Posts Tagged ‘Army Corps of Engineers’

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Nuns of the Battlefield Memorial

There is no shortage of unusual memorials in D.C., and on this lunchtime bike ride I visited one of them which happen to be dedicated to nuns. Now at first, that might not seem all that unusual. But as the title of the memorial indicates, the context of the nuns being honored gives it an unusual quality. It is the Nuns of the Battlefield Memorial, and it is located at the intersection of Rhode Island Avenue, M Street and Connecticut Avenue (MAP) in northwest D.C.’s DuPont Circle neighborhood.

The Nuns of the Battlefield Memorial is a tribute to more than 600 nuns who belonged to the 12 orders of nuns who nursed the sick and wounded soldiers of both armies during the American Civil War. It is one of two monuments in the District that mark women’s roles in the conflict, the other being The American National Red Cross Headquarters Building, which was built by the Army Corps of Engineers as a memorial to women of the Civil War.

The Nuns of the Battlefield Memorial not only honors the selfless service of the volunteer nuns during the Civil War, but could also be said to commemorate how that service helped to dispel the anti-Catholic sentiment that existed in America prior to the war. Anti-Catholicism reached a peak in the mid nineteenth century when Protestant leaders became alarmed by the heavy influx of Catholic immigrants, particularly from Ireland and Germany. In fact, nuns and sisters prior to the Civil War would not wear their habits outside of their convents for fear of insult or attack. There was even an instance of an anti-Catholic mob burning down a convent. But as a result of the quality of the nursing they received from these women of God, as well as their general kindness and good cheer, soldiers and others on both sides of the conflict were impressed, and generations of bigotry began to quickly dissolve.

The idea for the memorial originated with a woman named Ellen Jolly, who was the president of the women’s auxiliary branch of the Ancient Order of Hibernians, who said she grew up hearing stories of battlefield tales told by nuns. She initially proposed the memorial to the War Department just after the turn of the century, but the request was denied. After years of gathering additional information in support of the memorial, in 1918 she proposed the idea to Congress, which authorized its construction. However, they refused to fund it. So a committee to raise money for the project was formed by the Ancient Order of the Hibernians. Headed by Jolly, it took six years to raise the money and construct the memorial, which was finally dedicated in September of 1924.

The Memorial was created by Irish sculptor Jerome Connor, who also created the Monument to Robert Emmet, and the Statue of John Carroll on the campus of Georgetown University, both of which are here in D.C.  He is also reported to have assisted in the creation of  The Court of Neptune Fountain in front of the Library of Congress on Capitol Hill.

The Nuns of the Battlefield Memorial consists of rectangular granite slab that sits on a granite base, with a large bronze relief panel on its face. The relief depicts a dozen nuns dressed in traditional habit, representing the twelve different orders of nuns who served. Those orders are the Sisters of St. Joseph, Carmelites, Dominican Order, Ursulines, Sisters of the Holy Cross, Sisters of the Poor of St. Francis, Sisters of Mercy, Congregation of the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy, Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul, Sisters of Charity of Nazareth, Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, and Congregation of Divine Providence.

On each end side of the slab sits a bronze female figure. The figure on the right side has wings, and is dressed in robes, armor and a helmet, robes to look like an angel representing patriotism. Sitting, she holds a shield in her proper left hand and a scroll in her lap with her proper right hand. She is weaponless to represent peace. The other figure on the left side of the monument is another winged figure, and is depicted wearing a long dress, a bodice and a scarf around her head to represent the angel of Peace.

On the granite above the relief is inscribed: “They Comforted The Dying, Nursed The Wounded, Carried Hope To The Imprisoned, Gave In His Name A Drink Of Water To The Thirsty.” And on the granite below the relief: “ To The Memory And In Honor Of The Various Orders Of Sisters Who Gave Their Services As Nurses On Battlefields And In Hospitals During The Civil War.”

The memorial is part of a group entitled “The Civil War Monuments in Washington, D.C.” which are spread out through much of the central and northwest areas of the city. They are listed as a group on the National Register of Historic Places.

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[Click on the thumbnails above to view the full size photos]

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Kingman and Heritage Islands Park

Kingman and Heritage Islands Park

On this bike ride I set off with no particular destination in mind. I initially rode to Southeast D.C., and then started following the Anacostia Riverwalk Trail. As I was riding past the Redskins’ old home at R.F.K. Stadium, there was a turn off on the trail that went through a gate and disappeared into the woods. So naturally I turned to follow it. As I followed the path I discovered it was the entrance to Kingman and Heritage Islands Park. I later discovered that there is also an entrance on the other side of the park, on Benning Road in D.C.’s Anacostia neighborhood.

Heritage Island and Kingman Island are located Southeast and Northeast D.C., in the Anacostia River. Kingman Island is bordered on the east by the Anacostia River, a tributary of the Potomac River, and on the west by Kingman Lake, while Heritage Island is surrounded by Kingman Lake (MAP). This makes both accessible to be explored by boat. The islands were developed from sediment dredged from the bottom of the Anacostia River. Additionally, the wetlands found around the edges of Kingman Lake were developed and constructed by the Army Corps of Engineers and several other partner organizations. The islands were federally owned property managed by the National Park Service from the time they were constructed in 1916, until they were turned over to the District of Columbia government in 1995.

The park is comprised of over 50 acres of natural area to be explored on these two island habitats.  Riparian wooded areas, river views, and wetlands comprise much of the sights to be experienced, where a variety of flora and fauna native to the area can be viewed.  And the area is an ideal spot for birdwatching as well.  Over 100 species of birds have been identified at the park including Bald Eagle, Great Blue Heron, Great Egret, and osprey.  The islands are home to many different types of animals as well, including beavers who can be observed build dams and foxes excavate holes.  And the Kingman Island Trail provides over a mile and a half of paths for walking, hiking, and bike riding.

Interestingly, once each year the serene character of these islands is interrupted for the annual Kingman Island Bluegrass and Folk Festival, which draws up to 10,000 people to the oft-forgotten green oasis. Attendees bring lawn chairs and sunscreen, and sprawl in the sun for an afternoon of live music that is the biggest fund-raiser for the Living Classrooms Foundation of the National Capital Region, which currently maintains the islands along with the D.C. Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development.

Despite numerous efforts to develop the area over the last 100 years, the southern half of Kingman Island and all of Heritage Island remained largely undeveloped. A variety of proposals have been made in recent years, most focusing on retaining the islands’ character as one of the few remaining wild places within the city’s limits. As such, it continues to remain largely unknown, which makes it an ideal location for riding completely undisturbed, as I did on this ride.

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[Click on the photos to view the full-size versions]

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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.

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