A Different Struggle at the US Capitol: Botanic Gardens vs. Senate Park Commission

CHRS Preservation Cafe Looks at the Botanic Gardens Stubborn Resistance to the 1902 Plan

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Botanic Gardens 1887. Courtesy: CHRS

UPDATED MARCH 16: This presentation will be postponed until March 24. All other details remain the same. CHRS has apologized for any inconvenience

Throughout the first quarter of the 20th century there was a different struggle that took place at the foot of the US Capitol—Washington’s planners versus the Botanic Garden.

Historian Matthew Gilmore, will present “The Botanic Gardens and the Senate Park Commission: Three Decades of Controversy” at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, March 17.

The Senate Park Commission (or McMillan) Plan of 1902 was a design to utterly transform the Mall into a single, unified composition. All the individual segments from the Washington Monument eastward would be brought into harmony, unifying the agriculture, Smithsonian, Armory and Botanic Gardens grounds.

Best intentions, stubborn bureaucracy, limited funding, political feuding, and memorial trees all stood in the way of that goal. The most resistant was the Botanic Gardens, led by William R. Smith.

The area adjacent was getting crowded. The Grant Memorial was placed to head the Mall, elbowing into the gardens. The Meade memorial took its place at Pennsylvania Avenue and Third Street NW—looking in vain to a companion memorial where the gardens still sat. It was not until 1927 that the gardens gave way, moving just a block south (the Batholdi fountain moved too). Transformations continued until the 1970s, giving us the landscape of today.

Botanic Gardens Interior 1860-1930. Courtesy CHRS

 

Botanic Garden Conservatory 1865, Courtesy CHRS

 

 

 

 

Matthew Gilmore is an independent scholar who specializes in the history of Washington, DC and the metro area. He has published several books and articles on a wide variety of topics related to DC history. He is the editor of the H-DC discussion list and blogs on Washington history and related subjects at matthew gilmore.wordpress. com. He also served as reference librarian at the Washingtoniana Division of the DC Public Library for many years.

The presentation will be followed by a brief Membership Meeting which will include a report from the Elections Committee.

Visit https://chrs.org/botanic-gardens-pc/ for the WebEx link and call-in information.  We recommend that you allow a few minutes to establish the WebEx session prior to the presentation and the you don’t use the Safari browser.

 

CHRS Preservation Cafes are free to CHRS members and non members. You should consider joining CHRS!