After the Civil War, 37 acres of this land were bought as a farm by W.B. Shaw, a war veteran who had come to Washington to work in the Treasury Department. Shaw pursued his hobby, the growing of water lilies, on the marshy sections of his land. He imported 12 hardy American white lilies, from his native Maine and grew them in an abandoned ice pond. As the lilies thrived, Shaw dug more ponds and began to experiment in hybridization. In 1912, Shaw and his daughter, Helen Shaw Fowler, began to sell their lilies commercially and daily shipped thousands of 63 varieties of hand-picked lilies, to Chicago, Boston and New York. During his lifetime, Shaw was responsible for developing many new varieties of lily, among them the Pink Opal and W.B. Shaw and the Helen Fowler water lily varieties, all still grown commercially today. The "Shaw Gardens" produced lilies available nowhere else in the country in the marsh's 35 different types of soil.
Mrs. Fowler, who ran the business after Mr. Shaw's death in 1921, agreed to permit the public to view the lilies on Sunday mornings during the height of the season. During the 1920s and 30s, visitors numbered as many as 5-6,000 per day. Even though it was one of the largest lily farms in the world, the Shaw property was particularly attractive because it had been left almost entirely in its natural state.
In 1924, Mrs. Fowler was persuaded to permit local residents to attempt to have the ponds brought under public ownership; among the most enthusiastic supporters was Mrs. Calvin Coolidge who, along with President and Mrs. Wilson, was a frequent visitor to the gardens. The extent of the gardens remains essentially unchanged from 1938, the year they ceased operation as a commercial enterprise and became part of the National Park system.
Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens is located in northeast Washington, DC, near the Maryland boundary along the tidal Anacostia River. The entrance to the Aquatic Gardens is just west of I-295 (Kenilworth Avenue), between Quarles and Douglas Sts., on Anacostia Ave. It is open daily from 7:00 am to 4:00 pm. For more information call 202/426-6905. The Gardens are not within close proximity to a Metro station.