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Top Three History Facts about Rock Creek (Before it was Rock Creek)

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Birthdays are a time for reflection, and with Rock Creek Park’s 127th anniversary coming up later this month (September 27, 1890), there is, in fact, much to be content about this year.

For instance, after decades of planning and securing funding, Beach Drive began being repaved. As a bicyclist, I am particularly excited about this—no more rough road! Additionally, after 25 years of debate, Klingle Valley Park reopened, this time in the form of a cleaner stream courtesy of the green infrastructure along its length, and with a paved trail rather than roadway. Way before the year 2017 though, even before Rock Creek Park was established in 1890, there were several important years that contributed to the Rock Creek Valley’s rich heritage.

John Burroughs 1909 3

Portrait of John Burroughs
Source: Library of Congress

1868 – Birding with Burroughs

During this year, renowned naturalist and nature writer John Burroughs spent ample time wandering over the hills and dales of the future Rock Creek Park. He studied the birds and wildflowers, specifically in the Piney Branch tributary. Among other things, Burroughs noted several species of warblers inhabiting practically “every branch and leaf, from the tallest tulip to the lowest spice-bush.”

Today, Piney Branch tributary is an area of the park that needs a lot of help. This year’s National Public Lands Day event will be centered there National Public Lands Day event will be centered there, bringing in upwards of 70 volunteers to remove invasive plants and clean up trash. Burroughs would have approved of this event, which is occurring on the same day as Rock Creek Park Day.


Godeys Lime Kilns Resized
Ruins of Godey's Lime Kilns
Source: Library of Congress

1875 – A Time for Lime 

Ever wondered about the ruins that dot the landscape at the southern stretch of the Rock Creek and Potomac Parkway? These old brick structures date back to the newly industrial Georgetown of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, a Georgetown in which lime Kilns and the quicklime they produced were an essential part of DC life. These ruins are Godey’s Lime Kilns.

Owned and operated by the Godey family from the 1850s to the 1900s, 1875 was perhaps the heyday of the industry. Limestone was quarried near Harpers Ferry, floated down the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal, and then melted into quicklime over the course of three days and three nights inside the lime kilns. The liquid-like quicklime that Godey’s Lime Kilns produced was then utilized as the key ingredient in cement-making, whitewashing, plastering, and more


Burial Grounds at Walter Pierce Cemeteries

1904 map of the area that makes up African American Cemetery at Mt.Pleasant Plains Cemetery and the development around it. 
Source: Mt. Pleasant Plains Cemetery at Walter Pierce Park 

1880 – Hidden African American Cemetery


Imagine going to a trash clean-up and finding a human bone! Well, that’s exactly what happened in 2001 to a group of volunteers in an unassuming park in Adams Morgan. The finding led to the rediscovery of the Mt. Pleasant Plains Cemetery after decades of disregard, disrepair, and disrespect.

The Mt. Pleasant Plains Cemetery, perhaps the largest African American burial ground in DC history, was in operation from 1870 - 1890. Since its rediscovery, archeologists and historians have worked tirelessly studying (and protecting) this fascinating site where thousands of people, including Civil War veterans and former slaves, are permanently interred. It is located on Rock Creek and Potomac Parkway land, National Zoo property, and the District-administered Walter Peirce Park. 


Discover Rock Creek!
Learn more about the special place called Rock Creek Park on Rock Creek Park Day, taking place this year on Saturday, September 30th. For details about this event, contact the National Park Service at 202-895-6070 or visit

About Scott:

This is the first in a series of blogs by Scott Einberger, the project manager for Rock Creek Conservancy’s downspout disconnection program. An environmental historian and former Rock Creek Park employee, Scott is the author of A History of Rock Creek Park: Wilderness and Washington, DC. He is currently working on a new edition, while his second book, an environmental biography of Stewart Udall, is due out in June 2018 with the University of Nevada Press.


Tags: Rock Creek History Lists History Scott Einberger

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