment of the C&O Canal in the mid-19th century, and the heyday of the canal in the late 19th century.






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