George Washington Memorial Parkway
Virginia, Maryland, Washington, D.C.
The first proposal for a national road from Washington to Mount Vernon originated with a group of Alexandria businessmen during the 1880s. Mixing patriotism with local boosterism, the Mount Vernon Avenue Association lobbied the federal government to build a grand formal boulevard lined with imposing statues and memorials. The proposed avenue would follow the high ground between Arlington Cemetery and Mount Vernon, providing panoramic views of the surrounding countryside and avoiding the marshes and estuaries of the Potomac River. Each state would be granted a section to decorate with monuments honoring its most famous citizens. Statues of presidents and vice-presidents would line the roadway near Arlington Cemetery. Supporters cast the avenue as "an American Appian Way or Westminster Abbey" that would remind Americans of their noblest achievements and inspire future generations to even greater heights of civic and military glory.
Congress ignored the more grandiose aspects of this proposal, but in 1889 it ordered the Army Corps of Engineers to study the possibility of linking Washington and Mount Vernon with a formal, tree-lined boulevard. The engineers produced detailed surveys for several alternate routes, along with plans for bridges and landscape treatment. The 1901 Senate Park Commission also endorsed the idea of a national road to Mount Vernon, but provided no specific suggestions for landscape development.
While these early proposals had little immediate effect, they laid the groundwork for the creation of Mount Vernon Memorial Highway and George Washington Memorial Parkway. The exuberant patriotic rhetoric was eventually toned down, but historic and commemorative concerns strongly influenced twentieth-century parkway designers.
Construction of the Washington, Alexandria & Mount Vernon Electric Railway between 1892 and 1896 side tracked the avenue project and dealt the original avenue association a blow from which it never recovered. The trolley was cheap, convenient, and enormously popular, immediately replacing the steamboat as the preferred means of visiting Mount Vernon. Local riders also used it to commute to Washington and picnic along the Potomac River.
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