National Park Service
A History of National Capital Parks
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Superintendent of National Capital Parks

The office of Public Buildings and Public Parks of the National Capital was absorbed by the newly designated office of National Parks, Buildings and Reservations, Department of the Interior by Executive Order on June 10, 1933, under authority of the act of March 3, 1933. [58] Under this reorganization, which became effective on August 9, 1933, the Buildings Division and the Parks Division were separated. However, both these divisions remained under the direct control of the office of National Parks, Buildings and Reservations, Department of the Interior. Actually the separation at this time was not completely effected as both divisions remained closely coordinated. Frank T. Gartside, who had been Chief of the Park Division from 1925 to 1933, was appointed the Acting Superintendent of the Park Division on August 20, 1933.

National Capital Parks

The cumbersome name of the office of National Parks, Buildings and Reservations, Department of the Interior was changed to the "National Park Service" in the Interior Department Appropriation act of March 2, 1934. [59] The name National Capital Parks was officially used for the first time when the Park Division was called "National Capital Parks" in the District of Columbia appropriation act of June 4, 1934. [60] National Capital Parks, as the direct legal successor to the office of the original three Federal Commissioners, retained many of the same duties and powers once exercised by these commissioners of 1791. Due to the growth of the Capital, certain functions once performed by the original office were transferred to newly formed Government agencies. The control of most of the utilitarian type of public buildings was shifted to a new agency in 1939, when the functions of the administration of public buildings was transferred to the Public Buildings Administration of the Federal Works Agency. [61] However, certain historic public buildings continued to be administered by the National Capital Parks office. Among the most important of these structures was the Executive Mansion. The Park office retained control of the public reservations and also all official records of public reservations in the District of Columbia. Many of these original land records were transferred to the National Archives for protection and preservation.

While the office of National Capital Parks is a unit in the National Park System of the United States, it occupies an unusual place with respect to all other field units in the National Park Service. It is older than the National Park Service, since its legal continuity can be traced back to 1790. At the same time many of its functions are entirely different from other field units in the National Park System. In addition to performing work similar to other National Parks and National Monuments, the office supervises a vast system of municipal parks and parkways, which in itself differs from all other National Parks. Not only does the office supervise a municipal park system, but it supervises the park system of the Nation's Capital, established for the enjoyment of the people of the United States.

In general, the office of National Capital Parks in 1934 was charged with the design and development of park areas, the maintenance of all areas and facilities, protection of park property and park visitors, operation of recreational facilities and the general supervision and administration of recreational facilities, cooperation with the National Capital Park and Planning Commission in general planning of parks and parkways for the District of Columbia and surrounding territory as a major part of city and regional planning, and care and maintenance of the Executive Mansion and grounds. [62]

General Organization

On October 9, 1933, C. Marshall Finnan was appointed Superintendent of National Capital Parks by the Secretary of the Interior and was in general charge of the office until July 31, 1939. [63] Associated with the Superintendent in the overhead administration was one assistant Superintendent, six division chiefs, a landscape architect, a park Naturalist, and an assistant clerk—stenographer. [64] During the years following 1934, certain new divisions and new functions were added to the office. It is interesting to view these changes in administrative procedure as they occurred. Although the organization of the office in 1934 differs somewhat from the present organization in 1952, the duties and functions of the office have remained much the same.

Indicative of the steady growth of National Capital Parks is the fact that the number of employees increased from 724 in 1934 to 1011 in 1951. [65] Over this period of 16 years the duties of the Superintendent increased tremendously. In the present day organization of the office, the Superintendent is assisted by an Associate Superintendent, an Assistant Superintendent, and a Special Assistant, each of whom, is delegated supervisory power over various divisions.

Superintendent of National Capital Parks

With the intense development and growth of the National Capital, the duties of the Superintendent became increasingly complex. On July 28, 1950, Edward J. Kelly succeeded Irving C. Root as the Superintendent of National Capital Parks. Mr. Root had served from January 2, 1941 to July 28, 1950. According to the following official organization chart for 1950, the responsibilities of Superintendent Kelly were many and included certain duties identical to those performed by the three Federal Commissioners of 1791.

The Superintendent

Supervises the administration, maintenance, operation, improvement, and protection of the National Capital Parks System. Supervises the administration, maintenance, and improvement of the Executive Mansion and Grounds. Supervises park concessions and facilities. Directs the preparation of detailed plans in accordance with general plans of the National Capital Park and Planning Commission for the development of the District of Columbia recreation system and maintains these areas for the District of Columbia Recreation Board; directs the maintenance and improvement of grounds and plantings of other government agencies. The Superintendent is a member of the District of Columbia Coordinating Committee of the National Capital Park and Planning Commission and a member of the District of Columbia Recreation Board, Motor Vehicle Parking Agency, and the Commissioner's Traffic Advisory Board. [66]

Working directly under the Superintendent is a staff of specialists in various phases of park work. Functioning as a coordinated unit this staff constitutes a competent and experienced park force for the Capital of the United States.

Significant Changes, 1933—1951

From 1933 to 1951 several significant changes have occurred in the office of National Capital Parks. These changes have caused the discontinuance of certain divisions and the addition of other divisions. They relieved the office of certain duties and they added other new responsibilities.

The D. C., W. P. A. contributed to park development in connection with the following projects: Fort Drive at Fort Reno, Piney Branch Road from Arkansas to Beach Drive, Coolidge Recreational area, Banneker Recreational area and swimming pool, Turkey Thicket, and the demolition and regrading of the 16th Street reservoir.

Civilian Conservation Corps

The introduction of the Civilian Conservation Corps in 1933 as a part of the Emergency Works Program introduced certain changes in the operating procedure of National Capital Parks. CCC operations in the National Capital Parks definitely commenced with the authorization dated September 23, 1933 from CCC Director Robert Fechner to Director Cammerer of the National Park Service. [67] This authorization provided for the establishment of CCC Camps at Fort Hunt, Virginia, and Fort Dupont, District of Columbia. These two camps were set up on October 15, 1933 and October 23, 1933, respectively. [68] Subsequently, eight additional camps were established in the Washington area.

According to the operational procedure of the CCC, each Government Department had a representative on the Advisory Council of the CCC. This representative acted as the general supervisor of the program of his respective department. National Capital Parks operated as a field unit like other National Parks under the National Park Service. [69] At first, the National Capital Parks CCC Camps were under the general supervision of the Regional Park Service office No. 1, located at Richmond, Virginia. This procedure was modified on August 1, 1939 so that National Capital Parks could deal directly with the National Park Service Washington office staff handling CCC operations. [70] Collaboration was maintained with the State Park Division of the National Park Service in the operation of CCC Camps in State park areas adjacent to the National Capital Parks and in the Chopawamsic (later the Prince William Forest Park) and Catoctin recreational demonstration areas, both intended for transfer to National Capital Parks jurisdiction. [71] CCC operations continued up until 1942, during which time, numerous achievements in park development were accomplished.

CCC workers
CCC Construction of Parking Area at Roaches Run

Naturalist Division

The Naturalist program of National Capital Parks became effective December 1, 1932, with the appointment of Mr. Irvin N. Hoffman as Naturalist with the office of Public Buildings and Public Parks of the National Capital. [72] Mr. Hoffman resigned on August 15, 1934. In 1935, there was some activity in the field of Natural history, when Park Naturalist Raymond H. Gregg was assigned to the office for a brief period to conduct an intensive Naturalist interpretive program. On February 7, 1936, Donald E. McHenry reported for his assignment in charge of the Naturalist work of National Capital Parks. [73] The extent of services offered by the Naturalist Division has steadily increased over the years. At present, an interpretive force consisting of Chief Naturalist W. Drew Chick, Jr. and three Park Naturalists provide natural history enthusiasts of the Washington area with an outstanding service. This force of specialists is augmented by several temporary ranger—naturalists in the summer months. The division affords the office of National Capital Parks the services of highly trained personnel for research and interpretation in natural history.

National Memorials and Historic Sites Division

The National Memorials and Historic Sites Division was established in 1940. In April of that year Handle B. Truett, who had been assigned to the office as Superintendent of Lee Mansion in 1939, was appointed the first historian of National Capital Parks. [74] The responsibilities of the Historical Division were greatly increased in 1940, when the Lee Mansion, Lincoln Memorial, Washington Monument, Lincoln Museum, House Where Lincoln Died, end the Battleground Cemetery were placed in that division for the purpose of supervision and operation. [75] Mr. Truett then became Chief of the National Memorials and Historic Sites Division. In addition to its research and interpretive program, the Historical Division was charged with the maintenance, operation, and protection of all National Memorials and Historic Sites under the jurisdiction of National Capital Parks.

The Greenhouses

In 1942 there occurred another change in the operations of the office. Although having nothing to do with the creation or abolishment of any divisions, the permanent abandonment of the Greenhouses on July 1, 1942 brought down the curtain on an operation associated with National Capital Parks for many years. [76] For a long time the parks and the Executive Mansion had been graced with a beautiful array of flowers from the greenhouses staffed by personnel of the Horticultural Division. The operation of the greenhouses was a large scale operation requiring the services of a large number of employees of the Horticultural Division. In 1942 there were 33 separate greenhouses located at 15th and C Streets, S. W., indicating the comprehensive scale of the operation. The greenhouses represented a responsibility, which required constant maintenance and both general and specialized horticultural work. Plants in all of the greenhouses were regularly fumigated. General propagation of the flowering and foliage plants was an extensive operation. The beautiful roses, carnations, chrysanthemums and poinsettias, which annually came forth from the greenhouses, were a tribute to the skill and care of the greenhouse staff. The permanent abandonment of the Greenhouses, approved by the President in accordance with a letter of the Director of the Budget of April 2, became effective on July 1, 1942. [77] Operations at the greenhouses were terminated on June 30, 1942. Upon the President's direction, the Army and Navy Medical centers were granted first priority in claiming the greenhouse materials. The remaining stock was distributed to Bolling Field, United States Army War College, Arlington National Cemetery, and other Federal agencies.

Recreation Division

Until 1942, National Capital Parks had its own Recreation Division, having charge of the construction, maintenance, and operation on a permit basis of all recreational facilities in the parks of the National Capital. It was the policy of the Federal Government not to engage in supervised recreation. National Capital Parks built and maintained facilities for 30 major sports. These facilities were open to individuals and groups on a permit basis. The Recreation Division also handled public contact work of the office for all public events scheduled in the parks. The Annual reports of the Recreation Division illustrate the tremendous amount of work carried on by this division. Almost every conceivable type of athletic activity was available for park users. Excellent band and symphony concerts were offered to the public. All major celebrations, ceremonies, and dedications in the parks were arranged and supervised by the Chief of the Division, as they are so arranged today by the Special Assistant to the Superintendent.

On April 19, 1942, Congress authorized the creation of a District of Columbia Recreation Board. [78] This Board was given the authority to determine all questions of general policy relating to public recreation in and for the District of Columbia. [79] However, it is important to remember that the District Recreation Board was a local board, with power to act solely in and for the District of Columbia. It did not have authority to fix policy in the parks for that responsibility and authority was imposed by law upon the Secretary of the Interior and delegated to the Office of National Capital Parks. [80] The District Recreation Board carried on a program of supervised recreation in various park areas, making use of National Capital Parks facilities. These facilities were constructed and maintained by Federal employees. The use of these facilities conformed to the over-head park policy of National Capital Parks. The title to many areas used by the District of Columbia Recreation Board remained with the Federal Government and the ultimate jurisdiction over these areas remained with the Department of the Interior. The creation of the District of Columbia Recreation Board did result in the discontinuance of the Recreation Division of National Capital Parks. All public relations operations, permits, and supervision of park events, which had been handled by the Recreation Division, passed on to the Special Assistant to the Superintendent.



The plan of 1901, which gave rebirth to the L'Enfant plan, also gave the needed emphasis to park planning. Until recent years, National Capital Parks did not have its own Planning Division. However, the office had been fortunate in having the services of a landscape architect whose duty it was to prepare all architectural and landscape plans. This specialist was directly responsible to the Chief of the Branch of Plans and Design of the National Park Service. Today, architectural and landscape plans of the office are still subject to the approval of the National Park Service. However, the Chief of the Planning Division of National Capital Parks is now deputized to sign all National Capital Parks Plans for the Chief of Design and Construction of the National Park Service.


Prior to 1933, when the office of National Capital Parks was known as the office of Public Buildings and Public Parks of the National Capital, an Army Officer was executive officer in charge of engineering. Directly under this Army officer was a civilian chief of Engineering. Since August 9, 1933, the engineering matters of the office have been entirely in the hands of civilian engineers. Immediately following August 9, 1933, Mr. Gillen was made chief of the Engineering Section. All long—range engineering plans were subject to the approval of the Engineering Division of the National Park Service. Robert Horne, present chief of the Engineering Division, came to the office in 1935. Subsequently, National Capital Parks developed a separate Engineering Division.

Because of the nature and functions of the office, legal problems were continually arising. These problems were concerned with police matters, protection of public property, review of contracts, land titles, and many other legalistic aspects of park work. Following 1933, the office had at its disposal the services of the legal division of the National Park Service. Whenever any question involving a point of law arose, the advice and counsel of the legal division of the National Park Service was sought.

Legal Division

In time, it was considered advisable that National Capital Parks should have its own Legal Division. The first step in this direction came on February 18, 1943, when the position of Senior Attorney was set up in the Office. Mr. Sidney McClellan became the first Senior Attorney of National Capital Parks. The Legal Division became fully established as a Division in May of 1946. On May 20, 1946, Alexander J. Knox, formerly of the National Park Service Legal staff, was appointed Chief of the Legal Division, National Capital Parks. From this time forward, the Office has had the services and counsel of its own legal staff.

Special Problems

As a field office of the National Park Service operating the park system of the National Capital. National Capital Parks is placed in a unique position. Because of the nature of the Government of the District of Columbia, the park office is confronted with certain special problems foreign to other field units of the National Park Service, Washington, the seat of the National Government, is a Federal city. In the final analysis, the city of Washington is governed by the Congress of the United States. The District budget as approved by Congress is made up of revenue collected within the District plus a certain amount appropriated out of the Federal Treasury. Congress created a local government as early as 1802, assigning to it certain functions of a purely local nature. This Government was changed to its present form in 1878, consisting of three Commissioners appointed by the President of the United States. The citizens of Washington do not have the right of suffrage. For many years it was thought by certain members of Congress that if given the vote, Washington would become the battle ground of local interests, causing the disappearance of the National character of the city. It is not the intention here to discuss a Federal-Municipal controversy of long standing. This work is concerned only with the parks of the Capital, which were established as national parks to be administered by the Federal Government. They have remained national parks through the years, contributing to the enjoyment of the citizens of Washington, and those of the Nation.

The Budget

In the operation of these parks, National Capital Parks has been faced for many years with the necessity of operating under a duel budget, although ultimately all money comes by way of a Congressional appropriation. Perhaps the greatest source of friction between the Government of the District and Congress is the making up the Budget. [81] The source of all appropriations for National Capital Parks is the Congress of the United States. However, the National Capital Parks office may receive its total annual appropriation from at least four separate appropriations. First, there is the National Capital Parks appropriation included in the Interior Department Appropriation act under the heading "National Park Service." [82] Second, is the National Capital Parks appropriation included in the District of Columbia Appropriation act under the heading "National Capital Parks." This money is disbursed in total upon passage of the Appropriation bill and is deposited by National Capital Parks in a trust fund account. Thirdly, money appropriated to the District of Columbia Recreation Board is made available to the National Capital Parks for specific construction and maintenance work. [83] A fourth individual appropriation used by the Office, and one of major importance, is the separate appropriation in the Independent Offices Act for the maintenance and operation of the Executive Mansion and Grounds, a responsibility of the National Capital Parks office since 1792. In addition to these specific appropriations, the Office receives funds by virtue of a very large amount of reimbursable work performed annually for General Services, District of Columbia Government, Bureau of Public Roads, and other Government agencies. Considering the complexity of the Federal appropriations coming to the office of National Capital Parks, it is a distinct compliment to the Administrative Division that the fiscal functions of the office are carried on in a thorough and efficient manner.


In the development of the park system in the National Capital, a policy was adopted not to operate all recreational facilities directly by the park Office, but to handle many of them through private management under the general supervision of a Recreation Division of the park office. [84] The three principal concessioners operating facilities in the park system under this arrangement are Government Services, Inc. (formerly the Welfare and Recreation Association of Public Buildings), the S. G. Loeffler Operating Company, and the Almour's Securities, Inc. Government Services, Inc., is a non—profit corporation, operating accommodations, facilities, and services for the public within 28 acres under the administration of National Capital Parks. [85] These services include the operation of six swimming pools, the Potomac Park Motor Court, four souvenir stands, the Fort Washington Housing project, the Watergate Theater and related facilities, and the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal Barge. [86] A twenty-year contract has recently been entered into between the Department of the Interior and Government Services, Inc. to replace the contract which expired March 31, 1951. This contract provides for the operation by Government Services, Inc. of the various accommodations, facilities, and services for the public within the areas under the administration of National Capital Parks. [87] The S. G. Loeffler Operating Company operates 10 nine-hole golf courses in the park areas of Washington. This company is responsible for the maintenance of the golf courses and for the keeping of all properties in good condition. Profit accruing from the operation of the courses and houses therein goes to the Operating Company. [88] The Almour's Securities Company, Inc. operates the Little Hatchet Tavern, a restaurant and refreshment stand at the Mount Vernon terminus of the Mount Vernon Memorial Highway. This, like the operation of the golf courses and golf houses under the Loeffler Operating Company, is strictly a private concession but under the general supervision of the park Office. [89]

Bicycling in East Potomac Park
Bicycling in East Potomac Park

Important Developments, 1933-1951

A tremendous development of the park system of the National Capital was effected during the years 1933 to 1951. This development was both extensive and intensive. It was extensive as the increase in park lands was phenomenal. Today, National Capital Parks consist of 45,000 acres, while in 1933, the entire park system including Maryland and Virginia consisted of only 6,367.39 acres. It was intensive because it resulted in varied achievements touching upon many fields of endeavor. This development tapped the resources of many professions. More over, this development has not stopped. It is continuing with ever increasing intensity. New concepts in the field of park work were adopted, so that the park development of the National Capital could keep abreast to the needs of a growing community and Nation. Experts in the fields of administration, landscape architecture, history, natural history, construction, engineering, architecture, and park protection all contributed to the development of the park system during this period.

Acquisitions, 1933—1951

The growth of park lends during the last 18 years has made the National Capital Parks one of the largest park systems in the United States. From 1933 to the present time over 38,000 acres of park land have been acquired. [90] Among the largest of the more recent acquisitions are the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal, Catoctin park, and Prince William Forest Park. The Chesapeake and Ohio Canal, once a vital transportation artery of the Potomac Valley, came into the park system in 1938 and consists of 5,253 acres. Prince William Forest Park, located approximately 35 miles south of Washington, near Quantico, Virginia, was acquired in 1941 and consists of 14,300 acres. [91] Catoctin Park, located at Thurrmont, Maryland, became a part of National Capital Parks in 1942 and consists of 10,000 acres. [92]

Other important land acquisitions during the past 18 years include the Theodore Roosevelt Island, Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens, Dumbarton Oaks, Fort Washington, and a number of Playgrounds within the District of Columbia. [93] The Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens provide a distinctive park feature, probably not duplicated anywhere in the World. Formerly known as the Shaw Lily gardens, they were acquired in 1938. Dumbarton Oaks Park, although small in area, is an extremely valuable park reservation located in historic Georgetown. It was first opened to the public on Easter weekend of 1941. [94]

Water Lilies at Kenilworth
Water Lilies at Kenilworth

Fort Washington

The transfer of Fort Washington to the park Office was authorized in 1933, and permanently effected in 1940. [95] The first Fort Washington was substantially completed by December 1, 1809, and was designed to be a part of the defenses of the Capital. As ships of the British Royal Navy approached the fort on August 27, 1814, Captain Dyson, the American Commander, destroyed the fort. Initial work on the second Fort Washington began on September 8, 1814, when Major Pierre Charles L'Enfant was ordered by the Acting Secretary of War James Monroe to take charge of the reconstruction of the Fort. One of the best examples of early American fortifications, this historic fort occupies a strategic location over—looking the Potomac river opposite Mount Vernon.

National Memorials and Historic Sites

In addition to the foregoing park areas, several of the Nation's outstanding National Monuments and Historic Sites were returned after a brief absence to the Office of National Capital Parks. In 1940, the Lee Mansion, Lincoln Memorial, Washington Monument, Lincoln Museum, House Where Lincoln Died, and the Battleground Cemetery were placed in the National Memorials and Historic Sites Division. The return of these nationally revered memorials to the Office under which they were constructed was a significant addition to the expending National Capital Parks. Before 1933, all of these National Monuments as well as the parks had been administered by the office of Public Buildings and Public Parks of the National Capital. When the legal jurisdiction of this office passed to the National Park Service, the buildings division and the parks division were separated. This separation became permanently fixed in 1939, when the administration of Public Buildings was placed with the Federal Works Agency, while the parks and certain historic structures were left under the jurisdiction of the National Park Service, Department of the Interior. [96]

The National Monuments and Historic Sites have become a vital part of National Capital Parks. The Washington Monument, the Lincoln Memorial, the Thomas Jefferson Memorial, and the Lee Mansion are each expressions of the love and devotion of the American people for the memory of great Americans. Known throughout the land, these monuments have become symbols of particular achievements in our National life. As our Nation grows, the importance of American history increases. Besides an awareness of World history, our children will become more and more familiar with the development of our own Nation. For to be informed citizens of the World, they must first of all be informed citizens of their own country. As an aid in this direction, the National Memorials and Historic Sites throughout the Nation are continually increasing in value. A striking example of this, is the visitation to the National Monuments located in Washington, which finds the Lincoln Memorial National Monument receiving over two million visitors annually, the highest visitation received by any National Park Service area. Thousands of school children flock to Washington yearly. They are inspired and educated in American history by visits to the National Monuments and Historic sites in the Nation's Capital.

Fort Stevens

Virtually all the famous battlefields of the great conflict between the North and South are embraced within the National Park System. These fields, 19 in all, constitute the largest single group of historic sites in Federal ownership. [97] National Capital Parks has several unique reminders of the Civil War. On August 10, 1933 the Battleground Cemetery was added to the office. [98] This cemetery contains the graves of Union soldiers, killed during the attack on Washington by the Confederate General Jubal A. Early. Fort Stevens, where the forces of General Early were repulsed by Union defenders, has previously been included in the park system. Today, Fort Stevens Park preserves the historical site, where Abraham Lincoln stood under fire of enemy guns during Early's attack on Washington on July 12, 1864. [99] These historical areas are graphic reminders of the strategic location and psychological importance of Washington during the years of the Civil War.

Civilian Conservation Corps Developments

As was true of many areas under the National Park Service, National Capital Parks underwent several large-scale developments during the operation of the Civilian Conservation Corps. In all, 10 CCC Camps were established in the Washington area. Achievements under the CCC program increased as the trainees gained added experience in the various trades and crafts, in surveying, administrative work, museum exhibit preparation, landscaping, tree preservation, roads and trail construction, and other types of development and conservation projects in the programs. [100] The National Capital Parks as a technical agency was given funds for the purchase of supplies and equipment, and employment of technical supervisory and other facilitating personnel for the work programs. During the course of the program a total of $1,229,813.19 was obligated by the office of National Capital Parks. [101] It was the responsibility of the park office to plan and prosecute work projects within its area, By means of numerous work projects, a rehabilitation of older park areas and a development of new areas was effected. As was true of other areas in the National Park Service, many enrollees learned helpful trades. While learning these trades, they contributed to the beautification and development of park areas. Achievements in park work effected during the period of Civilian Conservation Corps operation may be viewed all about the National Capital today.

During the period of CCC operation a multitude of permanent physical improvements was achieved. Some of these improvements are as follows: bridges were built; signs, markers, tables, and benches were constructed; foot trails, horse trails, truck trails, and minor roads were constructed; the clearing and cleaning of channels required the removal of 88,000 square yards of earth. [102] Over 20,000 feet of tile lines was constructed; over 35,000 square yards of earth was removed during riprap work. Fine grading road slopes was a major accomplishment. Almost 120,000 individual trees and shrubs were moved and planted. Parking areas and parking overlooks were built and picnic areas developed. Certain undesirable structures were removed. Over 65,000 cubic yards of earth was removed in excavation of channels and canals. [103] Tree preservation received considerable attention. Four historic structures were restored. Major jobs of restoration and general park maintenance were undertaken at Fort Washington, Fort Dupont, and the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal. These work projects are typical of the program carried on in the National Capital Parks during the CCC operation.

Restoration of the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal

One of the major park accomplishments in which the CCC played an important part, was the restoration of a 22-mile sector of the Chesapeake Ohio Canal. After having been permanently abandoned in 1924, the canal was purchased by the Federal Government in 1938 for $2,000,000. Two CCC Camps were established along the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal, and a total of $98,910.22 was allotted for CCC work on the Canal. CCC boys were employed in the general restoration of the canal from Georgetown, D. C. to Seneca, Maryland. The reconstructed 22-mile sector was officially opened for the public on August 17, 1940. [104] The lower level of the canal in Georgetown had already been in use in 1939.

In accomplishing the reconstruction and restoration of the canal from Georgetown to Seneca, Maryland, CCC boys were usually employed in general repair and maintenance work. They had to re-excavate major portions of the canal ditch. Since abandonment of canal operations in 1924, the ditch had become filled with earth, sandbars, logs, and trees. All this was removed by CCC workers. In addition, the boys were employed in rebuilding a wide towpath. The actual construction of locks, lockgates, and lockhouses was carried on by workers employed by means of WPA funds.

Preparatory to the restoration of the canal, historians T. Sutton Jett and Rogers Young, under the direction of the Branch of History of the National Park Service, made an extensive study of the history of the canal. When the Government acquired the canal all of the original records of the Canal Company were deposited in the National Archives. By means of a thorough study of these original records, historians Jett and Young were able to give expert advice on many phases of the restoration of the canal. The entire restoration of the canal was planned to be historically accurate.

Basic to restoration is the task of historical research. This research is but the first step in a series. Specialists in planning and design are needed to give their valuable suggestions, as well as engineers and architects with their technical advice and skill. All these specialists must cooperate, so that the result will be a successful restoration. The Chesapeake and Ohio Canal was an example of this cooperation. Preparatory to the construction of a bridge, spillway, or lock, the historian would gather and evaluate the historical data on the subject. Experts in planning and design would then give advice as to the best way to effect this construction and restoration. Engineers and architects would be needed to lend their technical advice. Finally, actual construction would be undertaken. The result was the construction and restoration of locks, spillways, and lock houses along the canal, all conforming as closely as possible to those of the original Chesapeake and Ohio Canal when in actual operation.

restoration of lock
Restoration Work on Lock 16 of the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal

Construction and Repair

During the past 18 years, the Construction and Repair Division has effected numerous improvements within the National Capital Parks. Owing to the magnitude of the park system, construction and repair work encompasses a wide variety of assignments calling for constant vigilance on the part of park officials. Under the supervision of George Clark, since July 1932, this division has maintained present structures and built new roads, trails, buildings, structures, utilities, and countless other facilities in the park system. Since the Mount Vernon Memorial Highway has been under the jurisdiction of National Capital Parks, continual construction and repair work has been necessary to maintain its present condition. Many of the bridges, which add to the attractiveness of Rock Creek Park were constructed by the employees of the Construction and Repair Division. Recently, the Mall roads were considerably improved including the extension of Madison Drive between 7th and 9th Streets. [105]

Few of the dedications, ceremonies, or events in the park areas are completed without the services of park construction craftsmen and laborers. Maintenance of the many miles of roads within the National Capital Parks alone constitutes a large task. In addition to its general work, the Construction and Repair Division operates the Arlington Memorial Bridge and the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal. Construction and repair work is vital to the successful operation of the park system. It requires the services of a large number of craftsmen and laborers, who play an important part in the operation of all park systems.

constructing trail
A Roads and Trails Project in Rock Creek

Horticultural Work

Horticultural work is also a phase of park work, which received considerable attention. The Horticulture and Maintenance Division supervises all day labor, construction, maintenance of all horticultural features of the parks. An important feature of any park system is the proper adornment of flowering plants, shrubery, and trees. Horticultural work has always been an important phase of work in National Capital Parks. It was the Horticultural Division that maintained the extensive park greenhouses. Recent important developments displaying the work of the Horticulturists include the development of the grounds adjacent to the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal, treatment of grounds at Dupont Circle, and the development of the State Department triangle. [106] The work of the division in combating the dread Dutch Elm Disease may be considered an achievement even though this fight is still in progress. The first case of Dutch Elm disease in parks was found on May 29, 1947 by Plant Pathologist Horace V. Wester, while on a routine inspection tour south of the Lincoln Memorial. [107] Since that time, the Horticulture Division in cooperation with other government agencies has waged continuous warfare against this serious danger to the Elm growth of the National Capital.

United States Park Police

Park protection is a necessary and major function of the National Capital Parks office. The United States Park Police, composed of a relatively small force of expertly trained men, is the park protection force for the Nation's Capital. Since the parks are controlled by the Federal Government, it is natural that they be policed by Federal authorities. Officially called the United States Park Police by act of Congress of December 5, 1919, the Park Police force has steadily risen to one of the best trained police forces in the Nation. The act of May 27, 1924 (435 Stat. 175), provided that the United States Park Police force was under exclusive charge and control of the Officer in Charge of Public Buildings and Grounds and consisted of one officer detailed from the War Department, one lieutenant, one first sergeant, five sergeants, and 54 privates. [108] The present Park Police force is approximately three times as large as it was in 1924; while the area to be protected, is almost eight times as large as it was in 1924. [109] This illustrates the fact that one park policemen is now charged with the responsibility of patroling a more extensive area.

It is necessary that each park policeman be a resourceful and relentless guardian of public property and public welfare. In addition to regular police training, the park policemen must be thoroughly familiar with park regulations. Since the majority of violations in the parks are infractions of park regulations rather then ordinary crimes, park policemen have developed an attitude of courtesy and helpfulness. Since out-of-town visitors are often unfamiliar with park regulations, park policemen frequently issue courtesy warnings for minor park violations. While this requires additional effort on the part of the officer, it has brought many favorable responses from park visitors. However, if the need arises, the park policeman is a vigorous and stern guardian of the law. The history of the Park Police is filled with the solutions of many major crimes committed in the parks. Through the years, members of the United States Park Police force have brought distinction upon themselves and their office by their many commendations. Besides providing complete protection for the entire National Capital Parks, the Park Police furnishes police escorts for the President of the United States, and furnishes supplemental police protection, when requested, at the White House.

The United States Park Police
The United States Park Police. "The City's Finest"

Park Use

National Capital Parks takes pride in the fine record of park use. Since the parks are established for the enjoyment of the public, it is gratifying to park officials to witness a steady increase in park use. As the urban population grows, park use will become even more intensified. In a single year, millions make use of the National Capital Parks. The bulk of the facilities and forces are devoted to providing for these uncounted millions of park patrons who make use of Rock Creek Park, Great Falls, Maryland, Fort Washington, Fort Hunt, the Mall, Mount Vernon Memorial Highway, Anacostia Park, the Washington Monument grounds, and other areas throughout the city's metropolitan area. [110]

Supervision of Park Events

Park use covers a wide variety of activities. In the National Capital Parks there are facilities for all types of sports. Hundreds of thousands of park patrons enjoy the parks as a retreat for themselves and their families from the tensions of modern urban living. The number of park users engaged in passive recreation is extremely large. An outstanding type of park use, which has greatly increased during the years 1933-1951, is the attendance at special events and celebrations held in the parks. The arrangements for all events and celebrations held in the parks are in charge of the Special Assistant to the Superintendent.

The Watergate Concerts, the traditional Cherry Blossom Festival, the Fourth of July Celebration, the President's Cup Regatta, and several important parades are included among the annual events held in the National Capital Parks. Of these, the Watergate Concert was originated since 1933. The Watergate programs, which have become so popular in the National Capital, first started in 1935. [111] The first series of outdoor concerts at the Watergate represented a collaborative project of various Government agencies. The first series of performances at the Watergate was sponsored by National Capital Parks. The Navy Department supplied the barge for the orchestra background, and the District Emergency Relief Administration administered the work project and supplied the labor. [112] The National Symphony orchestra, a non-profit organization, contributed two-thirds of the cost of the project, while the remaining expenses were met by the cooperating Government agencies. [113] Since that time, the National Symphony, service bands, opera companies, and other musical aggregations have used the Watergate.

The Celebration for Admiral Nimitz
The Celebration for Admiral Nimitz

National Community Christmas Tree

The lighting of the National Community Christmas Tree on the White House grounds is a unique event in the National Capital Parks. The first tree was a fir cut from the Green Mountains, and presented to President Calvin Coolidge in 1923 by President Paul D. Moody, of Middleburg College, Middleburg, Vermont. [114] After lighting the Christmas tree, the President of the United States sends his Christmas greeting across the Nation. Although the ceremony itself is brief, considerable planning on the part of the Committee precedes the event. It has become one of the friendliest services held in the parks.

Memorial Services

Hundreds of memorial services are held in the parks. Services are held annually at the Lincoln Museum in commemoration of the birth of Abraham Lincoln and on the anniversary of his tragic assassination. The first anniversary celebration of Lincoln's birth on February 12, 1942 was made the occasion for the Lincoln Museum exhibition of a collection of relics intimately connected with the assassination. The single shot Derringer pistol used by the assassin John Wilkes Booth, the assassin's personal diary and many other relics held in the possession of the Judge Advocate General, United States Army were loaned to the Museum for an indefinite period. [115] Memorial services at the various statues, memorials, and monuments constitute a particular phase of park use.

fireworks above Washington Monument
Fourth of July Celebration

Great Falls, Maryland

Great Falls, Maryland is an area of intense park use. Located about 15 miles from Washington, Great Falls of the Potomac constitutes a scenic and historic attraction in National Capital Parks. Visitation to this relatively small area is extremely high, numbering in the thousands on weekends. Visitors to the Great Falls area may see the thundering falls and walk along the restored portion of the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal. The historical importance of the area is graphically described in the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal Museum, which was opened to the public in the summer of 1951. The Museum is located in the recently restored Great Falls Tavern. A short distance from the Tavern is a Naturalist trailside exhibit, containing numerous interesting exhibits of the flora and fauna of the area. The completion of the restoration of the Great Falls Tavern, installation of the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal Museum, and completion of the Naturalist trailside exhibit mark important recent improvements and additions to the parks. [116]

Another type of park use centers about the many dedications held within the National Capital Parks. From 1933 to 1951, numerous dedications have taken place. Some of these dedications mark extremely important accomplishments of the office. A few of the important dedications occurring during the last 18 years include the following: the bathing pools and field houses at Banneker Recreation Center and Takoma Park Recreation Center were dedicated and opened to the public on June 23, 1934 with appropriate ceremonies. [117] Groundbreaking ceremonies for the Second Division Memorial were held on September 14, 1935. The Calvert Street Bridge was dedicated on December 19, 1935. [118] The exercises marking this concrete achievement were marked by a parade of over 2000 participants and the presence of a large crowd. The Lanston Golf Course was dedicated and opened to play on June 11, 1939. [119]

Chesapeake and Ohio Canal Museum
Chesapeake and Ohio Canal Museum

Thomas Jefferson Memorial

One of the most prominent dedications in recent years was that of the Thomas Jefferson Memorial on the two hundredth anniversary of Jefferson's birth, April 13, 1943. [120] The location of the Thomas Jefferson Memorial followed the design of the McMillan Commission of 1901. Preparatory to the construction and creation of the Memorial, a Thomas Jefferson Memorial Commission was authorized by act of Congress on June 26, 1934. [121] As it may be said of all major developments in the National Capital, action started with Congress. A Commission was organized, and National Capital Parks was designated to take care of the administrative and fiscal obligations of this commission.

The architect of the Jefferson Memorial was John Russell Pope, who was influenced by Jefferson's own taste in architecture. Consequently, the style followed that which Jefferson himself had used in the design of the Virginia State Capitol, his home at Monticello and the rotunda at the University of Virginia. When the Memorial was first dedicated, a full size plaster model of the Jefferson Statue was put in place on its pedestal in the Memorial. The statue was the work of the sculptor Rudolph Evans, a native of Washington. The plaster model was replaced with a permanent bronze statue in the Spring of 1947. [122]

Jose Artigas Statue

The dedication of the statue of Jose Artigas, which was erected on Constitution avenue at 18th Street, took place on June 19, 1950. This statue was presented to the United States by the people and especially the school children of the Oriental Republic of Uruguay. The Uruguayan architect of the statue was Mario Paysse Reyes. The American architectural firm of Harbeson, Hough, Livingston, and Larson designed the pedestal. The movement to present the statue of General Artigas was initiated in 1940 and completed in 1942. It was an officer of the Uruguayan Army, Edgardo Ubaldo Genta, who conceived the idea of donating a bronze statue of the Uruguayan National hero to the United States in keeping with a plan to exchange bronze statues of heroes among the American republics. On October 29, 1948, the Commission of Fine Arts selected reservation 110 for the Artigas Statue. Other prominent dedications of statuary which have taken place since 1933 include the William Jennings Bryan, Navy—Marine, Artemas Ward, and the Marconi Statues.

Navy-Marine Memorial
Navy-Marine Memorial

Arlington Memorial Bridge Plaza Statuary

The most impressive dedication of 1951 was that of the Four Equestrian Statues for the Arlington Memorial Bridge Plaza. Arrangements for the casting of these statues in Italy were agreed to by National Capital Parks Associate Superintendent Harry Thompson and Italian Government officials. These four monumental equestrian statues, cast in Italy as a gift to the people of the United States from the people of Italy, were appropriately dedicated on September 26, 1951. [123] The four statues, portraying the "Arts of War" and the "Arts of Peace" and mounted on the Plaza of Arlington Memorial Bridge, complete the sculptured embellishments for the imposing Memorial Bridge. [124] Designed and modeled by American sculptors, they were cast in bronze and surfaced with pure gold by Italian artisans. Each statue has been given a symbolic name. The groups symbolizing the "Arts of Peace" sculptured by James Fraser stand at the entrance to the Rock Creek Parkway. On the east is "Music and Harvest;" on the west of the entrance is "Aspiration and Literature." The two statues symbolizing the "Arts of War" sculptured by Leo Friedlander stand at the entrance to the Arlington Memorial Bridge. On the east is "Valor," while on the west side is "Sacrifice." The inscriptions carved into the mounting piers of all the groups serve as a permanent record of the origin of the statues and their completion. [125]

Arlington Memorial Bridge Plaza Statuary
Arlington Memorial Bridge Plaza Statuary


Interpretation has become an important phase of park work in the National Capital. It is one thing for the visitor to see historical monuments and areas of natural beauty. It is something different to have trained historians and naturalists explain the historical significance and natural history of these monuments and areas. Interpretation, an important part of all National Park Service areas, plays a vital role in filling the minds of young and old with a real appreciation of our National parks as areas of historical importance and natural beauty.

An intensive program of interpretation is carried on by both the Naturalist and Historical divisions. The field of natural history interpretation features guided trips to park areas; a school assembly program, which initiates the young to fascinating stories of living creatures, plants, and geological features found in the Washington area; an adult nature leadership course; a junior naturalist training course; nature consultation at day camps; and a popular and informative lecture series. The historical program of interpretation includes on-the-scene interpretation at the National Monuments, Memorials, and Museums of National Capital Parks; historical walks to the various memorials and historic sites in Washington; a school assembly program instilling the youth with a greater knowledge and appreciation of the parks and of American history; a special out-of-town school program featuring historical talks at the Lincoln Museum and the showing of an orientation film on the National Capital; and conducted historical tours for various foreign visitors to the United States for the State Department.

Park naturalist giving a talk to visitors
A Naturalist At Work


Planning occupies a place of prime importance in the National Capital Parks. From the time of the McMillan Park Commission of 1901, park planning has received more and more attention. The beauty and attractiveness of the parks results in great part because of the long range planning, which preceded the development of particular park areas. Today, the Planning division prepares all advance planning programs in the National Capital Parks. In the all important work of planning, this division cooperates and works with the other divisions of the office. The Division also collaborates with the Bureau of Public Roads on major roads and parkways. It coordinates all phases of planning and development with the District of Columbia, National Capital Park and Planning Commission, and other Federal Government agencies. The work of the Planning Division has become extremely complex. Whenever any project is planned in the National Capital Parks, the Planning division must contact numerous organizations and agencies, which might be directly or indirectly concerned with the project.

Rehabilitation of Small Parks

Since 1933, many outstanding developments have been effected in the National Capital Parks. Careful planning has played a significant role in these developments, as it is playing a vital role in projects for future development. One of the early important achievements in park development was a large-scale rehabilitation of smaller parks. At the turn of the twentieth century many of the small reservations were not parks in the modern sense. They were rather formal gardens done in the old world manner and featuring horticultural displays. They were beautiful areas and added a distinctiveness to the Capital city. The rapid population growth and increase in park use brought about by the first World War soon made their maintenance and protection impractical as well as expensive. In bringing about the transformation of these smaller areas, work was undertaken under PWA and WPA authorization in the beginning of the depression years. The project involved the redesigning of three of the major small parks — Lafayette, Franklin, and Folger, and more than 100 circles, triangles, and squares. Its completion in 1938 marked one of the major accomplishments of the National Capital Parks during the Emergency period. In achieving the rehabilitation of these small parks, circles, and triangles in the National Capital, park officials recaptured the charm of the old Washington and took an important step toward the perpetuation of that charm for the enjoyment of future generations. [126]

Park naturalist giving a talk to visitors
A Historical Walk

Carter Barron Memorial Amphitheater

A recent accomplishment in National Capital Parks was the completion of the Carter T. Barron Amphitheater in Rock Creek Park. First used for the staging of the Paul Green symphonic drama "Faith of Our Fathers," the amphitheater is designed to become a major park facility when the drama is no longer in production. [127] Located amid the beautiful surroundings of Rock Creek Park, the Amphitheater will be the ideal setting for various public interest programs. The Amphitheater is an excellent example of coordination of the Planning Division with several other divisions of the office. The architects, landscape architects, and engineers worked closely together to achieve a plan and complete an impressive structure amid the proper natural setting.

Carter Barron Memorial Amphitheater
Carter Barron Memorial Amphitheater

George Washington Memorial Parkway

Much has been accomplished in the field of parkways. Progress was made on the George Washington Memorial Parkway. In 1950 the Spout Run connection of the parkway between Key Bridge and Lorcom Lane was completed and opened to traffic. This divided parkway a mile in length, now provides a continuous memorial drive from the Mount Vernon estate to the Lee Highway —Lorcom Lane connection. [128] Eventually, the George Washington Memorial Parkway will connect Fort Washington and Great Falls of the Potomac.

Baltimore-Washington Parkway

Progress on the 18.5 mile Federal stretch of the Baltimore-Washington Parkway is also being made, On August 3, 1950, legislation was approved placing the Parkway from Washington to Fort Meade under the jurisdiction of the National Park Service with authority to proceed with construction. [129] As the local field office of the National Park Service, National Capital Parks was given jurisdiction over the project with the Bureau of Public Roads doing the construction. Nine of the 17 masonry overpasses and underpasses that eventually will be built from Washington to Jessup are now under construction as well as the bridge over the Patuxent river near the Annapolis road junction. [130] It is hoped that the important project may be completed in 1953.

Recently, the Public Housing Administration transferred Greenbelt Park, an area of 1148 acres adjacent to the town of Greenbelt and the Baltimore-Washington Parkway, to the National Capital Parks office, The importance of this transfer cannot be over-emphasized. Tentative plans for the development of the park include an 18-hole golf course, practice driving ranges, miniature golf, wildlife preserves and other features which will serve both parkway travelers and residents of the north—west Washington metropolitan area. [131]

Chesapeake and Ohio Canal Parkway

Plans have been made for the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal Parkway. A joint study made by the National Park Service and the Bureau of Public Roads concerning the feasibility of constructing a parkway along the right-of-way of the Federally-owned Chesapeake and Ohio Canal was completed in 1950. [132] On the basis of a favorable report to Congress, now available as House Document No. 687, 81st Congress, legislation was passed authorizing acceptance of land for use in connection with the project. [133] The Parkway is planned to follow the route of the canal from Great Falls to Cumberland, Md. The scenic, historic, and general recreational possibilities of this parkway are numerous. By means of the parkway, the public would be afforded access to many areas of natural beauty and historical significance. Some of these areas include the restored section of the Canal from Georgetown to Seneca, Md., the Great Falls of the Potomac, the proposed Harper's Ferry historical site, the Antietam National Battle field, and many other recreational areas.

Forts Drive

Plans for the encircling Forts Drive have also received attention from both the Planning division of the National Capital Parks and the National Capital Park and Planning Commission. The commission is gradually acquiring land that will someday be used in the Forts Drive project. Forts Drive is intended to be a high speed "ring" road, distributing traffic on radial routes and handling circumferential traffic in the city. Not only will this project be important as a traffic control measure, but it shall afford the public an excellent scenic and historic drive. Along its route are many of the Civil War forts and batteries. These several preserved forts of the defenses of Washington remain as visible evidence of the great effort taken to protect the National Capital during the Civil War. [134] At the end of the War in April of 1865, the defenses of Washington consisted of 68 enclosed forts and 93 manned batteries. [135] Individual inquiries and a large attendance at the historical tour of the Civil War defenses indicates that there is considerable interest in these historic fortifications. Anacostia Park, an area of increasing park use, has received considerable attention, Fort Dupont Park, nearby, is another area under park development. This park is a rugged area extending high into the hills guarding the Anacostia river. It offers opportunity for development similar to Rock Creek Park. Providing both natural beauties and recreational possibilities, the area is destined to receive future park development. [136] Both of these parks will receive greater park use as the population expands.

Important features of the Parks System

The parks of the Nation's Capital are known and admired throughout the World. One of the principal features of the park system is its association with historic and beautiful streams. A large part of the park system is bordered by the historic Potomac and Anacostia rivers. Visitors are impressed by continuous drives bordered by shade trees. They find inspiration in the stately public buildings, memorials, and beautiful vistas of forest—bordered streams. [137] Long-range planning on the part of park officials has made these impressions a reality.

Capper-Crampton Act

The significance of the Capper-Crampton act to the development of the Capital's parks cannot be over—emphasized. By means of this act, advance land purchase and landing powers were given to the National Capital Park and Planning Commission. Because of the Capper-Crampton act the National Capital Parks has kept pace with the increase in park use. Maryland has benefited from the act. The State of Virginia is now beginning to realize the possibilities. The Capper-Crampton act has made possible the acquisition of large tracts of land, destined for future park development. With park lands increasing, planners envision the need for more city and regional parks, more playgrounds, and parkways and inner-ring roads to lessen the traffic congestion.

It is a tribute to the planning and foresight of park officials that the National Capital Parks has kept abreast of the growing needs of the community and Nation. The National Capital Parks serves the needs of the citizens of the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia, and millions of citizens of the other States and foreign countries, who annually visit the Nation's Capital. The parks are extensively used for the benefit and enjoyment of all the people. [138] To insure the National character of the parks, they have remained under Federal control for 160 years.

An Evaluation

Washington is a city of magnificent parks. The official assessed valuation of National Capital Parks makes it one of the most valuable park systems of the World. [139] The entire value of the park system cannot be measured in monetary terms alone. It contributes to the mental and physical welfare of the countless millions who avail themselves of its benefits. National Capital Parks today stands ready to meet the needs of a growing community and Nation.

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Last Updated: 31-Jul-2003