George Gamow Memorial

Posted: December 1, 2020 in Uncategorized

George Gamow




Gravesite of Mary Randolph

The first person to be buried at what would become known as Arlington National Cemetery (MAP) was not a soldier.  It was not someone unknown, like those buried in the cemetery at the Tomb of the Unknowns or the Civil War Unknowns Memorial.  It was also not Robert E. Lee, who owned the house and surrounding property where the cemetery is now located.  The first person buried there was not even a man.  The first person to be buried at Arlington National Cemetery was a woman named Mary Randolph.  And after encountering her grave on this bike ride to the cemetery, I wanted to learn more about her.  

Mary Randolph was born on August 9, 1762, the oldest of 13 children born to Thomas Mann Randolph, Sr. and Anne Cary Randolph, one of the richest and most politically significant families in 18th century Virginia. Her father was orphaned at a young age and raised by Thomas Jefferson’s parents who were distant cousins. Her father also served in the Virginia House of Burgesses, the Revolutionary conventions of 1775 and 1776, and the Virginia state legislature. Anne Cary Randolph was the daughter of Archibald Cary, an important Virginia planter. Additionally, one of her brothers, Thomas Mann Randolph, Jr., married Martha Jefferson, daughter of Thomas Jefferson, and became a Congressman and Governor of Virginia. And one of her sisters, Harriet, married Richard Shippey Hackley who became US Consul to Spain.  The Randolphs were also descendants of Thomas Rolfe and his wife, the legendary Pocahontas. 

Mary was born at Ampthill Plantation in Chesterfield County, Virginia, and grew up at Tuckahoe Plantation in Goochland County, Virginia. And as might be expected in a family of their wealth, her parents hired professional tutors to teach their children. So Mary learned reading, writing, and arithmetic, as well as domestic skills and proper household management practices, qualities expected of upper-class women of that time.

In December 1780, 18-year-old Mary married her first cousin once removed, David Meade Randolph, a Revolutionary War officer and tobacco planter. The newlyweds lived at Presquile, a 750-acre plantation that was part of the Randolph family’s extensive property in Chesterfield County, Virginia. Around 1795 President George Washington appointed her husband the U.S. Marshal of Virginia, and by 1798, she and her family had moved to Richmond. In Richmond they built a house they named “Moldavia”, a combination of Molly, a nickname for Mary, and David, where they settled in and Mary became a celebrated hostess and their home became a center of Federalist Party social activity.  However, David Randolph, as a member of the Federalist Party and an open critic of his second cousin Thomas Jefferson, would soon encounter hard times. After Jefferson’s election to the presidency, he removed David Randolph from office and the family’s fortunes declined.  

Within a few years, despite her husband’s subsequent employment with the Black Heth Coal Mines near Midlothian, Virginia, their family’s financial situation had become critical.  And in 1807 Mary stepped in so that her family could continue to enjoy their accustomed standard of living, an unorthodox step for an upper-class woman.  She opened a boardinghouse in Richmond.  While running the boardinghouse, she was listed on the census as the head of the household. But that was only because her husband was traveling in England on business for his new job.  During her time running the boarding house, Mary continued to enjoy some benefits of the family’s wealth, including an early version of a refrigerator. Mary also began compiling a cookbook during this time.

By 1819, the couple, in advancing years, gave up their boardinghouse and moved to D.C. to live with their one of their eight children, four of whom survived to adulthood.  While in D.C., Mary Randolph completed her cookbook and in 1824 published it. The cookbook was entitled “The Virginia House-Wife.”  And although neither she nor anyone else at that time could have known, it would become synonymous with fine cuisine in Virginia, and Mary’s biggest claim to fame.  

After its initial publication, which was an immediate success, The Virginia House-wife was republished an additional nineteen times before the outbreak of the Civil War. The book was 225 pages long, included nearly 500 recipes, and later versions even included sketches for the early version of a refrigerator that Mary had in her Richmond boardinghouse. Years later an author claimed that Mary invented the refrigerator and that her design was stolen and patented by a Yankee who stayed in her boardinghouse.  But that claim has never been proven. 

The Virginia House-Wife is considered the first regional American cookbook, and exhibited a uniquely Virginian style, featuring recipes for such Southern classics such as okra, sweet potatoes, biscuits, fried chicken, barbecue pork, and lemonade.  However, her occasional explanations of uniquely southern foods she anticipated an audience beyond her region.  And other recipes included in here cookbook were for dishes influenced at times by African, Native American, and European cooking, such as gazpacho, ropa vieja, polenta, macaroni, as well as six curry recipes, which were the first curry recipes published in the United States.  It also included a few recipes for specialties from other parts of the U.S., such as a recipe entitled “Dough Nuts – A Yankee Cake,” as well as the first ice cream recipe published by an American author.  

It should be noted, however, that The Virginia House-Wife was more than just a cookbook.  It was also an overall household guide,  In addition to recipes it also explained how to make such things as soap, starch, blacking and cologne.

After finding out about Mary Randolph and The Virginia House-wife, I checked and discovered that it is still in print.  I was surprised.  It’s been 196 years and it’s still available.  The hardback edition sells for $21.95.  But I also found the Kindle version, and it was available for free. So I downloaded it.  And I’m now looking forward to trying out some of the recipes.  However, to be honest, there are some recipes I don’t anticipate trying anytime soon, such as Knuckle of Veal, Soused Pig’s Feet in Ragout, and Grilled Calf’s Head.  

The epitaph on Mary’ Randolph’s gravestone reads:  
Sacred to the memory of
Mrs. Mary Randolph
her intrinsic worth needs no eulogium
The deceased was born
The 9th of August, 1762
at Amphill near Richmond, Virginia
and died the 23rd of January 1828
in Washington City
a victim to maternal love and duty

The historic marker sign next to her grave reads:  
Mary Randolph, wife of David Meade Randolph, and first person known to be buried at Arlington, was the eldest child of Thomas Mann and Ann Carey Randolph, of Tuckahoe, her maternal grandfather was Archibald Carey, of Ampthill; her paternal grandfather was William Randolph, of Tuckahoe. She was a direct descendant of Pocahontas: a cousin of Thomas Jefferson: of Mary Lee Fitzhugh Custis, wife of George Washington Parke Custis, the builder of Arlington House: and of Robert E. Lee. Her brother, Thomas Mann Randolph, Governor of Virginia 1819-1821, married Martha Jefferson, daughter of Thomas Jefferson. Her eldest son was William Beverley Randolph, through whom alone her line has descended. Her youngest son, Burwell Starke Randolph, when a midshipman in the U.S. Navy, fell from a mast and was crippled. Her devoted care of that injured son is said to have hastened her death, and would seem to explain her epitaph. 


Matthew Alexander Henson Memorial

Robert Edwin Peary Sr. was an American explorer who made several expeditions to the Arctic in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and is best known for claiming to be the first expedition to reach the geographic North Pole.  But why mention Perry?  After all, the memorial I visited on this bike ride is dedicated to Matthew Alexander Henson.  Henson, also an American explorer, accompanied Peary on seven voyages to the Arctic, including the famous 1908-1909 expedition that claimed to have reached the geographic North Pole on April 6, 1909.  The expedition party consisted of Perry, Henson and four Inuit assistants.  And Henson said he was the first individual of their expedition party to reach the pole.

Henson was born in Nanjemoy, Charles County, Maryland, on August 8, 1866, to sharecropper parents who were free Black Americans before the Civil War.  He spent most of his early life here in D.C., but left school at the age of twelve when both of his parents died.  He then went to work as a cabin boy on a merchant ship, having been fascinated by stories of the sea.  He learned to to read, write and navigate while working on the ship.  But at the age of 18 he returned to D.C. and worked as a salesclerk at a hat shop. It was there that he met a customer named Robert Peary, who in 1887 hired him as a personal valet.

Their first Arctic expedition together was in 1891–92. Henson served as a navigator and craftsman, and was known as Peary’s “first man”. But it was during their 1908–09 expedition to Greenland, that Peary and Henson, along with four Inuit assistants, claimed to have been the first to reach the geographic North Pole.  In interviews, Henson identified as the first member of the party to reach the pole.

Henson achieved a level of fame from his participation in the expedition, and in 1912 he published a memoir entitled “A Negro Explorer at the North Pole”.  As he approached old age, his exploits received renewed attention, including being received at the White House by Presidents Harry Truman and Dwight Eisenhower.

Eighty years later, and decades after Henson’s death, a research paper by an English explorer named Wally Herbert claimed that their expedition records were unreliable, and indicated a that the men could have fallen 30–60 miles short of the pole due to navigational errors.  Nonetheless, Peary and Henson and the expedition has remained famous as one of the great explorations of history.

Henson died on March 9, 1955, at the age of 88, and was buried at Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx, New York.  He was survived by his second wife Lucy Ross Henson. After her death in 1968, she was buried with him. But in 1988, both their bodies were moved and reintered during a commemoration ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery.  And that is where I rode on this bike ride to see his memorial.

The memorial at his gravesite features an inset bronze plaque commemorating the North Pole discovery.  At the top sits a large bas-relief bust of Henson in Arctic gear.  Immediately below, an inscription describes his part in reaching the North Pole. And globes of the world, tilted with the Pole in view, sit at either side.  The central image, which was based on a photograph that Peary took at the Pole on April 6, 1909, shows Henson flanked by the four Inuit assistants with the U.S. flag flying behind them atop a mound of ice. The bottom panel on the memorial depicts dogsleds and dramatic ice floes, suggestive of the struggle that Henson, Peary and the Inuit sustained over many years to achieve their goal.  And on the opposite side, an inscription quotes Henson’s book, “A Negro Explorer at the North Pole.” It reads, “The lure of the Arctic is tugging at my heart. To me the trail is calling! The old trail. The trail that is always new.”

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NOTE:  The monument in the background of the photo at the top is dedicated to Peary.  I will go back to visit it and write about him at some point in the future.

You may have noticed that I have chosen not to write about much of what has been going on here in D.C. during the last few months.  I have not covered the changes in the atmosphere throughout the city caused by the pandemic and subsequent shutdowns that began back in March.  I have covered neither the numerous peaceful protests nor the great many violent riots that have been intermittently occurring since late May when a man named George Floyd died during an encounter with police officers in Minneapolis, Minnesota, that went horribly and tragically wrong.  And I have not been covering any activities pertaining to the campaigning and today’s election.  And with many parts of the city now boarded up in anticipation of probable widespread civil unrest subsequent to the election, making many parts of the city appear as if it is located in a third world country that is in the midst of a civil war, I will not be covering that either.  

And the reason I am not writing about these things is because they are frequently so ugly that it has caused me to barely recognize the city where I have been for the last three decades.  They do not represent this city.  And they are not representative of the majority of the people of this city.  They are certainly not representative of my D.C.

I am hopeful that things will change soon.  I look forward to the development and approval of therapeutics and vaccines that will allow our country and the world to put the coronavirus behind us.  I am hopeful that reforms and improvements can be made to address the concerns of those who are protesting.  And I hope a lack of protests will take away the cover that has been provided to the opportunistic rioters and looters who hurt so many people and damaged so many businesses.  And with the finalization of the election results, whenever that occurs, I hope this city and our country will be able to move forward to a less divisive and more respectful era.

In the meantime, I will continue riding a bike around D.C. to visit the more traditional attractions as well as the off-the-beaten-path sites this city has to offer.  I will take a few snapshots along the way.  And then I will use this blog to post the photos and write about what I see, what I learn, and what I think about while I continue exploring our nation’s capital one ride at a time.


Votes For Women

With voting already underway and Election Day for the upcoming presidential election day happening tomorrow, and the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment giving women the right to vote in the United States happening just 76 days ago, I decided to make the theme of this bike ride women’s suffrage.  So, I rode to see a mural located on Florida Avenue and 1st Street (MAP) near the Big Bear Café in northwest D.C.’s Bloomingdale neighborhood. The mural is entitled “Votes For Women”, and features Mary Church Terrell, who was a well-known African American activist who championed racial equality and women’s suffrage in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

She was born Mary Eliza Church on September 23, 1863, in Memphis, Tennessee, to Robert Reed Church and Louisa Ayers, both freed slaves of mixed racial ancestry.  Her father was a successful businessman who became one of the South’s first African American millionaires, while her mother is believed to be one of the first African American women to establish and maintain a hair salon, which was frequented by well-to-do residents of Memphis. Her parents divorced during her childhood, but their affluence and belief in the importance of education enabled Terrell to become one of the first African American women to earn a college degree. She attended the Antioch College laboratory school in Ohio, and later Oberlin College, where she earned both bachelor’s and master’s degrees.

On October 18, 1891, she married Robert Heberton Terrell, a lawyer who became the first black municipal court judge in D.C.  The couple had met when she began working at the M Street High School, previously known as the Preparatory High School for Negro Youth, where he was the principal.  Terrell and her husband had three children who died in infancy; their daughter Phyllis Terrell was the only one to survive to adulthood.  She was named after Phillis Wheatley, the first African American author of a published book of poetry.  The Terrells later adopted a second daughter, Mary.

Terrell wore many hats throughout her lifetime.  She became a teacher, school administrator and school board member,  She was a writer whose long list of published work included books as well as pieces for such publications as The Washington Evening Star, The Washington Post and Ebony magazine.  She was also part of the rising African American middle and upper class who used their position to fight racial discrimination, and became a nationally-known activist who championed racial equality and women’s suffrage in the late 19th and early 20th century.  Terrell passed away at the age of 90, on July 24, 1954, in Anne Arundel General Hospital in Highland Beach, Maryland.

Other interesting facts about Mary Church Terrell include:

  • Terrell’s activism was sparked in 1892 when an old friend, Thomas Moss, was lynched in Memphis by whites because his business competed with theirs.
  • Through her father, Terrell met Booker T. Washington, director of the influential Tuskegee Institute in Alabama.
  • At the age of 17, when she was enrolled at Oberlin, Terrell also met activist Frederick Douglass at President James A. Garfield’s inaugural gala. She became especially close with Douglass and eventually worked with him on several civil rights campaigns.
  • Oberlin College offered Terrell a registrarship position in 1891 which would make her the first African American women to obtain such position; however, she declined.
  • In 1895 she was appointed superintendent of D.C.’s Paul Laurence Dunbar High School, and later became the first African American woman to be appointed to a school board in a major city.
  • Terrell, along with other fellow activists, founded the National Association of Colored Women in 1896, and was named the organization’s first president.
  • After teaching for a time, she studied in Europe for two years, where she became fluent in French, German, and Italian.
  • At the urging of W.E.B. Du Bois, Terrell was a charter member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).
  • In 1913, Terrell helped organize the Delta Sigma Theta sorority, and later helped write its creed that set up a code of conduct for black women.
  • Terrell was active within suffragist circles in the National American Woman Suffrage Association, and through the association’s meetings became friends with Susan B. Anthony.
  • Terrell was active in the Republican Party and was president of the Women’s Republican League during Warren G. Harding’s 1920 presidential campaign.
  • At Oberlin College’s centennial celebration in 1933, Terrell was recognized among the college’s “Top 100 Outstanding Alumni” and was later awarded an honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters by her alma mater in 1948. They also named its main library the Mary Church Terrell Library in 2018.
  • Terrell co-founded the College Alumnae Club, later renamed the American Association of University Women, of which she was the first African American admitted to the D.C. chapter.
  • In her zeal for woman suffrage, Terrell picketed President Woodrow Wilson’s White House with members of the National Woman’s Party.
  • Terrell was a delegate to the International Peace Conference in England after the end of World War I, and while there she stayed with H. G. Wells and his wife at their invitation.
  • Terrell served on a committee in D.C. that investigated alleged police mistreatment of African Americans.
  • Terrell’s husband went on to become a successful attorney who would eventually become D.C.’s first African American municipal judge.
  • In 1940, Terrell published her autobiography, A Colored Woman in a White World, outlining her experiences with discrimination.
  • In 1950, at age 86, after being refused service by a whites-only restaurant, Terrell and several other activists sued the establishment, laying the groundwork for the U.S. Supreme Court decision that ruled all segregated restaurants were unconstitutional.
  • Just two months before she passed away Terrell saw the U.S. Supreme Court’s historic Brown v. Board of Education ruling in 1954, which ended segregation in schools.

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NOTE: While finding out more about Terrell I learned that her home in D.C.’s LeDroit Park neighborhood was named a National Historic Landmark. So, I intend to ride there and find out more about it one day soon.


Saint Francis de Sales Church

On this bike ride I rode aimlessly for quite a while and surprised myself when I found out that I was in Maryland.  Eventually I turned around and headed back toward downtown D.C. And as I was riding along a modest old stone church on the side of the road caught my eye. Because it looked so interesting to me, I stopped to see it and find out more. It turned out to be Saint Frances de Sales Church, and it is located at 2021 Rhode Island Avenue (MAP) In northeast D.C.’s Langdon neighborhood.

The first thing I learned about Saint Francis de Sales Church is that it is a Catholic church with the oldest continuing congregation in D.C.  I learned this from a plaque on the front of the building.  The remainder of the plaque reads, “Congregation began about 1722, when Catholics first attended mass at chapel within Queen family mansion. About 1723 chapel was built outside mansion, on site approximately at present Evarts Street, N.E., near 20th Street. Building came to be called Queen’s Chapel. Destroyed by fire three times: In American Revolution (date uncertain): War of 1812 (1814); and Civil War (1862).  Rebuilt each time: Last time as St. Francis de Sales church (1908). Each new building attended by members of congregation that had attended at older building. St. Francis de Sales Church moved to present site in 1927. Last Queen’s Chapel building is now gone.”

The next thing I wanted to learn about was Francis de Sales and who he was, which I researched later when I got home.  Francis de Sales was a Bishop of Geneva and is honored as a saint in the Catholic Church. Born on August 21, 1567, to a noble family at Chateau de Sales in the Kingdom of Savoy near Geneva, Switzerland, he knew from a very early age that he desired to serve God and had a vocation to the priesthood. However, he kept it from his family. His father wanted him to enter a career in law and politics. And he pursued those studies while waiting for God to make His will clear.  Francis stated, “I had to know fully what God himself wanted. I had to be sure that everything in this should be done as though his hand had done it.” So Francis waited. Then one day, while he was riding. Francis fell from his horse three times that day. And every time he fell, his sword came out of the scabbard, and every time it came out, the sword and scabbard came to rest on the ground in the shape of the Christian cross. Taking this as a sign, he told his father. And after much discussion and disagreement from his father, Francis was ordained to the priesthood and elected provost of the Diocese of Geneva, in 1593, by the Bishop of Geneva.

Although he lived to be only 55 years old, through his 29-year career he became noted for his deep faith and his gentle approach to the religious divisions in his land resulting from the Protestant Reformation. He is known also for his writings on the topic of spiritual direction and spiritual formation, particularly the Introduction to the Devout Life and the Treatise on the Love of God.

St. Francis de Sales was beatified on January 8, 1661 and canonized on April 19, 1665 by Pope Alexander VII.  In 1923, Pope Pius XI named St. Francis de Sales the patron saint of Catholic writers and the Catholic press because of the tracts and books he wrote. He is also the patron saint of the deaf, journalists, adult education, and the Sisters of St. Joseph. His feast day is celebrated on January 24th.

Its long history combined with its present leadership and parishioners has combined to make today’s Saint Frances de Sales Church a vibrant presence in its neighborhood and the city.  The church has Mass with Cantor, Traditional Latin Mass and/or Gospel services six days a week, as well as scheduled confessions and Adoration Holy Hours, and active Christian education and fellowship communities.  So every indication is that it will continue well into the future as it did for so long in the past.

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On this weekend ride I took a mountain bike to Pohick Bay Regional Park, where I the this overcast autumn day riding on the trails and leisurely exploring the park.  Pohick Bay is a mostly water-oriented park situated on the Mason Neck Peninsula bordering the Potomac River’s Pohick Bay and Gunston Cove, approximately 25 miles south of D.C. and is located at 5400 Ox Road (MAP) in Fairfax Station, Virginia.

The park has a wide network of trails that wind throughout the park and offer great glimpses of the bay and portions of the local environment.  The trails total over eight and a half miles combined.

In addition to the trails that accommodate biking and hiking, the park also features a boat launch facility that is one of only three public access points to the Potomac River in northern Virginia, and is the closest one to D.C. and its famous waterfront and The District Wharf.  For shorter boating excursions Pohick Bay also offers canoes, kayaks, paddle boats and Jon boats for rent on the weekends as well as naturalist guided canoe and kayak tours.

In addition to water activities the park also offers family and group camping, as well as deluxe and rustic cabins.  Each rustic cabin has electricity, air conditioning and heat, a small refrigerator and two rooms. And a camp store offers a variety of items, including camping supplies, souvenirs, snacks, and firewood.

Picnic areas and a large playground for children are also available. Additionally, the Park is home to Pohick Bay Golf Course, one of Virginia’s most picturesque 18-hole courses, as well as Treasure Island Mini Golf, a fun, yet somewhat challenging miniature golf course.  There is also a challenging disc golf course that meanders through the woods within the the park and features 18 holes.  Pirate’s Cove Waterpark, which provides water fun for the entire family, is also located at the park.

Mason Neck Peninsula, on which the park is located, is an ecologically fragile land that shelters an abundance of wildlife, including the bald eagle. Nature lovers can expect to see blue birds, osprey, heron, deer, beavers and rare sightings of river otters.

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The District of Pi

Having not gone out to eat in while, on this ride I decided to stop by District of Pi, located at 910 F Street (MAP), just around the corner from Ford’s Theater and The Petersen House, and just one block from FBI Headquarters in northwest D.C.’s Penn Quarter neighborhood.  District of Pi is renown for its a award-winning deep and thin crust pizza as well as its two dozen different draft beers, served for both lunch and dinner daily.

Pi Pizzeria began on March 14, 2008, in St. Louis, Missouri.  Later that same year that it opened, Pi’s captured the heart and taste buds of then-Senator Barack Obama during a campaign stop as he ran for his first term as president.  Then in April 2009, Pi was invited by newly-elected President Obama to The White House to cook for the First Family. That made Pi Pizzeria the first non-staff to prepare food at the Obama White House. The Pi team has subsequently cooked for the President, Vice President and other famous politicians and celebrities on numerous occasions.

Pi Pizzeria took off after that like a book that was featured on Oprah’s Book Club.  It now has several locations and is still opening more in St. Louis.  It has the one location here in D.C., referred to as The District of Pi.  And, oddly enough, there is also a location in Iraq.

On this ride to start out the week I opted for The Kirkwood, a thin cornmeal-crust pie topped with spicy marinara, mozz, and meatballs, red bell pepper and fresh basil.  Despite the coronavirus pandemic, their eat-in dining rooms are open.  But I took mine to go, and ate it al fresco on the National Mall.

And it was absolutely delicious.  I won’t say it was better than the pies at We, The Pizza, but it ranks right up there with them.  To break the tie, I guess I’ll just have to return to Pi again soon. I’ve been to We, The Pizza several times and tried several different pies.  But this is only the second time I’ve been to District of Pi.  The first time was half a dozen years ago, and I had The Kirkwood then too.  So I’ve already decided.  Next time I’m definitely going with something new.  I’m thinking maybe The Delmar, which is also a thin cornmeal-crust pie, but topped with mozz, cheddar, pappy’s bbq sauce, roasted chicken, red and green bell pepper, red onion, and cilantro.  My mouth is already watering.


My Thin-crust Pie

NOTE:  If your birthday is on March 14th, you are what District of Pi refers to as “a Pi baby.”  And if you stop by on your special day they will give you a free large pizza pie.  That is because March 14th is also known as National Pi Day, based on the fact that the mathematical value of Pi starts with 3.14, the numeric equivalent for March 14th.  National Pi Day is actually an official U.S. holiday.  The House of Representatives passed House Resolution 224 in 2009, designating the 14th day of March each year as National Pi Day.


New York Avenue Presbyterian Church 

The New York Avenue Presbyterian Church is a congregation of the Presbyterian Church (USA), currently the largest Presbyterian denomination in the United States.  It is located at the intersection of 13th Street and New York Avenue at 1313 New York Avenue (MAP).  It is situated among several tall modern building in D.C.’s Downtown neighborhood.  However, its tall steeple helps it stand out.  And on this bike ride I stopped by and spent a little time there learning more about it.  

The church was formed in 1859-60 but traces its roots to 1803 as the F Street Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church and another congregation founded in 1820 on its current site, the Second Presbyterian Church. After the merger the church was named the New York Avenue Presbyterian Church, taking its name from the avenue that separated it from a tannery across the street at that time, and the original church building was constructed in the Colonial Revival style with Italianate details as designed by Architect Edward Haviland. The current church building was built in 1950 and is a replica of the original 19th century building designed by Haviland.  

The church is located four blocks from The White House.  And due to its proximity to the White House, a number of U.S. presidents have attended services there. In fact, eleven sitting presidents have worshiped in either the existing church or the original one, beginning with John Quincey Adams. The others were Andrew Jackson, Abraham Lincoln, William Henry Harrison, James K. Polk, Franklin Pierce, James Buchanan, Andrew Johnson, Benjamin Harrison, Dwight D. Eisenhower and, most recently, Richard Nixon. Members of presidents’ cabinets, congressmen and senators, and the Supreme Court justices have also attended over the years. 

Of those who have attended, Abraham Lincoln was the most active and prominent presidential parishioner. President and Mrs. Lincoln first visited the New York Avenue Presbyterian Church shortly after he took office on March 4, 1861 and just after the church’s original building was completed. Lincoln rented a pew for $50 a year, and even had a reserved hitching post outside for the family’s small horse-drawn carriage.  The Lincoln hitching post is still there today.  The family worshiped regularly there during the  Civil War.  And while attending, President Lincoln and the pastor at that time, Rev. Dr. Phineas Densmore Gurley, developed a relationship in which they frequently discussed theology.  Gurley presided over the funeral of Lincoln’s son, William Wallace Lincoln, in 1862, and then over the funeral of President Lincoln himself three years later.  

Later after President Lincoln’s death, the church’s steeple, then the tallest in the city, was destroyed in a storm and rebuilt through the generosity of Mary Harlan Lincoln, widow of the president’s son Robert Todd Lincoln. When the original church building was replaced in the early 1950’s the Lincoln Memorial Tower with its belfry and four-sided clock was disassembled and rebuilt.  Additionally, the bells in steeple tower were a gift to the church in 1929 from Mary Lincoln Isham, one of Lincoln’s granddaughters.  The largest bell bears an inscription in the president’s memory.  And inside the church in addition to the the family pew, there is a Lincoln stained glass window, an early emancipation document, and other memorabilia.

The New York Avenue Presbyterian Church is more than just a building or historic church.  It has remained active over the years, and continues to do so today.  From the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. speaking from the church’s s pulpit to warn about the consequences of the war in Vietnam in the late 1960’s, to voting in 1998 to become a “More Light” congregation and work toward “the full participation of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, and asexual (LGBTQIA+) people in the life, ministry and witness of the church and in society”, to its current online worship services due to the coronavirus pandemic, the church continues to be active in the community.  In fact, approximately 1,200 people currently come to the church building on a weekly basis for a wide range of purposes, including meeting with a tutor in Community Club or a social worker at the McClendon Center, receiving a cup of coffee or an article of needed clothing through the Radcliffe Room ministry for the homeless, attending one of a number of Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, or worship with one of the four congregations the church hosts.  The New York Avenue Presbyterian Church is a church that is reformed and always reforming.  

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Riding in Circles

Posted: October 9, 2020 in You Just Never Know


Local traffic laws as they apply to bike riding can vary among different states and cities.  In the D.C. metropolitan area there can be differences depending on whether you’re within the D.C. city limits, cross a bridge into Virginia, or head north into Maryland.  In general, bikes are treated as vehicles and a person riding a bike as an operator of a vehicle.  There are, however, some notable exceptions.  So educating yourself about the applicable laws and following them is the best way to ensure compliance, which is essential to riding safely.

Locally, the Washington Area Bicyclist Association (WABA) is a good resource for information about bike laws.  As an organization that advocates for better bicycling conditions and transportation choices, WABA is also an excellent source of information about many other aspects of riding a bike.  Another good resource of information about biking laws is The League of American Bicyclists, which has also compiled information on the laws of D.C., Virginia and Maryland, as well as a state-by-state summary of biking laws throughout the rest of the United States.

I generally try to know and abide by the law, and part of this is following the road signs.  However, this sign had me riding around in a circle for hours.  Eventually, I was forced to disregard the sign and continue on my way.  However, it all worked out in the end because this experience also taught me a lesson.  The lesson is that while it’s important to know and follow the law, it is still necessary to exercise common sense as well.   Hopefully, if you do these two things, you will stay safe out there.