Boulder Bridge in Rock Creek Park

Rock Creek Park is a large natural preserve with public park facilities that was established within a heavily urbanized area of northwest D.C.  It was established in 1890, and is the oldest and largest urban park in the national park system. Rock Creek Park is distinctive compared to other great American parks designed in the 19th century such as New York City’s Central Park, Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, or the Boston Metropolitan Park System.  It stands out because Rock Creek Park is not manmade.  It was created by the forces of nature.

Based on its natural origins, the National Park Service has tried to ensure that the any construction within the park has a natural and rustic appearance.  Built in 1902, Boulder Bridge is an excellent example of this approach.  In part due to its unique use of large boulders, the bridge does an outstanding job of standing out architecturally while at the same time blending in well with its natural surroundings.  Exemplifying the old phrase “pretty as a postcard,” the picturesque bridge has routinely appeared on post cards over the years.

Boulder Bridge is located on Beach Drive, approximately a mile and a half south of Joyce Road (MAP), and spans Rock Creek, a tributary of the Potomac River.  The arched bridge spans 80 feet and rises 12 feet, and was designed by architect W. J. Douglas.   Technically, the concrete-steel arch bridge utilizes the patented Melan method of construction with concrete reinforcement and a facing that utilizes rounded boulders similar to ones found naturally in the area.

Boulder Bridge is one of the oldest bridges in Rock Creek Park.  Many of the others from the park’s early years have been washed out in floods and replaced with newer ones.  This one, however, was clearly made to last.  Boulder Bridge was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1980, and is a contributing property to the Rock Creek Park Historic District.

Interestingly, the use of such large boulders was not part of the original plan for the bridge.  The use of such sizable boulders happened due to a misunderstanding by the contractor.  Colonel Lansing H. Beach, of the Army Corps of Engineers, is credited with the original idea to use boulders in the construction of the bridge.  The plan called for the use of “man-sized” stones, a phrase which led to differing interpretations.   The plan itself envisioned man-sized as stones that could be handled by one man.  The contractor, however, gathered and began to construct the bridge using stones approximately the size of a man.   By the time Colonel Beach arrived at the construction site and saw the discrepancy, he liked the way it looked and the change became permanent.



  1. Nice post! Thanks very much. I’ll have to get over there myself at some point.


  2. amforte66 says:

    Great post! Can’t wait to check this out. I never would have imagined the history behind this park.


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