The Rock Creek Park Historic District- Washington DC

View of the Calvert Bridge, spanning across Rock Creek Park
Photograph courtesy of the DC SHPO

The Rock Creek Park Historic District encompasses public reservation 339 created for the scenic and recreational enjoyment of the people of the United States on September 27, 1890. Rock Creek Park is a natural reserve within a heavily urbanized area and in this respect it is unusual. Unlike other great American parks designed in the 19th century, such at Central Park in New York (1856), Golden Gate Park in San Francisco (1870), or the Boston Metropolitan Park System (1878-1895), Rock Creek Park was created by the forces of nature.

The origins of the park go back to 1866 when a Senate committee suggested finding a tract of land for the presidential mansion which had healthfulness and good water, access and capability of adornment. Maj. Nathaniel Michler was appointed to prepare a report for possible sites. Although the President’s mansion was not moved to a new site, Michler’s proposal for a park took root. By the 1880s local banker Charles C. Glover promoted the park to members of Congress, and in 1890 it was established as a park. The boundaries were defined in 1891 and followed the topography. It is a narrow creek bed in its lower third near the Maryland border and contains broad meadows and woods near the site of the National Zoo. Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr., the landscape architect for the McMillan Commission was a strong advocate for preserving the natural scenic beauty of the park.The National Capital Planning Commission designed the roadways for the park in the 1920s and 1930s. Automobile access was limited to certain areas and pleasure driving became one of the park’s amenities.

Rock Creek Ford, Picnic Scene, c. 1900
Historical Society of Washington, DC

The National Zoological Park, (NR) an important work of Frederick Law Olmsted, was designed in 1892 and is a major component of Rock Creek Valley. Linnean Hill or the Pierce-Klingle Mansion (NR) is located in the park at 3545 Williamsburg Lane. This large stone farmhouse was originally constructed by Issac Pierce in 1823 with later additions. The house now serves as the headquarters for the superintendent of Rock Creek Park. Pierce Mill (NR) at Beach Drive and Tilden was originally built in 1820 and first restored by the NPS in 1934-36. The Friends of Pierce Mill are now raising funds to again restore it to a working mill. Nearby are located Pierce Springhouse and Barn (NR) in the 2400 block of Tilden Street which were built in 1829 and restored in 1934-36.

The core of the Rock Creek Park Historic District is the creek and the picturesque gorge like scenery. Particularly impressive is a one-mile stretch of rapids and a rocky stream bed immediately south of Military Road. In contrast to the bold and picturesque valley core, Rock Creek Park also has gentle sloping hills and grassy meadows.

The Park is located along Rock Creek and tributaries from the National Zoo to the DC boundary. Rock Creek Parkway is a public parkway accessible to the public during all hours of the day. Metro stop: Woodley Park-Zoo.