Civil War Defenses of Washington
Historic Resource Study
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Acquiring The Fort Parks and Fort Drive

Little relating to the preservation or acquisition of the Civil War Defenses of Washington or the construction of Fort Drive occurred during World War I. In 1917, Colonel William W. Hart, Army Engineer, did survey the two "Park Commission of 1901" proposed "routes connecting the Anacostia Water Park with Rock Creek Park" and observed the Civil War forts along the way. He reported their condition, including the fact that Fort Thayer was gone due to new construction. Activity continued at Fort Myer, VA, formerly Fort Whipple, and at Fort Foote, MD, both still owned by the Army. And soon after the end of World War I, interest was rekindled in the forts and the road that would connect them. [1]

On July 30, 1919, Colonel Clarence S. Ridley, Officer in Charge of the Office of Public Buildings and Grounds, wrote the Chief of Engineers on the subject of a "Proposed Bill for Parkway connecting Old Civil War Forts, District of Columbia." In the letter, Ridley stated that in thinking of the future Federal Park System in the Capital, "the time is ripe" to secure the necessary parkland before "it is too late" for a "proper layout and design and for economy." He thought that the "best way to secure the purpose desired" was to have Congress consider and approve the project. Further, Ridley thought that for "the future development of the city and more particularly its park system," a restudy is necessary of "the parkway system as proposed by the Park Commission in 1902 with a view to adapting it to present conditions brought about by the growth of the city since the plan was made and then to incorporate the result." He enclosed with the letter "a Bill designed to carry the above into effect." The Chief of Engineers and the Secretary of War approved the plan by Oct. 20, 1919 and sent the correspondence and the proposed bill, to the Board of Commissioners of the District of Columbia, along with a listing of the various forts and information about their location, condition, and availability. [2]

The Board of Commissioners acted upon the plan by initiating in the House of Representatives a bill, H.R. 10695 (see appendices), "to make the necessary survey and to prepare a plan of a proposed parkway to connect the old Civil War forts in the District of Columbia" for the purpose of preserving the sites of the old Civil War forts and to make them accessible to the public. The Commissioners also wrote:

"The old Civil War Forts surrounding the city are not only points of interest but also include points from which some of the best views of the city can be obtained. A parkway connecting these points would form a most useful adjunct to the park system in the District; and with the great activity in building operations, the Commissioners are of the opinion that steps should be taken in the near future to purchase the necessary land. The proposed parkway would occupy, in the main, a high ridge providing a splendid view of the city and Potomac River, and would connect the larger parks of the District besides providing numerous small recreation places." [3]

Introduced on November 19, 1919, the bill authorized the Commissioners of the District of Columbia to make a survey and submit a plan to the Congress as soon as possible, with recommendations "together with cost," as to what land to buy "to provide a continuous parkway of suitable width connecting the sites of the following old forts — Greble, Carroll, B. Ricketts, Stanton, Wagner, Baker, Davis (U.S. owned), Dupont (U.S. owned), Chaplin, A Battery, Mahan, Bunker Hill, Totten, Slocum, Stevens, DeRussey, Bayard, B. Kemble, B. Vermont (U.S. owned), B. Parrott." Congress was further authorized to appropriate $5,000 for the study. This bill took some time to work its way through the Senate, but it did pass over a year later; the House of Representatives never passed a similar bill so the proposed legislation never became law. [4]

The Commissioners did not give up. They resubmitted bills to both the House (H.R. 8792) and the Senate (S. 4) in 1921, which included the same text. Again, they did not pass. The House entertained a new bill in 1922 (H.R. 8792) to no benefit. In late 1923, a similar bill (S.1340) was introduced in the Senate. Among other things, the bill added a fort, Fort Lincoln. This bill took some time to work its way through the Senate, but it passed over a year later. [5]

While the Commissioners of the District of Columbia were attempting to influence Congress to approve the fort parkway, others assisted their efforts. The Washington Board of Trade of the District of Columbia, at its meeting on October 21, 1919, had adopted a resolution that urged Congress "to provide for the immediate acquisition of. . . tracts of land in the District for Parks and recreation purposes" including for the "Fort Drive, and sites of forts from Sixteenth Street to the Anacostia River; estimated cost $740,000." and "Fort Drive and site of fort from Pennsylvania Avenue, South East, to and including Fort Stanton, Anacostia; estimated cost $56,000." Concurrently, various citizens of the District decided that a permanent agency to plan, acquire, and develop the city parks was needed. The American Civic Association (later the American Planning and Civic Association), helped form the Washington Committee of 100 on the Federal City. Chaired by Frederic A. Delano, the Committee conducted a study and, in early 1924, published a report setting forth its recommendations, which included establishing "a Fort Boulevard following the hills encircling the city and connecting the Civil War forts." [6]

The Committee of 100 influenced the introduction of a bill in the United States Congress, "Providing for a comprehensive development of the park and playground system of the National Capital." On June 6, 1924, Congress passed the legislation which created the National Capital Parks Commission (NCPC) to oversee the comprehensive development of the park system. The NCPC created a Planning Committee to "review the 1901 McMillan Report on parks and bring it up to date with existing conditions." One of the first projects studied by the NCPC was the Fort Drive. On March 3, 1925, NCPC received its first appropriation for land acquisition and began acquiring Civil War Defenses of Washington lands. [7]

The Commission accomplished very little, however, before another important change occurred. On April 30, 1926, Congress created the National Capital Park and Planning Commission (NCPPC), replacing the NCPC and enlarging the agency's duties. In proceeding to develop a comprehensive park plan, the Commission had several bills introduced in Congress, all of which were referred to the Committee on the District of Columbia. In March 1928, the committee held extensive hearings on the legislation, and some speakers, including U.S. Grant, III, Major Carey H. Brown and Charles W. Eliot, II, specifically discussed the Fort Drive. [8]

Similar bills and hearings led to the passage on May 29, 1930, of the Capper-Cramton Act. This Act probably did more for the acquisition of the fort parks and for securing the right-of-way for the Fort Drive than any other legislation. It provided $16,000,000 for the acquisition of land, including the forts and Fort Drive. It further provided that when Fort Foote was no longer required for military purposes, the Director Of Public Buildings and Public Parks of the National Capital would receive title to it, without cost, for administration and maintenance as a part of the said George Washington Memorial Parkway. Most of the fort parks and right-of-way lands for the Fort Drive were acquired under this law and its appropriations. [9]

Another important organizational change occurred on June 10, 1933 when the Office of Public Buildings and Public Parks was abolished. Its duties were transferred to the Office of National Parks, Buildings and Reservations, Department of the Interior, and eventually to the National Park Service which became responsible for the national park system, including parks in the District of Columbia. [10]

Planning the Fort Parks and Fort Drive

While the Government made these organizational changes, important events and activities pertaining to the Civil War Defenses of Washington fortifications and the Fort Drive were unfolding. Captain J.E. Wood, Assistant to the Engineer Commissioner, District of Columbia, recommended "the establishment of a Fort Boulevard" and suggested naming it the McMillan Drive, in honor of the late senator. Following the passage of the 1924 act creating the National Capital Parks Commission, the first fort land, at Fort Stevens, was acquired on October 15, 1925. Then, on April 11, 1927, the new National Capital Parks and Planning Commission acquired the first property, in the Shepherd Parkway section, for the Fort Drive. In between these two acquisitions, the National Capital Parks and Planning Commission decided, at meetings on June 18-19, 1926, that the Fort Drive would be a parkway, "not just widened streets." On November 18, 1927, the Commission also approved five major park projects; the fort drive was one of them. It appeared that the Fort Drive plan was well on its way to reality. [11]

The Fort Drive plans changed considerably in the 1920s due to the growth of the city and development occurring within it. Captain Wood, on March 10, 1924, wrote that Fort Drive "is thirty-nine miles in length, passes practically all of the Civil War forts and connects most of the important public reservations" improving it "in that a complete circuit is made passing through Potomac Park." Continuing, he declared "All of the streets indicated (see the appendices for accompanying map) are in good condition for motor travel" and "They form a pleasant drive no part of which is habitually congested." The National Capital Parks and Planning Commission decided, in June 1926, that Fort Drive would be a parkway, not city streets. In 1926, U.S. Grant, III, then the Executive and Disbursing Officer of the Commission, wrote that the 9th Street section of Fort Drive "will probably have a double roadway with narrow parking between the two." In 1925, J.C. Langdon, City Planner, offered a detailed Fort Drive project to the Commission which recommended a minimum parkway width of 140 feet and "negotiations were begun with the land holders," who mostly requested inflated prices. After Major Carey H. Brown revised Langdon's scheme in July 1926, the Commission authorized purchase within 125% or condemnation to widen Madison Street to 120 feet between building lines and recommended a special treatment of the street to give it as much parkway character as possible." Charles W. Eliot, II, submitted a comprehensive report on Fort Drive to the Commission in 1927 "along the general line suggested by Langdon" with revisions made "to avoid new houses and improvements erected in the line" that provided "a satisfactory alignment and width of from 200 to 230 feet for a parkway." This is the Fort Drive plan, with some subsequent minor changes, that the Government basically followed until 1940. In May, Frederick Law Olmsted, II, advised Eliot to make a minor change after visiting a particular section of Fort Drive but additional house construction negated that. On May 10, 1929, Eliot submitted to Major Brown "three schemes for the location of the Fort Drive south of [Fort] Reno" recommending Scheme A which was a parkway that would probably cost $58,993. [12]

The Government actually acquired most of the Fort Drive right-of-way between 1929 and 1932. In March 1931, the National Capital Park and Planning Commission divided the plan and estimate of Fort Drive into sections, for better management, so Section A was Potomac Ave. To Newark Street, Section H was Randolph Street to Bladensburg Road (National Training School) and the last, Section P, was Atlantic Avenue to Blue Plains. The Commission prepared an "Emergency Public Works Program Brief Justification For Fort Drive Projects," on August 31, 1933 that listed each project by name, such as "Chesapeake St. to Connecticut Ave." and "Madison Street to Fort Totten," that provided the planning stage, what type land it was and expected use, and how much of the land was then in Government ownership. [13]

Some Fort Drive construction occurred in the 1930s. In 1934-35, Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) personnel, from the camp at Fort Dupont Park, graded Fort Drive toward Good Hope Road and to Station 16, on the Anacostia connecting road. They also removed trees and roots from the Fort Drive right-of-way. The Works Progress Administration constructed a section of Fort Drive in the Fort Reno area. In short, most Fort Drive road was completed during the Depression. [14]

In 1937, one newspaper reporter wrote that the 23-1/2 mile-Fort Drive, with all but one mile purchased, would connect thirteen forts and four battery locations, of which the Government owned all but forts Chaplin and Greble and Battery Ricketts. But after 1936, the depression drastically cut funds for additional Fort Drive and fort land acquisition. On August 17, 1938 the Commissioners of the District of Columbia applied for $1,080,000. from the Public Works Administration (PWA) for Fort Drive construction, specifically the section from Conduit Road east to Fort Totten. To support the application, the National Capital Parks and Planning Commission prepared "General Specifications—Fort Drive Project," and "Justification: The Fort Drive—Washington, D.C. Syllabus." But, the PWA refused the request. [15]

Still optimistic, however, the National Capital Park and Planning Commission approved a complete set of 100 scale development plans for Fort Drive on September 30, 1932. The NCPPC prepared, in the Spring 1939, a "Statement Regarding Fort to Fort Drive Washington, D.C" that provided historical back ground, community needs, and immediate plans for the project including the announcement of a five year plan for its completion, constructing five miles each year. On November 16, 1940, the NCPPC, after trying for 13 years to "make a reality of Fort Drive," voted to press for a Congressional appropriation to begin construction of Fort Drive. Also in November 1940, the Commission approved the Downer plan, which embodied a limited access, four-lane divided parkway for passenger vehicles; this new Fort Drive plan supplanted the Eliot one that the Government had followed since 1929. The NCPPC had hired Jay Downer, an engineer consultant from New York, to develop a plan for completing Fort Drive as an outskirt bypass which would measurably relieve the downtown traffic problems. To develop this parkway, Downer reported that new standards and land acquisition, meaning a greater amount of right-of-way to accommodate wider roads, were necessary and recommended that the project be established as a 10-year plan. [16]

By late 1940, newspapers reported problems for Fort Drive. Worried Commissioners of the District of Columbia called for public hearings after Jay Downer estimated the Fort Drive's cost as high as $15,000,000.. It was stated that if the District of Columbia was forced to "pay the whole cost" of Fort Drive, there must be a rise in the gasoline tax. Realizing that some time might elapse before the road construction, the Office of Capital Parks rented out some of the right-of-way property, including a residence at 3125 Nebraska Avenue, N.W., for $80 per month. The Second World War then intervened, and most people forgot or ignored the issue of the Fort Drive. [17]

Acquisition and Development of Fort Parks

Meanwhile, many activities occurred over the first half of the Twentieth Century as the government began acquiring and developing the fort parks. Fort Dupont Park, authorized in 1912, received over 16 acres in 1916. After World War I, the park was expanded by acquisition and donation, mainly from financier, civic leader, philanthropist, American University trustee, and Corcoran Art Gallery president Charles Carroll Glover. Fort Dupont grew to become the second "largest natural park area in the city." The National Capital Parks and Planning Commission acquired approximately 2.8 acres for the "Fort Kemble" Park. It was almost fifteen years before the Government corrected the name (to Battery Kemble). At Fort Bayard Park, where the fortifications disappeared about 1910, developers were building homes. In 1923, the War Department offered Fort Foote for sale. Many people who felt it should become a park succeeded in forestalling the sale until Congress could reconsider its fate. The Capper-Cramton Act provided that Fort Foote would become a park after it no longer had a military purpose, and in 1940 the Army transferred it to the National Park Service. The Government had also acquired parts of Fort Stevens, although many houses surrounded it. A 1926 newspaper article reported that Fort De Russey, in Rock Creek Park, was about to be "restored and grassed," but that never happened. [18]

In the 1930s, the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) accomplished a great deal of work on the fort parks. The CCC established nine camps in the Washington, D.C. area, including one, established on October 23, 1933, at Fort Dupont Park. The CCC activities at Fort Dupont included erecting buildings for workers to live and eat in, cleaning up foot and horse trails, performing minor road construction, putting in a sewer, and constructing a two-car garage, carpenter shop, and toilet room. The CCC also performed "forest protection," including cleaning up dead and fallen lumber, burning brush, grubbing stumps, cleaning up the dump, and disposing of trash at forts Stanton, Bunker Hill and Mahan, and doing general cleanup at forts Totten and Foote. At Fort Stevens, the CCC undertook a restoration, reconstruction, and landscape project; costing $25,000. The workers rebuilt the western portion of the fort parapet, using cement "falsies," as one author called them, "instead of logs and planks," because they would last longer. The work at Fort Stevens was completed in 1938. It was the only fortification restoration project. [19]

With many of the forts and batteries back in Government possession, proposals for the placement of various non-park items on or around them were common. Water towers were proposed for Forts Reno, Dupont and Stanton. The City Board of Education suggested placing schools at various fort parks, including Forts Reno and Stanton. Plans were discussed for a new reservoir at Fort Reno and an incinerator at Fort Totten. A light, as aid to navigation, was mounted on the old wharf of Fort Foote, and the Aeronautics Authority wished to place a radio beam tower in the park. In 1931, parks office surveyors camped at Fort Foote while surveying the "property on the Maryland side of the river which will be acquired as part of the George Washington Parkway." No one knew what might be proposed next. [20]

Fort Drive and the Parks After World War II

As during World War I, little of importance pertaining to Fort Drive and the fort parks occurred during World War II. The National Park Service and the District of Columbia signed a memorandum of agreement, on October 24, 1944, for the development of two Fort Drive sections, MacArthur Boulevard to Nebraska Avenue and Military Road from Oregon Avenue to a point east of 14th Street. National Park Service Associate Director A.E. Demaray informed the Secretary of the Interior that 98 percent of the Fort Drive right-of-way had been acquired and that its construction "is believed to be of first importance." He wrote that "the population recently has grown to the extent that the District Commissioners are prepared to undertake actual construction of certain sections." Demaray was a bit over optimistic, however, as the District of Columbia Engineer Commissioner, in 1946, argued that the estimated $32,000,000 cost for the drive was too high. The following year, estimating the cost of Fort Drive at $37,000,000, the District Commissioners cut off funding. [21]

In January 1947, the District Budget Officer and Assessor wrote a report, "Acquisition of Land," which basically stated that the Fort Drive was too costly and impractical or as they put it, "chimerical and useless." They declared that the project should be abrogated and the already acquired land sold. The same year, John Russell Young, President of the District's Board of Commissioners, argued that the "Fort Drive as planned would cost today about $35,000,000, which equals the sum total that we have available for major highway improvements for the next 12 years." The District, which at one time had considered raising the gasoline tax to obtain funds for the Fort Drive, now essentially abandoned the idea. In March 1947, Thomas C. Jeffers, Landscape Architect, presented a "modified plan for development of Fort Drive "which would cost less and use some of the existing streets and roads; the NCPPC approved a modified Fort Drive plan on June 20, 1947. The NCPPC and the National Park Service and the Commission on Fine Arts were still in favor of Fort Drive, but none of them had the money to build it. Interested groups, such as the Civil War Round Table of the District of Columbia, lobbied for the drive but, without a funding source, it did little good. [22]

Although supporters of the Fort Drive were unable to find funding after 1948, they continued to view it as a viable entity. In 1950, as the result of various studies, reports and meetings, a "Thoroughfare Plan" provided for portions of Fort Drive as express parkways and express highways. In 1959, plans proposed that portions of Fort Drive be incorporated into a newly planned intermediate loop roadway within Washington, but still no new construction occurred. The District Highway Department, in 1961, attempted to take some of the unused Fort Drive right-of-way for Interstate 95, that would pass through the city but the National Park Service refused. In 1962, the National Park Service conducted a study of a Fort Drive "to decide whether it was still 'a valid park project' or should be built to serve as a major highway." In May 1963 President John F. Kennedy, in a message to Congress, requested the "speedy construction of the 23-mile Fort Drive Parkway" but his request went unfunded. [23]

On October 1, 1964, the National Capital Planning Commission staff and other professionals took a bus tour of Fort Drive to help decide whether it should "be developed as a park-like road, can it lend itself to be an intermediate loop, or should the forts remain isolated for just recreational use?" By May 1965 the local newspapers extolled a new proposal by Fred Tuemmler as a substitute for the Fort Drive. Tuemmler, whom the National Capital Planning Commission hired to re-evaluate Fort Drive, suggested the right-of-way land should "be reconstituted as a recreational facility" and, to emphasize that park recreation concept, rename it "Fort Park System." It would be "a place to get away from cars." Further, he saw it as a 30 mile "ring of recreation and green space" around the city, running from Fort Greble Park to Battery Kemble Park, with hiking and bicycle paths. He envisioned fully restoring Forts Stevens, Totten and Dupont. At Fort Totten Park, he suggested establishing a Civil War History Museum and adding 159.2 acres of land to the approximately 1,276 acres of existing parkland. All the forts, he said, would "serve as way stations, neighborhood centers and historical points of interest." As with the Fort Drive, lack of money halted Tuemmler's plan, but two miles of the hiking and biking trails were built in Fort Dupont Park. [24]

Over the years a concept evolved of a Fort Drive to run from MacArthur Boulevard in northwest Washington to Blue Plains at the District Line in the southeast. It would be "a quiet scenic road linking about 17 Civil War forts in the outer sections of Washington." A 1940 newspaper article reported that Fort Drive was "conceived now as a double strip roadway, free of grade crossings by which crosstown and through traffic may be accelerated and diverted around the more congested sections of the city." An engineer consultant called it "a miniature Penn[sylvania] turnpike with no traffic lights, two lanes divided by strip." A 1953 National Capital Parks study described it as "a high speed 'ring' road, distributing traffic on radial routes and handling circumferential traffic in the city." The same year, the Civil War Round Table of the District of Columbia saw it as a 22.8 mile, "six-lane freeway, with access only at selected points and no grade crossings when finally completed." [25]

In 1965, planning consultant Fred Tuemmler wrote: "Thus, the Fort Drive which started with a beginning concept of a 'wooded road—a picturesque circuit of the Capital' constituting 'the most striking feature of the park system' changed first to a design concept of which the Bronx River Parkway in Westchester County, New York was the prototype and gradually to a more stream-lined facility to meet the design criteria of the present-day multi-laned, limited-access highway." He also observed that the Fort Drive evolved from a "meandering scenic drive to the recent concept as an indispensable encircling element in the system of high-speed traffic facilities devoted primarily to the movement of motor vehicles and with minor emphasis on the fort sites." In this sense, Tuemmler was right, a high-speed highway did not lend itself to sightseers who wished to stop and see the forts and the breathtaking views of the capital city. [26]

Advocates had a variety of justifications for the Fort Drive. An often used justification was: "Above all, it was the topographical value of the forts that was the most esteemed; that they ringed the city, defined its rim of surrounding hills, and (before trees had grown again and over the cleared lines of fire) offered such superb views of the city itself, the broad and gleaning Potomac, and the surrounding metropolitan landscape." The argument used in a 1919 bill introduced in Congress was: "For the purpose of preserving the sites of the old Civil War forts and to make them accessible to the public." In 1924, the District Commissioners were "of the opinion that as a matter of historic interest these forts should be preserved and that access to them should be provided before private development brings about their destruction." National Park Service Associate Director A.E. Demaray wrote that when the National Capital Park and Planning Commission, in 1926, "realized the necessity of providing a ready means for exchange of traffic between various residential subdivisions, fortunately, there was found a possibility for doing this at a moderate cost by a circumferential parkway about 23 miles in length joining the old Civil War forts." In 1947, the plea was that "to abandon the Fort Drive would be a short-sighted policy, it would destroy a 'cross town' traffic artery that is most urgently needed for the City of Washington." [27]

Although the arguments in favor of the road had merit, the opposition also had answers: "Unfortunately it will now be impracticable to carry out the fort drive on the scale proposed in 1901, as many sections of it have been built upon in the meantime" was an often repeated argument against it. Another retort was, "by 1926, the land required for the drive lay too close to the built-up city, so that the cost of this land would be much inflated over possible parkland further out." One author remarked that Fort Drive simply "never captured the imagination of Congress," which ultimately could have appropriated the money to acquire and build it. And, generally, although the road was "reinterpreted, even as a circumferential highway, the Fort Drive failed to win sufficient support to be realized." A 1964 newspaper article remarked that perhaps Fort Drive was no longer needed because, after all, city roads now ran past most of the forts. These arguments along with the lack of finances spelled doom for Fort Drive. [28]

Other Uses of the Fort Parks

While the Fort Drive was facing its demise, the fort parks were targets for various public and private entities. The Federal government has used Fort Reno Park, where the Civil War fortifications disappeared about 1900, for a variety of purposes, such as the previously mentioned water towers and reservoirs. During and after World War II, however, many new uses occurred. The military fenced the water facilities during the war to help prevent sabotage. During the Korean War, the 35th Brigade acquired 4.3 acres of the park for AAA Site Fort Reno by Department of Interior use permit of June 11, 1951. In September of 1952, Battery B of the 36th AAA Battalion (90 mm) and Battery A of the 70th AAA Battalion (120 mm) made their headquarters at Ft. Reno. After the truce, the use permit terminated on March 13, 1953. In two-week and weekend periods, the National Guard used the rolling fields at Fort Reno for drill and camp purposes during the Korean War. Soon after the war, the Government-built an underground defense communications center there, with visible antennas and dishes, that "reportedly links the White House with other larger centers in the Middle Atlantic States." [29]

By 1957, Fort Reno Park had a new reservoir. The K-9 Division of the Secret Service also established a facility at the park. The City Department of Public Works stored sand, salt and other bad weather equipment, and the Federal Aviation Administration placed monitoring equipment there. [30]

Fort Reno was not the only fort park to experience these problems. The city wished to build a reservoir at Fort Totten and "run a 3-inch water main . . . across Fort Totten Park and Fort Drive to District water mains." In 1949, President Harry Truman submitted to Congress a "Supplemental Estimate of Appropriations for the Department of the Interior" requesting $175,000. for a swimming pool and associated facilities at Fort Stanton Park. Good or bad, at Fort Dupont, the buildings constructed and used by the CCC were offered to the park in 1944. Fort Foote was used by the Youth Conservation Corps in the mid-1980s. [31]

Non-government organizations also wished to use the fort parks. In 1920 African-American Catholics who had not felt comfortable in local congregations, built Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church at Fort Stanton, after Dr. J.C. Norwood, an African-American physician, reduced the price of the land. During the 1920s, nearby residents "walked family cows to Fort Stanton Park to graze before the school bell rang." Before World War II, the Girl Scouts used Fort Foote "for week-end recreation trips, camping out in a screened pavilion back of the old house where the flag flies." The Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) held national conventions in Washington in 1870, 1892, 1902, 1915, and 1936 and held special ceremonies at Fort Stevens, as did many other hereditary and patriotic organizations through the mid-1990s. [32]

While all these activities were occurring at the Civil War Defenses of Washington fort parks, all within the District of Columbia, one kindred fort, in Virginia, remained in the possession of the original owner's family and was well-preserved and seemingly safe until its sale in 1953. In 1954 Stan McClure, a National Park Service historian, recommended that the U.S. Government acquire this site, named Fort Marcy, "in connection with the land purchases along the George Washington Memorial Parkway." Despite the recommendation, nothing happened. In 1956, however, Virginia Highway Department proposals for widening Route 123 put Fort Marcy in jeopardy, and local preservationists spoke out for its protection. In June 1957 one of these individuals, Mrs. R.F.S. Starr, learned that the Virginia Highway Department was starting work at the fort. She contacted a Fairfax County Supervisor, drove to the site, and parked her car in front of the bulldozer's blade to halt further destruction. Later that day the County Supervisors voted to acquire the site and sent a police patrol to the site to insure that no additional destruction occurred. The County and the U.S. Government each paid half the cost for the site; ordinarily the State of Virginia would pay half the county's share, but a State Highway Department official indicated the state's stance by stating "I don't think we'd want to buy a Union fort." The Federal Government received the deed to the fort and surrounding land on May 7, 1959, but the park wasn't opened to the public until four years later, on May 18, 1963. Today, this 15 acre park is the site of the best preserved Civil War Defenses of Washington fortifications, containing not only a well-preserved fort but also related outworks and trenches. The park has suffered, however, from a lack of funds for preservation and interpretation. During the mid-1990s, the National Park Service conducted archaeological and geographical mapping work there, which has provided new historical insights into garrison life during the Civil War. [33]

Saving Non-Federally Owned Fortifications

In addition to the Federal government's efforts to save and preserve the Civil War Defenses of Washington, local governments have lately undertaken some of the work. National Park Service historian Stanley McClure wrote in 1954: "Expansion of residential and other building developments, beginning in 1942 after the outbreak of World War II, resulted in the destruction of several of the old fortifications preserved up to that time." But, he remarked, "The threatened destruction of the remaining earthworks has caused patriotic citizens and planning officials in Virginia and Maryland to take renewed interest in their preservation during the last several years." McClure then bragged: "As a result of the efforts taken to interest planning commissions and other organizations in the old Civil War earthworks during the past two years, and particularly in the last two months, it has been possible to aid in saving several others, including Fort Gaines, Battery Smead, Battery Bailey, Battery Benson, and probably Fort Ward." [34]

Of course, much has changed since 1954, and only two of those fortifications that McClure mentioned—Battery Bailey and Fort Ward—are preserved today and in public ownership. [35] At times, local governments and other organizations have attempted to save and preserve other fortifications, but with mixed results. They lost Fort Strong, Fort Worth, Fort Sumner, Fort Reynolds, and a great deal of Forts Scott and Ethan Allen. But Fairfax County was instrumental in saving Fort Marcy and paid part of its cost. In addition, Forts Ward, Willard and C.F. Smith and Battery Bailey are preserved, publicly owned and open to the public. [36]

Fort Ward may be the greatest success story. Preservationists made the Alexandria City government aware of Fort Ward in 1953 and voiced demands for its purchase and preservation. This influenced one writer to remark, "Fort Ward, which has been reconstructed, is the best example of an earthwork fort." By 1961, the city purchased the fort and surrounding land, approximately 40 acres. It then undertook a preservation and reconstruction plan, to make the northwest bastion appear as it did during the Civil War and to construct buildings patterned after those pictured in Matthew Brady photographs taken at the various forts in the Defenses of Washington. The park opened and was dedicated on May 30, 1964, during the Civil War Centennial. At times, the city has over-emphasized its recreational facilities and, as a result, interested individuals organized the Friends of Fort Ward to fight for the historical aspects of the park. With its reconstructed bastion, a museum with superior quality artifacts, an exemplary educational program, and a fine recreational facilities including an amphitheater, it is currently the premier Civil War Defenses of Washington fortification site in the Washington area. [37]

The next fort acquired by a local government was Fort Willard, in 1978-80. Located near Alexandria, VA, in Fairfax County, it contains 1.621 acres situated in the center of a cul-de-sac in the middle of a residential neighborhood. Civil War Historian James Robertson described the fort as "a superb example of an earthen fortification in an unimproved state." It retains most of its features, although physically protected only by barriers that prevent motorcycles and bicycles from riding through it. Few people know of it or its whereabouts, but it is an interesting fort to visit. [38]

Local governments have saved two other fortifications that were part of the Civil War Defenses of Washington — Battery Bailey, part of Little Falls Park in Montgomery County, MD, and Fort C.F. Smith in Arlington County, VA. Arlington County acquired Fort C.F. Smith in 1994, and it is a major part of a 19-acre public park, dedicated in 1996. Possibly, Fort C.F. Smith may be the last Civil War Defenses of Washington fortification in the suburbs to become a public park, because little else is left. Unable to save most of its Civil War fortifications, Arlington, in the mid-1960s, did spend $3,353. to place aluminum historical plaques at the sites of the 20 former Civil War forts in the county. [39]

Fort Parks - Still Relatively Unknown

Although a number of the Civil War Defenses of Washington have significant historical remains and warrant visits by interested tourists, the general guidebooks to the nation's capital have rarely mentioned them. These include the Federal Writer's Program's Washington, D.C.: A Guide to the Nation's Capital, originally published in 1942. Occasionally, Fort Stevens was cited and information provided about a few others. Even after the Government reacquired the forts for parks, few guidebooks discussed them. Below are a few of the better or more interesting guidebook accounts of the fortifications, taken from the limited selections that are available. [40]

  • "Some Forts of the Civil War—At Brightwood, in plain view from the street cars on Georgia Ave., on the west are the crumbling parapets of Fort Stevens, the only battlefield in the district during the Civil War. Here was stayed the advance of the Confederate forces, and here Lincoln stood under fire during the attacks, repeatedly exposing himself to the fire of the sharpshooters. The site was marked by a memorial bowlder (sic!) in 1912, and was further marked in 1920, with a bronze tablet by the survivors of the Sixth Army Corps. In the little cemetery by the Methodist church, now known as Battle Cemetery were buried those killed in the attack. [41]

  • "Fort De Russey is located on high ground northwest of the intersection of Military and Daniels Roads. The old dirt ramparts with their niches for artillery pieces are well preserved, and the old moat still surrounds the fort, although during the past sixty years many trees have grown up on the walls and in the fort proper." [42]

  • "Today, Fort Stevens is only a small open space with a flagpole, marker, and a few of the once numerous ramparts." [43]

  • "The extensive earthworks of Fort Sumner and Battery Benson will interest the history-minded pilgrim." [44]

Even today, few of the general Washington, D. C. guidebooks address the Civil War Defenses of Washington. The demand for information has grown, however, as Americans and many foreigners are increasingly visiting historical sites in the United States, especially those relating to the Civil War. So, in the last few decades, coverage of the Civil War Defenses of Washington in specific guidebooks has improved. Following are citations to the Civil War Defense of Washington fortification related guidebooks. David V. Miller's privately printed The Defense of Washington During the Civil War (Buffalo, New York: Mr. Copy, 1976) is the first modern guide to the Civil War Defenses of Washington. But the later published. Mr. Lincoln 's Forts: A Guide to the Civil War Defenses of Washington. (Shippensburg, PA: White Mane Publishing Company, 1988), by Benjamin Franklin Cooling, III and Walton H. Owen, II, is the best available at this time.

Other useful guides are Richard M. Lee, Mr. Lincoln's City: An Illustrated Guide to the Civil War Sites of Washington (McLean, VA: EPM Publications, Inc., 1981), Stephen M. Forman, A Guide to Civil War Washington (Washington, DC: Elliott & Clark Publishers, 1995), Charles T. Jacobs, Civil War Guide to Montgomery County, Maryland (Rockville, MD: The Montgomery County Historical Society and the Montgomery County Civil War Round Table, 1983) and James I. Robertson, Jr., Civil War Sites in Virginia: A Tour Guide (Charlottesville, VA: The University Press of Virginia, 1982).

Although many of the Civil War Defenses of Washington fortifications are gone or poorly preserved, their memory lives on in the commercial, educational, recreational, religious, transportation and residential activities of the nation's capital. Commercially, there is a Fort Carroll Delicatessen, Fort Davis Exxon, Fort Dupont Ice Rink, Fort Foote Computer Services, Fort Lincoln Beauty Boutique, Fort Stevens Liquor, Fort Totten Auto Sales, and Fort Worth Mortgage Corporation. Children can attend Fort Lincoln School or Fort Baker Kiddie Kollege. Those who wish, can attend Fort Baptist Church and/or be buried at Fort Lincoln Cemetery. One can live in Fort Greble Apartments, Fort Lincoln Senior Citizen's Village or Fort Ellsworth Condominium or on Fort Drive, Fort Williams Avenue, Fort Worth Place, Battery Heights Boulevard, or Fort Dupont Terrace. Or anyone can catch the Metro at Fort Totten Station or catch a bus that includes one of the former fort names in its final destination. Thus, although many of the fortifications in the Civil War Defenses of Washington are gone or in a terrible state of preservation, they live on, even today, in billboards, marquee and street signs. [45]

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Last Updated: 29-Oct-2004