Obsolete Boundary Stones
The West Cornerston
Territory belonging to the original District of Columbia on the south side of the Potomac River was retroceded to Virginia in 1847. Many of the original Boundary Stones placed circa 1791 (and I have visited several) continue to mark a boundary for the District that no longer exists although many of them still mark boundaries for some of Virginia’s counties and independent cities.
If you want to see more photographs and a map of many of the stones, please visit Mark Zimmermann’s wonderfully researched and compiled District of Columbia Boundary Stones: Photos & GPS Waypoints page.
The Multi-jurisdictional Woodrow Wilson Bridge
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Travelers on Interstate 95 who drive along the eastern edge of the Washington beltway and cross the Woodrow Wilson Bridge over the Potomac River probably never give their journey a second thought, but three separate jurisdictions retain authority for different portions of the bridge. The Potomac marks the border between the states of Maryland and Virginia, with Maryland "owning" the rights to the river in an arrangement that goes back to Colonial times.
This is also true of the border between Virginia and the District of Columbia, with the District owning the rights to the river. The initial portion of the bridge starts on the Virginia shore and cuts ever so slightly through the District of Columbia before entering Maryland. Therefore anyone who travels the eastern side of the beltway actually visits Washington, DC if only very briefly.
On the old bridge, which has since been decommissioned, the drawbridge tower was located in the portion controlled by the District of Columbia. The person who operated the drawbridge was a Washington, DC city employee. I do not know if this is still true with the new bridge.
One may think these anomalies are simply "interesting" but sometimes there are real world implications. In 1998 one of the most infamous traffic jams in the history of Washington took place here. A would-be suicide jumper stood on the bride during the height of afternoon rush. Washington is so choked with traffic ordinarily that this was all it took to completely gridlock the entire metropolitan area for hours. Authorities had to figure out which police force should take the lead as the jumper moved along the bridge between jurisdictions, causing further delays. The situation had a fortunate ending — the man went off the bridge but was not hurt.
Parts of Washington on the "wrong" side of the Potomac.
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The George Washington Parkway generally traverses Virginia’s side of the Potomac River and offers a wonderfully scenic drive. However most of the Parkway between Interstate 395 and the Theodore Roosevelt Bridge is technically located within the District of Columbia. This includes most of the exit ramps to and from the Memorial Bridge. This portion of the GW Parkway crosses Columbia Island — separated from Virginia by a narrow boundary channel — although it’s not readily noticeable while driving along even at the speed limit. Washington, DC owns the river and all the river islands located between itself and Virginia. This also includes Roosevelt Island even though it can only be approached by land using a footbridge from the Virginia shore.
Sometimes it’s tough to give up the illusion of control
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National Airport is located in Arlington, VA. However, the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority lists its address as "Washington, DC 20001". Even more strangely, they list Dulles Airport — some 35 miles outside of the District — as "Washington, DC 20041" If you want to send a letter to either airport you need to use a Washington, DC mailing address.
The same is true for military components based at the Department of Defense headquarters at the Pentagon. The general mailing address for the Pentagon is: 1400 Defense Pentagon, Washington DC 20301-1400. Nonetheless the Pentagon is and always has been located firmly on the Virginia side of the Potomac River.