Posts Tagged ‘Rock Creek Park’

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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.

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

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Pierce Mill

I had no particular destination in mind when I left on this lunchtime bike ride.  Initially, I just rode north.  Then as I was riding and would see a direction that didn’t look familiar, I would follow it.  As I made my way up through the DuPont Circle, Kalorama, Adams Morgan, Columbia Heights and Mount Pleasant neighborhoods, I just continued riding.  Eventually I found myself on a long downhill stretch of Park Road, and as I crossed over Beach Road I happened upon Peirce Mill.  Situated in Rock Creek Park, Peirce Mill is located at 2539 Tilden Street (MAP) in northwest D.C.

Peirce Mill was built on 1839 by a Quaker farmer from Pennsylvania named Issac Peirce.  Using the moving water or Rock Creek as a power source, the mill ground corn, wheat, and rye.  However, Peirce was not a miller and did not operate the mill himself.  Instead, he hired other millers to do so.  It remained in operation for more than six decades.  The last commercial load ground was in 1897, when the main shaft broke, while a millwright named Alcibiades P. White was grinding a load of rye.

The Federal government bought the mill as part of Rock Creek Park and it was restored as a Public Works Administration project, completed in March 1936, at a cost of $26,614.  Operation began again in October of 1936 under the supervision of miller Robert A. Little.  The mill was used from December 1, 1936 until 1958 to provide flour for government cafeterias.  Eventually, however, due to a lack of trained millwrights and lack of water in the millrace, it again discontinued operating as a mill, and was used from that time forward as an historical site.

There was a brief period, between 1993 and 1997, that the mill was closed once again.  A restoration effort was begun by the Friends of Peirce Mill, and the mill was restored with the support of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.  The mill officially reopened in October of 2011.

Peirce Mill is currently open from April 1st through October 31st from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m, Wednesday through Sunday.  During the month of November it is open on only Saturdays and Sundays, from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.  And from December through the end of March it is open from noon to 4:00pm on Saturdays and Sundays. But the best time to plan a visit is on the 2nd or 4th Saturday of each month between April and October, when the National Park Service typically runs mill operation demonstrations.

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

Note:  I recently ran across the following photo in the Library of Congress, taken sometime between the 1880s and 1910s.  It depicts men riding bikes near Peirce Mill, showing that people have been riding bikes to and near the mill for over a hundred years.

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The Dumbarton Bridge

The Dumbarton Bridge

The Dumbarton Bridge, also sometimes referred to as the Buffalo Bridge or the Q Street Bridge, is an historic curved masonry arch bridge in northwest D.C., which conveys Q Street (MAP) across Rock Creek Park connecting the city’s DuPont Circle and Georgetown neighborhoods. The ornate neoclassical bridge with strong influences from Roman aqueducts was designed by Glenn Brown, with engineering design by Daniel B. Luten. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1973.

What most likely would have been a plain and practical bridge had it been constructed during any other era, the Dumbarton Bridge was built in 1914-15 and influenced by what is known as the “City Beautiful Movement.” This reform philosophy of North American architecture and urban planning flourished during the 1890s and early 1900s, particularly in D.C., with the intent of introducing beautification and monumental grandeur in American cities. However, its goal was not just to promote beauty for its own sake, but also to instill moral and civic virtue among urban populations.

To accommodate the bridge’s approach and to keep the street continuous within Georgetown, the Dumbarton House, which at that time was known as Bellevue, was moved about 100 feet northward from its original site in the middle of the current Q Street to its present position on the north side of the street. However, the location of Dumbarton House was not the only construction problem facing the bridge. The proposed sections of Q Street, on either side of the bridge, were not aligned. This necessitated what turned out to be one of the bridge’s most unusual aesthetic features, its unusual curved design.

The bridge is most widely known because of its four buffalo sculptures, which are located on the sides of both ends of the bridge, and appear to be sentries standing guard. The buffalo were designed by American sculptor Phimister Proctor, who also designed the lion sculptures on the nearby Taft Bridge on Connecticut Avenue, and the tigers on the Piney Branch Parkway Bridge on 16th Street.

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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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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.

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The Kahlil Gibran Memorial Garden

When you’re traveling by bike, you have the benefit of a different perspective along the way.  You’re going slow enough to be able to see and appreciate things you otherwise might miss if you were driving in a car.  But you’re also travelling fast enough to cover a lot more distance than you can when you’re walking.  That’s the way it was on this ride.  Along the way I ran across the Kahlil Gibran Memorial Garden.  It is located in the midst of the wooded ravine known as Normanstone Park which borders Rock Creek Park, just off of Massachusetts Avenue and across the street from the British Embassy (MAP).  The garden was built and then dedicated as a memorial in 1991 to one of history’s most influential Arab Americans, Kahlil Gibran.  Of Lebanese descent, Kahlil Gibran was a writer, poet, artist and philosopher.  His writings and poetry have inspired countless millions around the world.  He is the third best-selling poet of all time, behind Shakespeare and Lao-Tzu.

The memorial garden was a project of the Kahlil Gibran Centennial Foundation, established in 1983 to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the poet’s birth.  The centerpieces of the memorial are a bust of the Gibran in a contemplative pose, and a star-shaped  fountain surrounded by flowers, hedges and limestone benches engraved with various quotes from the poet, which include:  “We extract your elements to make cannons and bombs but out of our elements you create lilies and roses.  How patient you are earth and how merciful!”  “When you love you should not say God is in my heart, but rather, I am in the heart of God.”  “Do not the spirits who dwell in the ether envy man his pain?”  “Life without freedom is like a body without a soul, and freedom without thought is confusion.”

Unlike many of the memorials downtown, this off the beaten path site is a serene and peaceful place, reflecting Gibran’s passion for peace.  So if you have the time, pack a lunch and bring along good book (such as Gibran’s “The Prophet”), and you’ll be rewarded with a delightful way to spend a quiet afternoon in D.C.

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