Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Meridian Hill Park

Meridian Hill Park includes this beautiful stepped fountain. Built in the 1930s, it utilized concrete conglomerate--considered an innovative medium for sculpture and park fountains at the time.

Originally the site of a mansion built by John Porter, Meridian Hill Park in northwest Washington lies exactly on the meridian line surveyed by Benjamin Banneker in Jones Point, Virginia, in 1791 thereby setting the first official boundary stone for the District of Columbia.

In the 19th century, the park was the site of Columbia College, which later became The George Washington University. During the Civil War, Union soldiers camped on Meridian Hill. In the early 20th century, the land was bought by the U.S. government and plans were drawn up for a formal garden park meant to rival the royal parks and gardens of Europe. In 1933, the grounds were transferred to the National Park Service (NPS) and in 1936, the park was completed. In 1969, it was suppose to be renamed Malcolm X Park, but Congress wouldn't ratify the name. Still, some long-time residents of the city refer to it as such, while most newer residents continue to call it Meridian Hill.

The park includes statues of James Buchanan, 15th POTUS; Dante Allegri;
and Joan D'Arc. (Click on images to enlarge.)

For many years, the park was a lovely oasis in the city, but in the 1970s and 80s, Meridian Hill fell prey to crime and the drug trade. Open air dealing was not an uncommon site and the area was considered unsafe, especially after sunset. In 1990, a group of citizens banded together to form the "Friends of Meridian Hill Park" after a teenager was murdered in the park. Their work, in conjunction with the NPS, has restored the park to its former glory. Today, the park is again a clean, relatively safe gathering place for residents and visitors.

The stepped fountain as seen from the terrace above. Note in the distance,
the Washington Monument peeking over the top of the apartment building in the foreground.

The park features a beautiful, cascading water fountain and statues of President James Buchanan, Dante Allegri, Joan D'Arc, and an unusual memorial to an unknown Naval officer, William Schvelte. There is also a pavilion on the northeast side of the park and a temporary stage structure on the terrace above the water fountain. It is there during the summer months that a group of musicians congregate and beat their drums on Sundays.

Photo copyright: D.C. Confidential, 6/08


Hilda said...

Beautiful park! I'm so glad the residents got it back for themselves.

Anonymous said...

Hilda: Thanks! I am, too. I just wish there were more parks like this one in the city!

Maya said...

What a beautiful park! I'm glad they cleaned it up. It's so sad that this happens to so many nice parks in our country.

Janet Kincaid said...

Maya: I agree. Seems education, the arts, and parks always get the short end of the funding, while defense, law enforcement, and earmarks get all kinds of money.

Anonymous said...

It truly is a lovely park...

I used to buy marijuana from the Jamaicans in the park back in the late eighties. It really wasn't that bad back then.

I visit there now from time to time and appreciate it for its beauty.

I buy my pot elsewhere now.

Janet Kincaid said...

Anon: It is a lovely park. Glad you have good memories of it!

Don Leaman said...

As I write this I am looking at a letter written by my great great uncle Private John J. Waters of Company G of the 9th New Jersey Volunteer Infantry of the Union Army. He wrote this letter on December 26, 1861 while encamped at Meridian Hill. In the letter he writes of the excellent Christmas dinner they had which was topped off by the best bread pudding that he ever had. He also mentions that he will be sending money home to his family in Elizabeth New Jersey. He will write again when he can and encourages his family to write to him. In May of 1862 he fought in the battle of Drury's Bluff just outside Richmond. He was captured and sent to Andersonville prison camp in Georgia where he died on Sept. 11,1864. I think I would like to visit the park.