Little Falls (Potomac River)

From Thomas Jefferson Encyclopedia

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Thomas Jefferson's visited Little Falls, which lay in the Potomac River about four miles up stream from Georgetown, twice in 12 years. The first trip there was in September 1790, and then he went there again in late July 1802, and both these visits probably had a duel purpose. The falls was an object of natural history of the kind that always attracted him. During his second visit in 1802, he wanted to inspect the canal then under construction that would bypass the Little Falls, whose descent was about thirty-six feet in two miles. This canal was one of the main projects of the Potomac Company's effort to open the river to navigation from Georgetown to Cumberland, Maryland, a distance of 185 miles. Although the Great Falls where the water fell seventy-two feet in about a mile and a half, presented a grander spectacle, they were fourteen miles from Georgetown a distance too great for Jefferson to have covered at this time.


  • Bacon-Foster, Cora. Early Chapters in the Development of the Potomac Route to the West. (Washington: Columbia Historical Society, 1912), illus. of Little Falls, opp. p. 86 and of Great Falls opp. p. 104.
  • Lear, Tobias. Observations on the River Potomack and the City of Washington. (New York: Samuel Loudon and Son, 1793), 8.