Map of the Week Vol. 12 – Topographical sketch of the environs of DC from 1867

Click map to enlarge. Source: Library of Congress

Map of the Week is written by David A., a systems librarian and map geek living in Mt. Pleasant. David previously wrote about Washington, the beautiful capital of the nation – 1922.

Title: Topographical sketch of the environs of Washington, D.C. : (survey of locality for public park & site for a presidential mansion), 1867

This shaded relief map of present-day Rock Creek Park and surrounding lands comes from an 1867 survey ordered by the U.S. Senate in 1866. Michler’s map does a great job illustrating the rolling altitude of the northern part of the District. Aside from topographical features, the map includes some cadastral information (land holdings) and some road names.

Rock Creek Park did not come into being until 1890, but this map had a role in its beginnings. The U.S. Senate commissioned it out of dissatisfaction with the White House building and the desire for more park land.  Rock Creek Park: An Administrative History, by Barry Mackintosh, tells the story:

On June 25, 1866, the United States Senate directed its Committee on Public Buildings and Grounds “to inquire whether a tract of land of not less than three hundred and fifty acres, adjoining, or very near this city, can be obtained for a park and site for a presidential mansion, which shall combine convenience of access, healthfulness, good water, and capability of adornment.” Sensing that it may have overly limited its options, the Senate passed another resolution five days later lowering the minimum size to 100 acres. Then realizing the need for professional landscape gardener or topographical engineer to examine the different tracts of land offered to the committee” and to report on their suitability for the desired purpose.

Like many of the other maps featured in this series, this map includes a race course. The Piney Branch Race Course sat not far from the present-day Rock Creek Park Tennis Center. T. Rohr’s Piney Branch Hotel served visitors to the track. An 1865 ad in the Daily National Republican newspaper boasted the following event at the race course:


13 Comment

  • Coming soon: a DC ironic sack race league, complete with team names like “sad sacks” and “sack it to me”.

  • I so wish I could get super high resolution! I think I can tell where Spring Road is and thus get a close approximation for where our house is. By looking at the name of the farm there then, it could give us the sought-after name for the house.

    • Click the link to the Library of Congress to get the highest resolution version.

    • andy

      I think it might be “Weinberger.”

      You want to have Weinberger Estates or something?

      • It looks like it could be on AS Sturdivam’s property. I wonder if I am visualizing the overlay correctly. I love this stuff. And yep, the idea would be to name out little rowhouse “_____” Estates. For fun, you know? With the help of the historical society, I found the name of the first owner and his history. Neat.

  • I’ve long wondered about the collection of substantial buildings at the NE point of the Meridian Hill property. The properties immediately to the east were Union soldier camps. I’m pretty sure contrabands (freed slaves) camped next door on the MH property for protection and to serve the Union camps. After the war the military camps were removed, but what about the contrabands? I think they stayed, at least for a while. MH was subdivided in 1867 as a working-class black neighborhood, so perhaps they stayed a little longer.

    PS Please don’t name your house.

    PPS 20-somethings co-ed sack racing -> drinking -> hooking up. Where is the irony?

  • andy

    This is AWESOME, the map I had been hoping for of all the hydrology of Rock Creek Park and its tributaries. Thank you!

    Great detail is available at the highest resolution. I think we must live on the former F. Osborne property.

    It makes me think Piney Branch must have been graded pretty significantly to allow building all the way down to what used to be the stream bed.

    You can also see how what is now Spring Road at some point led along a stream path as well, which makes sense given the name.

    You can see how Rock Creek Park consists of the remainder of that large forested area. If it had been farms, I wonder if there ever would have been a park to be created there.

    • I always figured the topography around Rock Creek made the area fairly unattractive for farming, while the rocks and water flow attracted the quarries and waterwheel-driven grist mills that were right along the creek before the park was established.

      Although I’ve always wondered about Quarry Road in Lanier Heights, parts of which are still around and part of which was subsumed by Harvard Street when Harvard Street was extended down to the zoo around the turn of the 20th century. A couple of parts of Quarry Road are just steps now — did people actually have to get horse-drawn carts full of stone up and down a rutted dirt road there at some point?

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