Fort C.F. Smith hike

Fort C.F. Smith is actually a deceptive name for the 6-mile hike we took on June 24, because the old Civil War fort in Arlington, Virginia, was not really the focus of the hike. It was simply a convenient assembly point because of its central location, parking, and the amenities (restrooms and drinking fountains) provided by the Hendry House on the grounds.

A replica 6-pound field piece and limber stands on some of the remains of the works, which are in an excellent state of preservation as far as these things go. Even so, you really have to stretch your mind’s eye to imagine the landscape 150 years ago. A portion of a photo in the Library of Congress at the same location, probably taken from atop one of the fort’s magazines, shows a much heavier 24-pound piece, surrounded by members of Company F, 2d NY Heavy Artillery, and a landscape almost totally denuded of trees. (The fort did have a couple of 6-pounders, but being light pieces, they were relegated to corner positions.*)

Leaving the fort, we headed downhill west and south to cross Spout Run and turn back east along the Custis Trail, which slopes gently downhill alongside I-66 through Rosslyn toward Georgetown. A look to the left while crossing Key Bridge into Georgetown offers a lot of interesting sights: the remains of the old Aqueduct Bridge, boaters enjoying a sunny day on the Potomac, and the Georgetown skyline, with familiar landmarks like Georgetown University’s Healy Hall and the Car Barn, which is located on the site of a tobacco warehouse built in 1761.

Speaking of the Car Barn, since we arrived in front of it on M Street after crossing Key Bridge, it seemed only natural to take a short detour to ascend the adjacent Exorcist Steps and walk a couple of blocks east before returning to M Street to enjoy a break at Francis Scott Key Memorial Park.

After recrossing Key Bridge, the second half of the walk took on a completely different character, following the Potomac Heritage trail upstream to Windy Run for a scramble up the rough, bouldered steps and then along the stream to the south end of Windy Run Park, where a steep set of steps through the YMCA Woodmont Center leads to Fillmore and 24th Streets, and the final few blocks to the start point.

Overall, quite an eclectic hike, offering a start in a historic location with Civil War fortifications and a Victorian house and garden, a transition into an urban hike along the Custis Trail through Rosslyn, across Key Bridge and into Georgetown, and then into a natural woodland setting with streams to cross, roots and boulders to negotiate, and a steep uphill climb back to the start point. A Google map of the route is here.

* Mr. Lincoln’s Forts: A Guide to the Civil War Defenses of Washington is a great source book for learning about and visiting these forts.

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