Most trips to Washington DC will certainly take in the major sights that cry out that this is a Monumental City – the White House, Lincoln Memorial, Washington Monument, Capitol Hill, the Smithsonian Museums, and so on. We were lucky enough to have a little more time to explore other districts of the city where Scottish influence is never far from the surface.
The writer is a ‘Doonhamer’ by birth and the obvious place to start was the small town of Dumfries, Virginia once a thriving port some 25 miles from the centre of Washington. Spelling the same way but somewhat different phonetics are applied by the locals. A visit to the cemetery lead to the resting places of the Dumfries pioneers including one John Graham on whose land the first trading post was established.
On from here and across the great Potomac River to the Georgetown district. Georgetown sits a few discrete miles to the west of the Capitol and is perhaps more well known for its eclectic shops and restaurants on the busy M street than for its historic past. There are some wonderful spots around M Street – the gold dome of the PNC bank, the Old Stone House, the bustling Dean & DeLuca deli where the locals ‘bag’ their breakfast, even a hidden canal – all sit below the imposing spires of Georgetown University the oldest catholic higher education institute in the US which includes former President Bill Clinton as a student.
We walked north of ‘M’ to the residential streets which contain grand houses, federal style row houses, early churches and cemeteries. All this land was granted to one Ninian Beall, born in Largo before setting sail for the Americas. Beall named the area ‘Rock of Dumbarton’ – which appears then to have acted as magnet to 18th century immigrants from Scotland. The evidence of the Scots residency is all around – including the grand Dumbarton House in Montrose Park and the simple Kirk at the Oak Hill Cemetery. Nearby is the Volta Laboratory created in Georgetown by Alexander Graham Bell.
A stroll back towards ‘M’ brings you to the imaginatively titled ‘N’ Street and past homes built by wealthy 18th century merchants which once housed the likes of JFK and his wife Jackie. At a point further along you might stop and rub your eyes wondering if you really are still back at home. The Laird-Dunlop house was built by John Laird who owned many of Georgetown’s tobacco warehouses. He obviously modeled his home on those in the Edinburgh New Town – including its ornate fan windows.
At this time of year it would be remiss not to mention a final poignant reminder of the links between the nations. Back over the Potomac at Arlington Cemetery the Lockerbie Cairn, built from 270 blocks of solid Dumfriesshire sandstone, forms an abiding memory to all those perished on 21 December 1988