Posts Tagged ‘Rock Creek Park Trail’

devilschair01

The Devil’s Chair Footbridge

During this lunchtime bike ride, as I was riding on the Rock Creek Park Trail near the southern end of the park, I rode over Rock Creek on a bridge usually referred to as the Devil’s Chair Footbridge.  Located near Waterside Drive at a point approximately one-fifth of a mile northwest of where Q Street passes over the trail (MAP), with its eastern abutment just 30 feet from the southbound lanes of the Rock Creek and Potomac Parkway, the bridge’s name intrigued me.  So later after I got back from my ride I researched it to find out more.

Also called the Lyon’s Mill Footbridge, Devils Chair is the most notable of a series of eight footbridges built in Rock Creek Park as Public Works Administration projects during the Great Depression. It was completed in 1934, with the concrete, rustic-style bridge constructed in the style advocated by Albert H. Good, an architectural consultant to the National Park Service, in his sourcebook Park Structures and Facilities which was published the following year. The bridge lies in the shadow of Georgetown’s Oak Hill Cemetery on its western side, with its eastern abutment built on a remnant of the original Lyon’s Mill which had been located on the eastern bank of the creek.

The term devil’s chair usually refers to a memorial sculpture common in this country during the nineteenth century, when cemeteries sometimes included carved chairs for the comfort of visitors. In this function, the object was known as a mourning chair. Some carved chairs, however, were not intended for use as anything but monuments.  Anyway, once the original purpose of these chairs fell out of fashion, superstitions developed in association with the act of sitting in them. In a typical example, local young people dare one another to visit the cemetery, most often after dark, or on a certain night, such as Halloween. Variously, the stories suggest the person brave enough to sit in the chair at such a time may be punished for not showing due respect or rewarded for their courage.

So I assume the name Devil’s Chair is connected in some way to nearby Oak Hill Cemetery. But I have been unable to find one in the section of the cemetery near the footbridge. The rocky and hilly cemetery is both gothic and beautiful, but I have not found a devil’s chair anywhere in the cemetery. And despite researching it, I have been unable to find an explanation for the name. So the origins of the Devil’s Chair Footbridge’s name continues to be shrouded in mystery, at least for now.  So if anyone knows of the story behind the name, please contact me.  Otherwise, I may just have to go back there on Halloween next week, at midnight, and see if I can figure it out firsthand.

devilschair02     devilschair03     devilschair04

devilschair05     devilschair06     devilschair07
[Click on the photos to view the full-size versions]

WatergateSteps01

The Watergate Steps

Ever since the infamous 1972 illegal break-in at the Democratic National Committee headquarters in D.C.’s Watergate complex, and the Nixon administration’s attempt to cover up its involvement in it, the word “Watergate” has become synonymous with the scandal and the office complex where it originated. But almost half a century before the scandal that took down a president began, a staircase between The Lincoln Memorial and the Potomac River (MAP) was built.   That staircase is named the Watergate Steps, and it was my destination for this lunchtime bike ride.

Designed in 1902 by the architectural firm of McKim, Meade & White, the Watergate Steps were built in 1930 as part of the Arlington Memorial Bridge and Lincoln Memorial approachway. The 40 granite steps are approximately 230 feet wide at the base near the Potomac River, and rise 50 feet to the level of the nearby Arlington Memorial Bridge.  The steps become narrower as they rise, and are approximately 206 feet wide at the top. The steps are also divided into two tiers by the Rock Creek Parkway.

The steps were initially intended to be used for ceremonial arrivals of heads of state, government officials and other dignitaries arriving via the Potomac River. Their boats would pull up to the steps, and there to greet their arrival would be the new memorial, which was less than a decade old. Unfortunately, the steps were never used for their intended purpose.

Eventually, someone realized that the steps would make an excellent venue for music concerts, and a proposal was approved to moor a barge with an orchestra shell on the water at the base of the steps as a stage for summer concerts. The first concert was held there on July 14th, 1935, at which the National Symphony Orchestra performed. These “Sunset Symphonies” became quite popular, and over the next three decades crowds as large as 12,000 were entertained each summer at a series of concerts. Within the first ten years, the National Park Service, which sponsored the concerts, estimated that two million people had attended symphony performances there, as well as concerts by the Army, Navy, Marine Corps and Army Air Forces bands.  Performers as diverse as Frank Sinatra and Paul Robeson also appeared there.

Alas, the concerts were discontinued in 1965 when jets started flying into Washington National Airport, and the noise was just too loud and would drown out the concerts. Failing to be used for their intended purpose, and with the discontinuance of the waterside concerts, the steps now serve mainly to provide tourists and other pedestrians with access to and from the Rock Creek Park Trail, which runs along the bank of the Potomac River. It is also a favorite location for local runners, who sprint up and down the steps for exercise.

So next time you hear the word Watergate, remember that it is more than just an office complex which was the site of a political scandal.  Not only did the Watergate Steps come first, but it is widely thought that the office complex was actually named after the steps.

WatergateSteps02     WatergateSteps03     WatergateSteps04

WatergateSteps01a     WatergateSteps02a
[Click on the thumbnails above to view the full size photos]

Site of World's First Air Mail Service

Site of World’s First Air Mail Service

A short bike ride from downtown D.C., located just off the Rock Creek Park Trail that parallels the water along the north bank of the Potomac River in West Potomac Park, and near Ohio and West Basin Drives (MAP) in Southwest D.C., I discovered a stone with a brass plaque marker.  After reading the plaque, I learned that the marker was placed there by The Aero Club of Washington, commemorating the first air mail flight to be operated as a continuously scheduled public service.  The air mail service planes used the nearby field just south of The Washington Monument near the National Mall to take off and land.

Following 52 experimental flights by the Post Office Department in 1911 and 1912, the first extended test of airmail service began on May 15, 1918, when the U.S. Army and the Post Office Department together began operating a line using U.S Army training plains, known as “Jenny” biplanes.  The planes were flown by Army pilots operating on a route between the old Washington Polo Grounds near the marker, and Belmont Park in New York City, with an intermediate stop at Bustleton Field in Philadelphia.  Included in those who were on hand for the departure of the first flight were President Woodrow Wilson, U.S. Postmaster General Albert S. Burleson, and Assistant Secretary of the Navy and future president, Franklin D. Roosevelt.

An Army lieutenant named George L. Boyle was selected to pilot the aircraft on the first flight.  Unfortunately, that flight turned out to be a somewhat less than successful initial venture, and perhaps an omen of the Postal Service’s future level of quality and service.  Boyle became disoriented almost immediately after take off, and started flying in the wrong direction.  Upon realizing that he was lost, Boyle attempted to find out where he was by making an unscheduled landing in nearby Waldorf, Maryland.  However, he broke the prop on his airplane when he made a hard landing, and the mail he was carrying had to be trucked back to D.C.   The mail was flown to Philadelphia and New York the next day but, of course, arrived late.

The plaque on the marker does not make mention of this ignominious beginning.  It reads:  “Air Mail. The world’s first airplane mail to be operated as a continuously scheduled public service started from this field May 15, 1918.  The route connected Washington, Philadelphia and New York, CurtisJN 4-H airplanes with a capacity of 150 pounds of mail flew the 230 miles in above three hours.  The service was inaugurated by the Post Office Department in cooperation with the Aviation Section of the Signal Corps of the U.S. Army.  On August 12, 1918, the service was taken over in its entirety by the Post Office Department.  This marker was erected by The Aero Club of Washington on the fortieth anniversary.  May 15, 1958.”

Less than twenty years later, in October of 1975, Air Mail as a separate class of service was effectively ended within the U.S. when all domestic intercity First Class mail began to be transported by air at the normal First Class rate, and was formally eliminated by the successor to the Post Office Department, the United States Postal Service.

airmail03     Airmail01a.jpg

JohnEricssonMemorial02

The John Ericsson National Memorial

When riding in  West Potomac Park  on the Rock Creek Park Trail which runs along the North shore of the Potomac River, you will find the John Ericsson National Memorial, which is located near the National Mall at Ohio Drive and Independence Avenue in southwest D.C. (MAP).

The memorial is dedicated to the Swedish-born engineer-inventor who is best known for his work during the Civil War when he transformed naval warfare through his design of the iron-plated USS Monitor, the ship that ensured Union naval supremacy. He also revolutionized maritime history with his invention of the screw propeller.  Later Ericsson designed other naval vessels and weapons, including a type of torpedo and a Destroyer, a torpedo boat that could fire a cannon from an underwater port.

The memorial was originally authorized by Congress in 1916, and was completed a decade later.  It was dedicated in 1926 by President Calvin Coolidge and Crown Prince Gustaf Adolf of Sweden. Congress appropriated just over half the cost of creating  the memorial, with the remainder being raised privately by Americans chiefly of Scandinavian descent.

The memorial is constructed out of pink Milford granite, and measures 20 feet high with a 150-foot diameter base.  It features a seated figure of Ericsson in the front, and three standing figures behind him.  These figures represent adventure, labor, and vision.  It is maintained by the National Mall and Memorial Parks (also known as National Capital Parks-Central), which is an administrative unit of the National Park Service encompassing many national memorials and other areas in D.C.  The statue is part of 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.

Although none of his inventions created any large industries, he is regarded as one of the most influential mechanical engineers ever. Ericsson died on March 8, 1889, the anniversary of the famous Battle of Hampton Roads of which his famous Monitor played a central role.

JohnEricsson1