Posts Tagged ‘President Thomas Jefferson’

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Statue of Albert Gallatin

Abraham Alfonse Albert Gallatin was born in Geneva on January 29, 1761, to an aristocratic Swiss family. He immigrated to America when he was 19 years old, where he became a politician, diplomat, ethnologist and linguist. He served as a Representative, Senator, Ambassador, and he became the fourth and longest-serving Secretary of the Treasury in United States history.  And on this bike ride, I went to see a statue dedicated to him, which is in front of The United States Department of the Treasury Building, located at 15th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue (MAP), next door to the White House in northwest D.C.

Gallatin was originally elected to the United States Senate in 1793. However, his political career got off to a bumpy start, and he was removed from office by a 14–12 party-line vote after a protest raised by his opponents suggested he did not meet the required years of citizenship. The dispute that resulted in his removal had important ramifications though. At that time, the Senate always held closed sessions. However, the Senators in the newly established nation were leery of anything which might hint that they intended to establish an aristocracy. So they opened up their chamber for the first time for the debate over whether to unseat Gallatin. Soon after, open sessions for the Senate and a more transparent government became standard procedure.

Gallatin’s brief initial time in the Senate before being removed also had important ramifications for him. Not only did the election controversy add to his fame, but he also proved himself to be an effective opponent of America’s first Secretary of the Treasury’s, Alexander Hamilton’s, financial policies.

Returning home to Pennsylvania, Gallatin found himself embroiled in the Whiskey Rebellion, which involved a whiskey tax imposed in 1791 by Congress at the demand of Alexander Hamilton to raise money to pay the national debt.  Gallatin helped bring about a non-violent end to the conflict just before President George Washington, who had denounced the tax protesters and called out the militia, lead the army into western Pennsylvania to end the rebellion.  As a result of the  popularity he gained in advocating their cause, he was again elected two years later, this time to the House of Representatives, were he served until 1801. There he inaugurated the House Committee on Finance, which later grew into the powerful Ways and Means Committee.

Gallatin’s mastery of public finance during his three terms in Congress lead to President Thomas Jefferson appointing “the foreigner with a French accent”, as he was described by his critics, as Secretary of the Treasury in 1801.  He would go on to serve until 1814, under both Presidents Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, holding the longest tenure in this office in American history.

Gallatin went on to achieve other accomplishments after leaving the Treasury Department.  But the remainder of his career after serving as Secretary of the Treasury began with just as bumpy a start as his career in government began.  He was nominated to run for vice president, but was forced to withdraw from the race because he lacked popular support.  Gallatin was again offered the position of Secretary of the Treasury by President John Quincy Adams, but turned it down.  After that, however, he went on to become the American ambassador to France, was one of the founders of New York University, and became president of the National Bank of New York City, which was temporarily renamed Gallatin Bank.  His last great endeavor was founding the American Ethnological Society.  And based on his studies of Native American languages, he has been called the father of American ethnology.

But it was his time as Secretary of the Treasury that earned Gallatin the honor of the statue outside of the Department of the Treasury Headquarters.  And it is located on the northern patio of the building, which is the opposite side of the building from the statue of his rival, Alexander Hamilton.

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The George Mason Memorial

On this lunchtime bike ride I visited the national memorial to a man who George Washington regarded as his mentor, and who was described by Thomas Jefferson as “the wisest man of his generation.” The memorial honors George Mason, and is located at 900 Ohio Drive (MAP), near the Tidal Basin and The Jefferson Memorial, in southwest D.C.’s West Potomac Park.

George Mason, one of our nation’s Founding Fathers, devoted himself to achieving American independence, despite being a widower with nine children to raise.  He was the author of the Fairfax Resolves that recommended a “continental congress” to preserve colonial rights.  And in 1776, as a member of the Virginia House of Burgesses, Mason wrote the Virginia Constitution and the landmark Virginia Declaration of Rights, the seminal document that not only influenced Thomas Jefferson when he wrote the Declaration of Independence, but also France’s 1789 Declaration of the Rights of Man and the United Nations’ 1954 Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Although Mason was a delegate to the Constitutional Convention at Philadelphia, and took an active role in drafting the United States Constitution, he refused to sign it or participate in its signing ceremony, which occurred on this day, September 17th, in 1787.  The decision not to sign the Constitution would cost him his friendship with George Washington.  He objected with the final draft of the Constitution because, as an Anti-Federalist, he thought that the document did not contain provisions to sufficiently guarantee individual human rights and protect citizens from the power of the Federal government.  He also refused to sign the Constitution because it failed to ban the importation of slaves, an institution which he considered morally objectionable, despite the fact that he was one of the largest slaveholders in the area, possibly second only to George Washington.  In fact, he not only refused to sign the Constitution, but along with Patrick Henry he actively led a fight against its ratification.  For this he would come to be known as “the reluctant statesman.”  Four years later, after the subsequent adoption of the first 10 amendments to the Constitution, collectively known as the Bill of Rights, Mason stated that he could finally devote his “heart to the new Government.”

The George Mason Memorial features a 72-foot long stone wall with a larger than life-sized bronze statue of Mason staring off into the distance.  He is depicted sitting with his legs crossed, holding a book, with his walking stick and hat on the bench to his right and a stack of books to his left.  The statue is situated under a trellis, in a landscaped grove of trees and flower beds set among concentric circles around a circular pool with a fountain. The memorial was designed by sculptor Wendy M. Ross and landscape architect Faye B. Harwell.

Because there were no reliable images of Mason for her to accurately render her statue of him, Ross’s depiction is based on descriptions from Mason’s family and friends, a meeting with Mason’s living relatives, and a single posthumous painting of Mason which is located at Gunston Hall, Mason’s Georgian-style mansion near the Potomac River just 24 miles south of the memorial in nearby Mason Neck, Virginia.

Harwell designed the memorial’s landscaping features to adapt to the site’s history as a formal garden, as well as Mason’s love of gardens.  The site had originally been a Victorian garden in the late 19th century, which was subsequently designated in 1902 as one of the four national gardens established by The McMillan Plan, a comprehensive planning document for the development of the national capital city’s monumental core and the park system.  In 1929, the site was redesigned as The Pansy Garden.  This garden and its accompanying fountain which was used by Harwell in the design of the memorial.

The George Mason Memorial was authorized by Congress in August of 1990, with groundbreaking just over a decade later in October of 2000. It was completed and dedicated in April of 2002, and is managed by the National Park Service.  It is the first memorial in the Tidal Basin area dedicated to an individual who did not serve as president, and among the last to be sited on the grounds of the National Mall.

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The Jefferson Pier

When tourists on the grounds of The Washington Monument gaze up at the tribute to our nation’s first President, they seldom are aware of the other, smaller but similarly-shaped stone monument that is also located there on the same grounds, in the shadows of the 555-foot obelisk that towers over the National Mall.  Or if they do happen to notice it, they have no idea what it is.  It is called the Jefferson Pier, and it is only 391 feet on a northwest diagonal from the center of the Washington Monument. However, it pre-dates the Washington Monument. In fact, the original stone monument served as a marker, aiding surveyors and serving as a benchmark during construction of the monument.

On December 18th, 1804, a simple granite obelisk was erected at the intersection of lines from the front doors of the White House, known at that time as the Executive Mansion, and the U.S. Capitol Building. That intersection is etched on the top of the stone marker. The stone was located along 16th Street, almost due south of the center of the White House, due west of the center of the Capitol building, and due north of the center of the Jefferson Memorial (MAP). It was intended as part of a meridian system used to align city streets and in the development of the young nation’s new capital.  It was also the destination for this lunchtime bike ride.

President Thomas Jefferson wished for the new national capital to be a new “first meridian,” the longitude (0′ 0″) from which distance and time would be measured. But the 16th Street meridian never became the official prime meridian. Instead, a meridian on 24th Street did.  Then in 1884, the world recognized the longitude of Greenwich, England as the prime meridian, and it remains so today.

To understand how the meridian stone came to be known as “The Jefferson Pier” it is necessary to first understand that the geography of the city was originally much different than it is now. Tiber Creek flowed through that area of the city, and the entire Mall area west of where the Washington Monument is now located was under water. Tiber Creek, along with several other small streams, were eventually transformed into the Washington City Canal, a system that connected the Washington Waterfront, the Capitol Building, the White House and other areas downtown with The Chesapeake and Ohio Canal and Towpath‘s first lock in Georgetown during the mid to late 1800’s. Boats and barges navigating the Washington City Canal via the C&O Canal and the Potomac River routinely used the meridian stone marker as an anchoring post. Although it was never officially designated so, the name used by boat captains and others stuck, and the prime meridian marker they used as an anchoring post for their boats came to be referred to as the Jefferson Pier.

The original stone marker was destroyed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in 1874. But the spot was recovered and a replacement marker was erected December 21, 1889. This is the stone that remains today. The stone reads, “Position of Jefferson Pier Erected Dec. 18, 1804. Recovered and Re-Erected Dec. 2, 1889. District Of Columbia.” A line has also been etched out on the face of the stone to indicate where the shoreline of the Potomac River once reached the Pier Stone.

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Eastern Market

There used to be a city-wide system of public marketplaces in D.C. The system was part of Pierre L’Enfant’s original design plan for the city, which called for an Eastern, a Central and a Western Market. The markets were intended to supplement existing markets in Georgetown, and across the Potomac River in Alexandria, and provide a steady and orderly supply of goods to urban residents. One of those markets is still in operation today. Known as Eastern Market, it is located at 225 7th Street (MAP) in southeast D.C.’s Capitol Hill neighborhood, and it was the destination for this lunchtime bike ride.

In 1805, President Thomas Jefferson issued a proclamation calling for Eastern Market to be set up at 7th and L Streets, near the Washington Navy Yard in southeast D.C. The original market received heavy damage during the British attack of 1814 known as the “Burning of Washington,” when many of the Federal government’s buildings, including the Department of the Treasury Building, the White House and the U.S. Capitol Building were burned. The market was repaired and remained active until a half a century later, when the Civil War caused a disruption in the availability and delivery of supplies. The market resumed normal operations after the war, but continued to struggle and fell into a state of disrepair. By 1871 Eastern Market was nearly abandoned, and was described in a local newspaper account as a “disgraceful shed.”

Eastern Market relocated in 1873 to its present location in a building designed by Adolf Cluss, a German-born American immigrant who became one of the most important architects in the national capitol city by designing dozens of local post-Civil War buildings, among them the Smithsonian Arts and Industries Building on the National Mall, Calvary Baptist Church, and the Franklin and Sumner Schools. Enjoying a renewed success as Capitol’s Hill’s population increased in the early 20th century, the market needed to expand. So the city’s Office of Public Works, under architect Snowden Ashford, designed the new addition containing the Center and North Halls in 1908.  Eastern Market was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1971.

In the years since, Eastern Market has had more than its share of difficulties, but it has continued to not only persevere, but thrive. In the early 1900’s, the market had to ward off D.C. Health Department, which had made numerous findings of deficiencies with its sanitation. But Eastern Market survived. In the 1920’s a chain supermarket opened right across the street from the market. It cut into its business, but the market survived. Then in the 1940’s, D.C. bureaucrats proposed transforming Eastern Market into a supermarket. And a decade later, a congressional bill envisioned turning a revamped market into a national children’s theater. Neither of these proposals was successful, and the market survived. In the 1950’s, the city license bureau criticized the market as uneconomical, and in 1960’s the D.C. health commissioner declared Eastern Market “a menace to public health.” But the criticisms of the market were no more successful in shutting down Eastern Market than the proposals to change it. Additional challenges could not bring an end to Eastern Market either, such as vendors having to work without leases when the city refused to renew expired leases, a proposal for a freeway to run through the site, and the urban economic downturn after riots in 1968 following the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr.

Perhaps the biggest threat to Eastern Market’s continued existence occurred in 2007, when the building was badly damaged by an early-morning 3-alarm fire. Part of the roof collapsed, and The Washington Post has described the South Hall as “gutted so badly that birds can now fly in through the front windows and out the back ones.” Following the fire the Mayor vowed to rebuild Eastern Market, and even provided a temporary market annex, known as the “East Hall,” across the street on the grounds of Hine Junior High School to be used during the rebuilding process. After two years of reconstruction work, Eastern Market reopened its doors in June of 2009, ending the only extended hiatus in the market’s 210 years of continuous operation.

The other city markets are now long gone. Center Market, where the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration Building is today, was razed in 1931. And Western Market, which was located at 21st and K streets in northwest D.C., was closed in 1961. But when the D.C. government closed the other public markets, Charles Glasgow, Sr., who operated two stalls at Eastern Market, suggested that he assume management responsibility for the market. The Eastern Market Corporation was formed and leased the South and Center Halls, now managed by Eastern Market Ventures. So Eastern Market remains open, and continues to host a thriving farmers’ market.

Everything from finest meats, poultry and seafood, to pasta, delicatessen, baked goods and cheeses from around the world are sold from indoor stalls during the week.  There is also a lunch counter where you can get a bite to eat while you shop.  And on the weekends, recently-harvested produce direct from farms in Delaware, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia are sold outside along the covered sidewalk.  Artisans and antiques dealers also sell their goods outside the market on weekends, while live music adds some entertainment, making Eastern Market a popular stop for locals as well as tourists.

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B Street

B Street

During a portion of this two-wheeled outing I rode up and down Constitution Avenue, which is a major east-west street located on the north side of the National Mall, running parallel to Independence Avenue on the Mall’s south side. Constitution Avenue spans the northwest and northeast quadrants of D.C., with its western half extending from the U.S. Capitol Building to the Theodore Roosevelt Bridge. Its eastern half continues through the neighborhoods of Capitol Hill and Kingman Park before it eventually terminates at Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium.

Constitution Avenue was not always known by its current name, however. And had it not been for a traffic jam, it might still be known today by the name it had under the structured naming convention of the city’s original architectural plan developed by Pierre Charles L’Enfant. That name was B Street.

Back in November of 1921, President Warren G. Harding was travelling to the dedication ceremony for the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery when he was caught in a three-hour traffic jam which resulted from the inability of the existing bridges at the time to handle traffic. Resolving to prevent that from happening again, President Harding sought an appropriation to fund the work to design and build a more adequate bridge. Congress subsequently approved his request in June of the following year, which would eventually result in the construction of Arlington Memorial Bridge.

However, B Street was a smaller, narrower street at the time, and extensive widening and reconstruction was needed to accommodate the traffic. Eventually, after years of planning, the vision for B Street had expanded for it to be a ceremonial gateway into the national capitol city from the magnificent new bridge, as well as one of the city’s great parade avenues, similar to Pennsylvania Avenue. And as the nature of the B Street project became apparent, there were calls to rename the street. But nothing is ever easy in D.C., and renaming B Street was no different.

In early 1930, legislation was introduced in the House of Representatives to rename the street L’Enfant Avenue. City officials opposed the name, however, advocating instead for Lincoln or Washington Avenue. Congressman Henry Allen Cooper then introduced legislation to rename the street Constitution Avenue. The proposal met with strong support from city officials, but was rejected by the House of Representatives. The bill was resubmitted the following year. During discussion on the floor of the Senate, it was suggested that the street be named Jefferson Avenue in honor of President Thomas Jefferson. Representative Cooper opined that the name Constitution Avenue in a way paid tribute to our third President as the author of the Constitution, and that a national presidential memorial to President Jefferson should be built.  By the end of the decade, President Franklin D. Roosevelt laid the cornerstone of The Thomas Jefferson Memorial. This time the legislation renaming B Street passed both the House and Senate before being signed into law by President Herbert Hoover in February of 1931, and it has been known as Constitution Avenue ever since.

The Jefferson Memorial

The Jefferson Memorial

On this day in 1939, the 32nd President, Franklin D. Roosevelt, laid the cornerstone of the memorial to our nation’s 3rd President, Thomas Jefferson. Construction of the memorial had begun the previous December, and would not be completed until 1943. The 19-foot tall bronze statue of Jefferson by the sculptor Rudulph Evans was subsequently added four years later, in 1947. Then, 75 years after the laying of the cornerstone, I rode to the memorial on this lunchtime bike.

As a public official, historian, philosopher, lawyer, businessman and plantation owner, Thomas Jefferson served his country for over five decades. In addition to being our country’s 3rd President, he was also one of America’s founding fathers, the principal author of the Declaration of Independence, Vice President of the United States, the first U.S. Secretary of State, member of the Continental Congress, a state legislator and Governor of Virginia, United States Minister to France, and the founder of the University of Virginia.

The Memorial to Thomas Jefferson is a neoclassical building which features circular marble steps, a portico, a circular colonnade of Ionic order columns, and a shallow dome.  It is located in West Potomac Park, on the shore of the Potomac River Tidal Basin (MAP), and is enhanced with the massed planting of Japanese cherry trees, a gift from the people of Japan in 1912. Because many of the well-established cherry trees had to be removed for construction, there was significant opposition to its being built at that location. However, construction continued amid the opposition.

In addition to the domed building which is open to the elements and the prominent statue of Jefferson, the memorial prominently features quotes and exerpts from Jefferson’s writings.  On the panel of the southwest interior wall are excerpts from the Declaration of Independence, which reads, “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, that to secure these rights governments are instituted among men. We…solemnly publish and declare, that these colonies are and of right ought to be free and independent states…And for the support of this declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine providence, we mutually pledge our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor.”

On the northwest interior wall is an a panel with an excerpt from “A Bill for Establishing Religious Freedom, 1777”, except for the last sentence, which is taken from a letter of August 28, 1789, to James Madison.  It reads, “Almighty God hath created the mind free…All attempts to influence it by temporal punishments or burthens…are a departure from the plan of the Holy Author of our religion…No man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship or ministry or shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief, but all men shall be free to profess and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of religion. I know but one code of morality for men whether acting singly or collectively.”

The quotes from the panel of the northeast interior wall are from multiple sources, and reads, “God who gave us life gave us liberty. Can the liberties of a nation be secure when we have removed a conviction that these liberties are the gift of God? Indeed I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just, that his justice cannot sleep forever. Commerce between master and slave is despotism. Nothing is more certainly written in the book of fate than these people are to be free. Establish the law for educating the common people. This it is the business of the state to effect and on a general plan.”

The inscription on the panel of the southeast interior wall is redacted and excerpted from a letter of July 12, 1816, to Samuel Kercheval.  It reads, “I am not an advocate for frequent changes in laws and constitutions. But laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind. As that becomes more developed, more enlightened, as new discoveries are made, new truths discovered and manners and opinions change, with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also to keep pace with the times. We might as well require a man to wear still the coat which fitted him when a boy as civilized society to remain ever under the regimen of their barbarous ancestors.”

The monument is not as prominent in popular culture as other D.C. buildings and monuments, possibly due to its location well removed from the National Mall and its poor approximation to the Washington Metro subway system and accessibility to tourists. The Jefferson Memorial hosts many events and ceremonies each year, including memorial exercises, the National Easter Sunrise Service, and the annual National Cherry Blossom Festival.

On the American Institute of Architects list of America’s favorite architecture, it ranks fourth behind the Empire State Building, the White House, and Washington National Cathedral. The Jefferson Memorial is managed by the National Park Service under its National Mall and Memorial Parks division. The monument is open 24 hours a day but park rangers are there only until 11:30 p.m. However, the monument is only a few hundred yards from the National Park Police D.C. Headquarters in East Potomac Park.

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The United States Botanic Garden

The United States Botanic Garden

The United States Botanic Garden is a living plant museum that informs visitors about the importance, and often irreplaceable value, of plants to the well-being of humans and to the earth’s fragile ecosystems. During the late 18th Century it was the dream of a number of key political figures, including George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, to have a national botanic garden at the seat of government. In 1820, President James Monroe set aside 5 acres for a “national greenhouse,” and the U.S. Botanic Garden was established by an act of Congress later that year, making it the oldest continually operating botanic garden in this country. The garden “was formally placed under the jurisdiction of the Joint Committee on the Library of Congress in 1856 and has been administered through the Office of the Architect of the Capitol since 1934. It is located near the U.S. Capitol Building at 1st Street & Maryland Avenue (MAP) in southwest D.C.

The Botanic Garden grows and displays a variety of plants. The staff keeps computerized records on important botanical collections used for exhibition, study and exchange with other institutions. The Garden’s noteworthy collections include economic plants, orchids, begonias, carnivorous plants, cacti and succulents, bromeliads, epiphytes, palms, and cycads and ferns set in a Dinosaur Garden. However, of all the different plants and exhibits, my favorite remains the recent blooming of a rare titan arum (Amorphophallus titanum).

Public viewing of titan arum plant in bloom has occurred only a limited number of times in the United States, and this unique plant coming into flower is as spectacular as it is rare. The time between flowerings is unpredictable, which can span from a few years to a few decades. And when the special event happens, the bloom lasts only 24 to 48 hours, before it quickly collapses. Some people travel around the world hoping to see a titan arum at the moment it flowers. For botanists and the public, being “in the right place at the right time” to see one of these magnificent plants in bloom can be an once-in-a-lifetime treat. There have been only 150 recorded instances of blooming since records began.

The particular plant that was on display at the Botanic Garden is approximately eight years old, and is the largest specimen of the fourteen plants in the Botanic Garden’s possession. The plant on display was the size of a penny the last time there had been a blooming specimen at the Botanic Garden. But by the time it was on display, it was approximately 250 pounds, almost nine feet tall, and was experiencing its first ever bloom.

Part of the magic of the titan arum comes from its great size – it is the largest known unbranched flower in the world. In its natural environment it can grow to a height of 12 feet, and when blooming has been known to grow an inch per hour. However, it is more widely known for its odoriferous qualities. It is commonly referred to as the corpse flower because its fetid odor is often compared to the stench of decomposing flesh. The botanist charged with the care of this particular plant has stated that it gives off a scent “like a very dead elephant.” Its putrid smell is most potent during peak bloom at night into the early morning. The flower also generates heat, which allows the stench to travel further. This combination of heat and smell efficiently attracts pollinators, such as dung and carrion beetles, from across long distances.

Even if a titan arum is not in bloom, I highly recommend visiting the United States Botanic Garden. And as an added bonus, when you visit the Botanic Garden at any other time, it does not smell like decomposing flesh.

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Francis Scott Key Park

Francis Scott Key Park

The small but formal park and memorial located at 34th and M Streets (MAP) in northwest D.C.’s Georgetown neighborhood was the destination of this bike ride. It is named Francis Scott Key Park, and is adjacent to the Francis Scott Key Bridge, which traverses the Potomac River to connect Georgetown to the Rosslyn neighborhood of Arlington in Virginia. The park honors the man who wrote the poem about the British attack on Fort McHenry in Baltimore in 1814 which was turned into a song called “The Star-Spangled Banner,” and in 1931 became our national anthem.

Francis Scott Key Park features gardens with floral and other plantings, a bronze bust of Francis Scott Key, and a a tall flagpole.  A flag with 15 stars and 15 stripes, a replica of the one that flew over Fort McHenry back on that fateful night in 1841, flies night and day in the park.  It opened in 1993, and was designed by Friedrich St. Florian, the same architect who designed The National World War II Memorial located downtown on the National Mall.

Key was originally from nearby Carroll County, Maryland, where he was born on August 1, 1779. While he spent a lot of time in Baltimore, Key lived a good number of years in Georgetown, where he and his family moved in 1803. They lived in a house at the corner of 34th and M Streets, where the park is now located. Unfortunately, the house was demolished in 1947.

While living in D.C., Key served in the Georgetown field artillery unit.  After the British burned Washington in 1814, Key traveled to Baltimore to help negotiate the release of American prisoners. It was during this trip that he wrote the Star Spangled Banner.

In addition to being an amateur poet, Francis Scott Key was an American lawyer and author. He was a successful as an attorney in D.C. for many years. Upon returning to D.C. after the war, Key assisted his prominent lawyer uncle Philip Barton Key, including in the sensational conspiracy trial of Aaron Burr, and the expulsion of Senator John Smith of Ohio. Key’s extensive trial practice flourished, as did his real estate practice as well. During his time as a lawyer he went on to help negotiate with Indian tribes, assist President Thomas Jefferson’s attorney general in a case in which he appeared before the U.S. Supreme Court, and serve as the attorney for Sam Houston during his trial in the U.S. House of Representatives for assaulting another Congressman.

Key’s legal career culminating with his appointment as the United States Attorney for the District of Columbia, serving from 1833 to 1841.  It was during this time as U.S. Attorney that he prosecuted Richard Lawrence, the person who unsuccessfully attempted to assassinate President Andrew Jackson.   He also handled private legal cases as well during this time.

It was also during his tenure as U.S. Attorney that Key, a slave-owner himself, used his position to suppress abolitionists.  Key purchased his first slave in 1800 or 1801, and owned at least six slaves by the time he became a U.S. Attorney.  Mostly in the 1830s, he represented several masters seeking return of their runaway human property.  However, Key also manumitted several enslaved persons, and throughout his career he also represented for free several slaves seeking their freedom in court. Key was also a founding member and active leader of the American Colonization Society, the primary goal of which was to send free African-Americans back to Africa.  However, he was later ousted from the board as its policies shifted toward abolitionist.

There is much more to Francis Scott Key than most people know, just like there is more to D.C. than most people realize. Francis Scott Key Park is an example of this. And just like the man, the park is worthwhile in getting to know better.

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The Samuel Francis Du Pont Memorial Fountain at Dupont Circle

The Samuel Francis Du Pont Memorial Fountain at Dupont Circle

As a prologue, I should state that if in the following narrative you notice discrepancies in the spelling of the family name, it is because there is a lack of agreement on one correct way to spell it, even within the family.  For purposes of the traffic circle, the park, and the surrounding neighborhood, the city spells is Dupont.  Samuel himself used Du Pont.  And various family members go by Du Pont, du Pont, or duPont.  They all, however, refer to the same family.  With that out of the way, let’s move on to the memorial fountain.

In 1871, the Army Corps of Engineers began construction of a traffic circle, then named Pacific Circle, as called for in architect Pierre Charles L’Enfant’s design for the national capitol city.  It was constructed in northwest D.C. at the confluence of five streets – Massachusetts, Connecticut and New Hampshire Avenues, and P and 19th Streets (MAP).  Its name was changed to Dupont Circle approximately a decade later, when Congress renamed the circle and authorized the placement of a statue there in order to memorialize Rear Admiral Samuel Francis Du Pont, in recognition of his military service.

A statue of Samuel Du Pont was sculpted by Launt Thompson, and subsequently erected in the traffic circle in 1884.  The interior of the circle was also turned into a park, and landscaped with flowers and ornamental trees.  However, a number of members of the prominent Du Pont family thought that the statue was an insufficient tribute to their ancestor, and obtained permission to replace it with what they thought would be a more fitting memorial. This is thought to be the only instance in which a group managed to remove a statue from a location in D.C. and replace it with their version of a more proper monument.  The original statue was subsequently removed, and later erected in Rockford Park in Wilmington, Delaware, where it remains today.

The Du Pont family commissioned Henry Bacon and Daniel Chester French, the architect and sculptor of the Lincoln Memorial, to create a memorial to more fittingly capture the significance and stature of Samuel Du Pont.  The resulting memorial was a double-tiered white marble fountain, which features carvings on the fountain’s shaft of three allegorical nude figures symbolizing the arts of ocean navigation:  the sea; the stars, and; the wind.  The marble carving was executed by the renowned Piccirilli Brothers, who also sculpted the colossal Abraham Lincoln statue in the Lincoln Memorial, worked on the National Archives Building in D.C., and fashioned the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery.

Formally entitled The Samuel Francis Du Pont Memorial Fountain, the fountain includes an inscription which reads, “Samuel Francis Dupont – Rear Admiral, United States Navy, 1803-1865, This Memorial Fountain Replaces a Statue Erected by the Congress of the United States in Recognition of His Distinguished Services.”  It is owned by the National Park Service, and is a contributing monument to a group of statues 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.

The man memorialized by the fountain, Samuel Du Pont, began his long and illustrious naval career at an early age through his family’s close connections with President Thomas Jefferson, who helped secure him an appointment as a midshipman by President James Madison at the age of 12.  Ironically, by the time he became an officer he had begun to openly criticize many of his senior officers because he believed they had only received their commands through political influence and were incompetent.

Despite going on to eventually be in charge of the largest fleet ever commanded by an American officer at that time, the theme of political connections would continue to recur throughout his career.  As an enthusiastic supporter of naval reform, he oversaw the removal of over 200 naval officers.  But when those under fire called upon friends in Congress, Du Pont himself became the subject of heavy criticism, and a subsequent review of the dismissals resulted in the reinstatement of nearly half of those removed.  And near the end of his career, when he was removed from command as a result of being blamed for a significant defeat during the Civil War, Du Pont attempted to enlist the help of Congressman Henry Winter Davis, as well as garner the support of President Abraham Lincoln, in persuading the Navy to adopt his official report of the incident that led to his removal.  The Navy did not.

Despite intended as a memorial to his otherwise long and distinguished naval career, I find it also appropriate that the fountain that memorializes a military man so intrinsically involved in the political realm and patronage throughout his career is located in the city that is our nation’s hub for political influence.

SamuelFrancisDuPontFountain02     SamuelFrancisDuPontFountain01
[Click on the thumbnails above to view the full size photos]

Meridian Hill Park

Meridian Hill Park

On this bike ride I went to one of my favorite parks in D.C.  In a city replete with over a hundred large National Parks and smaller municipal parks from which to choose, Meridian Hill Park stands out.  I originally discovered it by happenstance when I was riding with no destination in mind.  It has since become a favorite destination.

Meridian Hill Park is located in northwest D.C.’s Columbia Heights neighborhood, on land bordered by 15th, 16th, W, and Euclid Streets (MAP).  Prior to becoming a park, the land had a storied history.  It was used as a geographic marker by President Thomas Jefferson as part of establishing a longitudinal meridian for the city and the nation which was used at that time.  Later the land was part of the grounds of a mansion built by a naval hero of the War of 1812.  It was also used for a Union Army encampment during the Civil War.  It was even a proposed site at the beginning of the 20th century for the construction of a Presidential mansion to replace the White House.  When that did not get approved, a plan to have the site be used for the planned Lincoln Memorial was submitted.

Finally in 1910, the Federal government purchased the land and, by an Act of Congress, established Meridian Hill Park.  Construction began in 1912 based on a design modelled after the grand urban parks found in many major European cities at that time.  The formal, 12-acre landscaped grounds include unique artwork such as a marble sculpture entitled Serenity, a Presidential Memorial to James Buchanan, a memorial statue of Joan of Arc, a statue entitled Dante Alighieri, and an enormous cascading fountain.  The park is surrounded by concrete aggregate architecture which was based on an Italian aristocrat’s private residence.  In 1994 the park was designated a National Historic Landmark.  It is maintained by the National Park Service as part of Rock Creek Park, but is not contiguous with the main part of that park.

The central feature of the park is the thirteen basin cascading waterfall fountain in the lower-level formal garden.  The fountain includes an Italian Renaissance-style terraced fountain in the lower half, and gardens in a French Baroque style in the upper half.   It is designed with a recirculating water system which, through an elaborate series of pumps, supplies water to two large circular fountains on the upper level, and the cascade found on the lower.  It is the largest cascading fountain in North America.

After falling into disrepair and decay in the 1970’s, the park enjoyed a resurgence thanks to the a group of community organizations which formed the “Friends of Meridian Hill” partnership.  After extensive renovations and restoration, the park now hosts a variety of community arts and educational programs, twilight concerts, and on Sunday afternoons during warm weather, people gather in the upper park to dance and participate in a popular Drum Circle, which regularly attracts both enthusiastic dancers and professional drummers.

Whether or not you become a member of the formal partnership by the same name, one visit to this park and you’ll more than likely want to consider yourself a “friend” of Meridian Hill too.

MeridianHillPark01     MeridianHill2     MeridianHill3

MeridianHillPark03     MeridianHillPark02
[Click on the thumbnails above to view the full size photos]