• Great Falls of the Potomac in summer

    Great Falls

    Park Virginia

There are park alerts in effect.
show Alerts »
  • Trash Free Park

    Great Falls Park is now a trash free park. Trash cans have been removed. Please come prepared to carry your trash out with you. More »

  • River Safety

    Learn more about how to stay safe around the Potomac. The Potomac has dangerous currents and going into the river is not permitted. Swimming and wading could cost you your life. Stay safe. Stay out of the river. More »

Chronology of the Great Falls

The chronology chart offers a snapshot of historical events and people at Great Falls. Over ten thousand years of human history can be experienced here.
 

10,500 BC

Paleo-Indians were the first people known to inhabit the area.

8000 BC-
1700

The area around Great Falls served as a meeting place for Native Americans, especially members of the Powhatan Confederacy and the Iroquois Nation.

1649

King Charles II of England gave all the land between the Rappahanock and Potomac rivers to seven Englishmen as property.

1719

Thomas (6th Baron) Lord Fairfax inherited the property.

1737

Thomas Lord Fairfax set aside 12,588 acres in the area of Great Falls for himself.

1759

Bryan (8th Baron) Lord Fairfax (close friend of George Washington) received some of the land near Great Falls from his cousin, Thomas Lord Fairfax.

1785-1828

The Patowmack Canal Company constructed and operated at Great Falls one of five skirting canals designed to make the Potomac River navigable to the Ohio River Valley. The town of Matildaville (chartered in 1790) served as headquarters for the Company and home for the workers. The company went bankrupt and turned over its assets to the newly formed Chesapeake and Ohio Canal company in 1828.

1833

Much of the property that is now Great Falls Park was acquired by Albert Fairfax and later sold at auction to pay debts. It was purchased by three men: Hall Neilson, Thomas C. Jones, and William A. Bradley.

1839

Neilson, Jones, and Bradley organized the Great Falls Manufacturing Company to develop a large textile milling operation utilizing water power from the river. They re-chartered Matildaville as South Lowell, modeling it after the textile mill town of Lowell, Massachusetts.

1855-1867

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers constructed the Aqueduct Dam (the park's northern boundary) to supply water for the District of Columbia.

1895-1900

The Great Falls Manufacturing Company was reorganized as the Great Falls Power Company in order to develop hydroelectric power, but later sold out to the Potomac Electric and Power Company.

1906

Great Falls Amusement Park opened and a light rail line was built from Georgetown to Great Falls. The rail line eventually merged with the Washington and Old Dominion Railroad.

1912

The Daughters of the American Revolution placed a brass plaque on a boulder overlooking the falls, to honor George Washington.

1930

Congress enacted the Capper-Crampton Act, which established the George Washington Memorial Parkway. It included a provision that Great Falls Park would eventually be included to provide protection and preservation for the historic Patowmack Canal and the natural scenery.

1947-1952

Potomac Edison Power Company (PEPCO) became the sole owner of about 800 acres of the area. The Washington and Old Dominion Railroad continued to own and operate the amusement park until 1952.

1952

Fairfax County purchased 16 acres from the railroad. These 16 acres became the county's first park land. The owner of the original carousel dismantled and sold it because he "did not want to work for the county." Another carousel began operation in 1954 and continued operations until 1972, when it was destroyed by Hurricane Agnes.

1956

The Nature Conservancy made efforts to explore ways to preserve the area still owned by PEPCO.

1958

Fairfax County planned to condemn the PEPCO property with intentions of starting a county park.

1960

The National Park Service (NPS) leased the property from PEPCO and the land was administered jointly by the NPS and Fairfax County.

1965

The NPS was authorized to acquire 783 acres at Great Falls. The NPS signed an agreement with Fairfax County to acquire the County's 16 acres.

1966

NPS acquired the Great Falls land and started operations of Great Falls Park as a unit of the George Washington Memorial Parkway.

1969

The Patomack Canal Historic District was designated a National Civil Engineering Landmark by the American Society of Civil Engineers. A commemorative brass plaque was placed on a boulder next to Lock 1 of the Canal.

1983

The ruins of the Patowmack Canal and Matildaville were declared a National Historic Landmark by the Secretary of the Interior.

Did You Know?

Turkey vulture in flight

Those big black birds you see flying above Great Falls Park are usually vultures. Turkey vultures, like the one in the photo, have red heads. The smaller black vulture's white wingtips are easily seen in flight.