Tiber Creek

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Tiber Creek
Tyber Creek
Goose Creek
View of the city of Washington in 1792.tif
Library of Congress
View of the City of Washington in 1792, showing Goose Creek (Tiber Creek)
EtymologyTiber River in Rome, Italy
Physical characteristics
 ⁃ location
In front of the White House
 ⁃ coordinates
38°53′23″N 77°02′11″W / 38.889585°N 77.036419°W / 38.889585; -77.036419

Tiber Creek or Tyber Creek was originally called Goose Creek. It is a tributary of the Potomac River in Washington, D.C.. It was a free-flowing creek until 1815 when it was channeled to become part of the Washington City Canal. Today, it is underground in tunnels around the city including under Constitution Avenue NW.


Originally called Goose Creek, it was renamed by settler Francis Pope. Pope owned a 400-acre (1.6 km2) farmstead along the banks of the creek which, in a play on his surname, he named "Rome" after the Italian city, and he renamed the creek in honor of the river which flows through that city.[1]

Using the original Tiber Creek for commercial purposes was part of Pierre (Peter) Charles L'Enfant's 1791 "Plan of the city intended for the permanent seat of the government of the United States . . .".[2] The idea was that the creek could be widened and channeled into a canal to the Potomac. By 1815 the western portion of the creek became part of the Washington City Canal, running along what is now Constitution Avenue.[3] By the 1840s, however, because Washington had no separate storm drain and sewer system, the Washington City Canal had become a notorious open sewer. When Alexander "Boss" Shepherd joined the DC Board of Public Works in 1871, he and the Board engaged in a massive, albeit uneven, series of infrastructure improvements, including grading and paving streets, planting trees, installing sewers and laying out parks. One of these projects was to enclose Tiber Creek/Washington City Canal. A German immigrant engineer named Adolf Cluss, also on the Board, is credited with constructing a tunnel from Capitol Hill to the Potomac "wide enough for a bus to drive through to put Tiber Creek underground."[4][5]

Many of the buildings on the north side of Constitution Avenue apparently are built on top of the creek, including the Internal Revenue Service Building, part of which is built on wooden piers sunk into the wet ground along the creek course. The low-lying topography there contributed to the flooding of the National Archives Building (Archives I in Washington, DC), IRS, and Ariel Rios buildings that forced their temporary closure beginning in late June 2006. In fact, until the mid-1990s, that part of Washington around the intersection of 14th Street and Constitution Avenue was an open parking lot because the underground water was too difficult to deal with. During construction of the Ronald Reagan Building (1990–98), the engineers figured out how to divert the water. But that dewatering then reduced the water level underneath the IRS building which caused the wooden piers to lose stability and part of the IRS building foundation to sink.

A pub near Tiber Creek's historic course north of Capitol Hill was named after it. The Bistro Bis restaurant now occupies the Tiber Creek Pub's former location.[6] A lock keeper's house from the Washington branch of the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal remains at the southwest corner of Constitution Avenue and 17th Street, NW, near the former mouth of Tiber Creek, and the western end of the Washington City Canal.[7][8][9]

According to General James Wilkinson's memoirs, "I may be excused for mention another incident, which deeply interested [...] my family. My father, to preserve his health and property, purchased 500 acres of land lying on the Tyber and Potomack, which probably comprises the President's house; but at the time, about 1762, the present seat of government was considered so remote from the early settlements of the province, that my mother objected to the removal on accounts of the distance, and my father transferred the property to Thomas Johns, esq. a friend and contemporary, of his neighborhood, to whose family it proved an auspicious contract; but in this case, the benefactor did not long enjoy the prosperity he had promoted."[10]

Today, the streams flowing under the city is often referred to as Tiber Creek though its common past with the Canal is acknowledged.[11]

Location and Course[edit]

It laid southeast of then Georgetown, Maryland, amid lands that were selected for the City of Washington, the new capital of the United States.[1] Today this land is the National Mall.

Several small streams flowed from the north and south meeting at the base of Capitol Hill then heading west to flow into the Potomac River near Jefferson Pier. The overall course of the creek was kept when the Canal was built in 1815.


  1. ^ a b The Mysterious Mr. Jenkins of Jenkins Hill: The Early History of the Capitol Site - John Michael Vlach (Spring 2004)
  2. ^ "Original Plan of Washington, D.C." U.S. Library of Congress. Accessed 2009-09-16.
  3. ^ Cornelius W. Heine (1953). "The Washington City Canal." Records of the Columbia Historical Society of Washington, D.C. 53-56 (1953-56) 1-27. Now called Historical Society of Washington, DC. Archived 2009-12-07 at the Wayback Machine
  4. ^ German-American Heritage Society of Washington, D.C. Accessed 2009-09-16.
  5. ^ "The Tiber Creek Sewer Flush Gates, Washington, D.C.", Engineering News and American Railway Journal, February 8, 1894.
  6. ^ Goldreich, Samuel (1998). "Bistro Bis succeeds Capitol Hill pub as welcoming lunch option." Washington Times. 1998-10-12.
  7. ^ dcMemorials.com. Plaque beside the Lockkeeper's House marking the former location in Washington, D.C. Accessed 2009-09-16.
  8. ^ HMdb.org: The Historical Marker Database. "Lock Keeper’s House Marker." Accessed 2009-09-16.
  9. ^ Coordinates of lock keeper's house: 38°53′31″N 77°02′23″W / 38.8919305°N 77.0397498°W / 38.8919305; -77.0397498 (Lockkeeper's house from Washington branch of the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal)
  10. ^ Memoirs of My Own Times, General James Wilkinson. Pg 9.
  11. ^ What you’d see in Washington’s Tiber Creek sewer — if you dared to go - The Washington Post - John Kelly - August 28, 2013

Further reading[edit]

  • Ramos, David (2013-07-07). "DC streams in 1859, plotted on a modern map". Imaginary Terrain. Archived from the original on 2014-10-02.</ref>
  • Williams, Garnett P. (1977). "Washington D.C.'s Vanishing Springs and Waterways: Geological Survey Circular 752" (PDF). Washington, D.C.: United States Department of the Interior. Retrieved 2015-03-15.