Commander-in-chief in the American Revolution. Founding father. First president. Few figures in United States history are so revered as George Washington. Henry Lee's 1799 eulogy still rings true: "First in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen." Three centuries later, Washington lives on through countless places of tribute. But sites in and near his namesake city can claim special significance because here he lived, worked, worshipped, and planned for the nation's future.
Even in Washington's lifetime, his home at Mount Vernon drew sightseers, growing more popular with each generation. In 1932, the bicentennial of his birth, Mount Vernon Memorial Highway opened from Arlington Memorial Bridge to the estate. The 16-mile road improved access through Virginia and ushered in a new era of road-building. Built by the Department of Agriculture's Bureau of Public Roads, it was proclaimed "America's Most Modern Motorway." While it was under construction, Congress renamed it George Washington Memorial Parkway, expanding its authorized length and its mission. Under the Capper-Cramton Act of 1930, the federal government acquired land along the Potomac River in Virginia from Great Falls to Mount Vernon to protect the shoreline and palisades, preserve historic features, and provide for public recreation areas.
In the 1950s and 1960s the parkway was extended northward. Traversing more difficult terrain than the southern leg, this section displays the latest in road engineering methods for its timea wide, gently curving road with a grassy median, low stone guardrails, and soaring steel-and-concrete arched bridges. By 1970, 6.8 miles of the Maryland section were complete; that section was renamed in honor of Clara Barton in 1989. Today George Washington Memorial Parkway is a 7,600-acre national park area protecting the landscape and native habitat of the Potomac shoreline. Within the park you can visit over 25 sites associated with George Washington's life, and with the life of the nation he helped establish.
A Road Through Past and Present
By the time he became president in 1789, George Washington owned 8,000 acres along the Potomac River in Virginia, from south of Mount Vernon to several miles north of the estate. One of his dreams for post-Revolutionary America was to turn the Potomac River into the commercial gateway to the West. He lobbied for building the Patowmack Canal to route boats safely around the "great falls" of the Potomac, nearly 30 miles upriver from his home. George Washington Memorial Parkway includes remains of this late-1700s canal at Great Falls Park and sections of Washington's tidal Potomac farmlands: Riverside Park, Fort Hunt Park, and Collingwood Picnic Area.
Other members of Washington's family held land that is now within the parkway. Abingdon, home of Washington's stepson John Parke Custis, is the site of Ronald Reagan-Washington National Airport. Arlington House was the property of Washington's step-grandson George Washington Parke Custis, who was raised by the Washingtons. Custis left Mount Vernon in 1802 after his grandmother Martha Custis Washington died. That year, on the 1,100-acre estate he inherited, Custis began building a Greek Revival mansion. He filled the home, finished in 1817, with Washington heirlooms. Later, Custis' daughter Mary and her husband Robert E. Lee lived here until the Civil-war broke out in 1861.
Two more U.S. presidents are honored at Lyndon Baines Johnson Memorial Grove on the Potomac and Theodore Roosevelt Island. Other sites recall the nation's past: Claude Moore Colonial Farm recreates 1700s tobacco farm life. Military sites in Virginia include Civil War-era Fort Marcy and Spanish-American War and WWII-era Fort Hunt. Glen Echo, Md., features the home of American Red Cross founder Clara Barton, and site of a Chautauqua Assembly in the 1800s, now Glen Echo Park.
Turkey Run Park and Dyke Marsh Wildlife Preserve are natural habitats preserved within parkway lands. Watch for signs of the seasons: spring's dogwood, redbud, and daffodils and fall's fiery hues of oaks, maples, and hickories. Watch for wild turkeys, bald eagles, and other migratory and resident birds. As you travel the parkway, see how the Potomac River's character changes between the falls and tidewater.
Exploring the George Washington Memorial Parkway
George Washington Memorial Parkway was designed to bring people closer to nature and history. With rapid suburban growth, the parkway is now a major commuter route. The very qualities that set this roadway aparta rolling, winding course bounded by stone walls, with wildlife and eye-catching scenerynow make it unsafe at high speeds. When driving, observe posted speed limits. Keep in mind that first and foremost, the parkway is a park!
The parkway has two main sections, Virginia and Maryland. The 25-mile Virginia section runs northward from Mount Vernon along the Potomac River to I-495. In Maryland, the Clara Barton Parkway follows the Potomac River for seven miles from Chain Bridge in Washington, D.C., to north of I-495. Along the way are historic sites, memorials, and scenic and recreation areas, listed below north to south. Unless otherwise noted, entrances to these sites are directly from the parkway.
What To See and Do Along the Parkway
• Great Falls Park, Virginia
• Clara Barton National Historic Site
• Glen Echo Park
• Turkey Run Park
• Claude Moore Colonial Farm
• Fort Marcy
• Theodore Roosevelt Island
• U.S. Marine Corps War Memorial/Netherlands Carillon
• Arlington House, The Robert E. Lee Memorial
• Lady Bird Johnson Park
• Gravelly Point/Roaches Run Waterfowl Sanctuary
• Daingerfield Island
• City of Alexandria
• Jones Point Lighthouse
• Belle Haven Park/Dyke Marsh Wildlife Preserve
• Collingwood Picnic Area
• Fort Hunt Park
• Riverside Park
• Mount Vernon Trail
• Mount Vernon Estate and Gardens
Safety First The parkway is narrow and winding. Speed limit varies from 25 to 50 mph. Do not speed! • Watch for deer, wild turkeys, and other wildlife and pedestrians. • Metal detectors are prohibited. • For firearms regulations see the park website. • A license is required for fishing; local regulations apply. • Do not destroy or remove plants, animals, or other natural or cultural objects; all are protected by federal law.
Accessibility Contact the park for details about accessible facilities and activities. Service animals are welcome.
Source: NPS Brochure (2010)
WELCOME TO THE MOUNT VERNON TRAIL
The National Park Service built the Mount Vernon Trail in 1973 so visitors could better enjoy the diverse natural and historic areas along the Potomac River. Today, this foresight is appreciated by thousands who enjoy the trail for its many recreational opportunities. Please help us care for this parkfor your pleasure and for future generations.
With the Potomac River as your companion, you can walk, ride your bike, or jog the 18.5-mile Mount Vernon Trail. The trail runs from Mount Vernon, George Washington's home (southern end), to Theodore Roosevelt Island in the Potomac River (northern end). Along the way you can enjoy a view of the Potomac at Riverside Park, visit fortifications at Fort Hunt Park, and take side trips to Dyke Marsh Preserve or to Jones Point Lighthouse, which features a 19th-century lightstation. If you have worked up an appetite, you can dine in Alexandria amidst the 18th-century homes and shops occupied since the city was a tobacco and shipping port.
Beyond Alexandria you can see sailboats off Daingerfield Island and view the Washington skyline from Gravelly Point. Once over the Columbia Island Bridge, you pass the Navy and Marine Memorial, with its sculpture of gulls in flight above a wave. Next, you can rest in the greenery of Lady Bird Johnson Park. The Mount Vernon Trail also connects to other recreational trails that await your exploration. If you enjoy vigorous activities or just relaxingthe Mount Vernon Trail is for you.
Enjoying the Trail
Theodore Roosevelt Island
Lyndon Baines Johnson (LBJ) Memorial Grove
Navy and Marine Memorial
Jones Point Lighthouse
Belle Haven Park
Dyke Marsh Preserve
Fort Hunt Park
For a Safe Visit
Trail Courtesy The trail is shared by many people, including bikers, runners, skaters, and casual explorers. Watch out for others who may be traveling faster or slower than you.
Safety and Regulations • Stay on the main trail or designated side trails. • Stay on the right side of the trail. Move left to passgive ample warning to the trail user in front of you before passing. • Watch out for uneven pavement. Use caution on wet boardwalksthey can be slippery. • Be careful when crossing streets or if traveling with vehicle traffic. • Firearms and metal detectors are prohibited. • Lock your bikes in the racks provided. • Pets must be on a leash at all times. • Be alert for poison ivy and ticks. • Respect the privacy of property owners along the trail. • Do not damage, remove, or destroy any natural or cultural objects in the parkall are protected by federal law.
Source: NPS Brochure (2007)
UNITED STATES MARINE CORPS WAR MEMORIAL
A Memorial to Courage and Freedom
A fraction of a second . . . one click of a camera . . . and a powerful image is captured that engrosses a war-weary nation and fuels its resolve to push for final victory. This memorial, inspired by and based upon that image, is a testament to the bravery, honor, and sacrifice of the United States Marine Corps in its long and celebrated history.
The origins of the memorial began on Iwo Jima, a small volcanic island 648 nautical miles south of Tokyo. Iwo Jima's location, midway between the Japanese home islands and American bomber bases in the Mariana Islands, was key to each country's strategy in the final year of World War II.
The Japanese had built airfields on Iwo Jima by February 1945, which they used to launch attacks against U.S. bases in the Marianas and American long-range B-29 bombers. If Americans held the airfields, U.S. fighter planes could escort bombing missions, and damaged bombers could use the island as a sanctuary.
Japanese troops on Iwo Jima, commanded by Lt. Gen. Tadamichi Kuribayashi, had prepared a formidable series of defenses to protect the island. They vowed to defend it to their death. The Marines had the ability to take the island, but at what cost?
The battle for Iwo Jima lasted 36 daysfrom February 19 to March 26, 1945. Over 70,000 American troops, mostly Marines, under Lt. Gen. Holland M. Smith's command, engaged over 21,000 Japanese defenders in one of the bloodiest battles of the war. Almost 7,000 Marines, sailors, and soldiers were killed or missing during the battle and almost 20,000 were wounded. Of the Japanese soldiers, only 1,100 survived.
Fleet Adm. Chester W. Nimitz called the capture of Iwo Jima "as necessary to us in our continuing forward movement toward final victory as it was vital to the enemy in staving off ultimate defeat."
The Flag Raisings
Once ashore on February 19, 1945, the 28th Regiment, 5th Marine Division, began its assault on Mount Suribachi, an extinct volcano that rises 550 feet to dominate the southern tip of the fan-shaped island. The Marines readied the base of the mountain on the afternoon of February 21; by nightfall the next day they had almost completely surrounded it. On the morning of February 23, Company E, 2nd Battalion, 28th Marines, began the arduous climb up the rough terrain to the top. At about 10:30 am, U.S. troops were thrilled to see a small American flag flying from atop Mount Suribachi.
That afternoon a second, larger flag (salvaged from Pearl Harbor) was raised by Navy hospital corpsman John H. Bradley and Marines Harlon H. Block, Rene A. Gagnon, Ira Hayes, Franklin R. Sousley, and Michael Strank. News photographer Joe Rosenthal caught the flag raising in an inspiring photograph that won him a Pulitzer Prize and inspired creation of the United States Marine Corps War Memorial.
Making the Memorial
Sculptor Felix W. de Weldon, then with the U.S. Navy, found Rosenthal's photograph so inspiring that he immediately began sculpting a small wax model of the scene. He was then asked to build two nine-foot-tall versions for a war bond drive. De Weldon was subsequently commissioned to sculpt the present 78-foot-high memorial. Gagnon, Hayes, and Bradley, three survivors of the flag raising (the others had been killed in later phases of the battle for Iwo Jima), posed for the sculptor. De Weldon modeled the other men using photographs and descriptions.
President Dwight D. Eisenhower dedicated the memorial on November 10, 1954, the 179th anniversary of the U.S. Marine Corps. The memorial is dedicated to the Marine dead of all wars, and their comrades of other services who fell fighting beside them. No public funds were used building the memorial. Marines, Naval Service members, and friends donated the cost of $850,000.
The 32-foot-high figures are shown raising a 60-foot flagpole; the flag flies 24 hours a day. They occupy positions similar to those in Rosenthal's historic photograph. As you stand before the memorial, the four figures in front are (left to right) Hayes, Sousley, Bradley, and Block. The two in back are Strank (behind Sousley) and Gagnon (behind Bradley).
The six figures stand on a jumble of igneous rock that represents the volcanic debris atop Mount Suribachi. On the memorial's base, engraved and burnished in gold, are the names and dates of principal Marine Corps campaigns and battles.
On the base is the tribute of Fleet Adm. Chester W. Nimitz to the fighting men on Iwo Jima: "Uncommon Valor was a Common Virtue." Below this is "Semper Fidelis," Latin for "always faithful," motto of the United States Marine Corps.
The United States Marine Corps
The United States Marine Corps was established by the Continental Congress in November 1775 to serve as shipboard infantry for the fledgling Continental Navy. It has evolved into a multi-purpose force dedicated to the defense of freedom in both the United States and abroad.
From the first amphibious operations in the American Revolutionary War to today's efforts to promote freedom around the world, the U.S. Marine Corps has enjoyed a reputation as an effective fighting force. The names of principal campaigns engraved on the memorial are a testament to the sacrifices U.S. Marines have made in service to America.
A Gift of Friendship
Near the U.S. Marine Corps War Memorial stands a large bell tower, the Netherlands Carillon. This was a gift "From the People of the Netherlands to the People of the United States" in gratitude for American aid during and after World War II. The carillon symbolizes and is dedicated to the friendship between two countries and their common allegiance to the principles of freedom, justice, and democracy.
The idea for this symbolic gift came from a Dutch government official. Endorsed by Queen Juliana, the concept and the drive for funds to build the carillon and tower met with generous response from all sections of the Netherlands.
On April 4, 1952, during a visit to the United States, Queen Juliana presented a small silver bell to President Truman as a token of the carillon to come.
First installed at a nearby site in 1954, the tower and 49-bell carillon were moved to their present location in 1960. Dutch- and American-sponsored renovations were completed in 1995. A 50th bell was dedicated on May 5 of that year, on the 50th anniversary of the liberation of the Netherlands from the Nazis.
Design and Construction
The tower housing the carillon, designed by Dutch architect Joost W.C. Boks, is an open steel structure reinforced by steel plates. It is about 127 feet high, 25 feet deep, and 36 feet wide, and stands on a quartzite plaza 93 feet square. The plaza is enclosed by a low lava stone wall. Two bronze lions designed by Dutch sculptor Paul Koning guard the approach to the plaza. A rectangular staircase leads to a platform (not open to public). From there a circular staircase winds up to the glass-enclosed playing cabin 83 feet above ground.
Operation of the Carillon
Planning Your Visit
Getting Here The United States Marine Corps War Memorial and Netherlands Carillon are in Virginia along the northern edge of Arlington National Cemetery, across from major monuments and memorials in Washington, D.C. You can get here via the Arlington Cemetery or Rosslyn Metro stations and via U.S. 50 and I-66.
Concerts Carillonneurs give free concerts on Saturdays from about late May through September. For concert schedules, check the panel on the carillon or contact the park: www.nps.gov/gwmp.
Accessibility, Safety, Regulations The United States Marine Corps War Memorial and Netherlands Carillon are administered by George Washington Memorial Parkway, part of the National Park System. For information about safety and accessibility (service animals are welcome) and firearms regulations contact the park: www.nps.gov/gwmp.
Source: NPS Brochure (2010)
Brochures ◆ Site Bulletins ◆ Trading Cards
A Report on Furnishings: Turkey Run Farm, McLean, Virginia (Charles E. Fisher, February 1973)
Administrative History, 1985-2010: George Washington Memorial Parkway (Robison & Associates, Inc., August 2011)
Analysis of the Deconstruction of Dyke Marsh, George Washington Memorial Parkway, Virginia: Progression, Geologic and Manmade Causes, and Effective Restoration Scenarios USGS Open-File Report 2010-1269 (Ronald J. Litwin, Joseph P. Smoot, Milan J. Pavich, Helaine W. Markewich, Erik Oberg, Ben Helwig, Brent Steury, Vincent L. Santucci, Nancy J. Durika, Nancy B. Rybicki, Katharina M. Engelhardt, Geoffrey Sanders, Stacey Verardo, Andrew J. Elmore and Joseph Gilmer, 2011)
Arlington Memorial Bridge, Photographs, Written Historical and Descriptive Data HAER No. DC-7 (Historic American Engineering Record, 1988)
Geologic Resources Inventory Report, George Washington Memorial Parkway NPS Natural Resource Report NPS/NRPC/GRD/NRR-2009/128 (T.L. Thornberry-Ehrlich, December 2009)
Historic Resource Study: Rock Creek and Potomac Parkway, George Washington Memorial Parkway (Jere L. Krakow, January 1990)
Historic Structure Report: The Netherlands Carillon Draft (Diana Inthavong, Jennifer Oeschger and Elizabeth Milnarik, 2019)
Historical and Archeological Study of the George Washington Memorial Parkway from the Theodore Roosevelt Memorial Bridge to the Lorcom Lane Turnabout on Spout Run Parkway, Arlington, Virginia (Paul B. Cissna, 1990)
Junior Ranger, Fort Hunt Park (Date Unknown)
Let's Move Outside, George Washington Memorial Parkway (Date Unknown)
Long-Range Interpretive Plan: George Washington Memorial Parkway (November 2005)
Natural Resource Condition Assessment, George Washington Memorial Parkway NPS Natural Resource Report NPS/GWMP/NRR-2016/1121 (Brianne M. Walsh, Simon D. Costanzo, William C. Dennison, Mark Lehman, Megan Nortrup, Brent Steury and Simone Monteleone, January 2016)
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Last Updated: 07-Mar-2022