George Washington Memorial Parkway
Virginia, Maryland, Washington, D.C.
George Washington Memorial Parkway is an important landmark in the history of American park development and highway design. The parkway serves as a memorial to the nation's first president, preserves invaluable historic, recreational and natural resources along the Potomac River, and performs a vital role in the transportation system of the nation's capital. It contains over 7,000 acres of park land and almost 40 miles of scenic roadways. The parkway also encompasses a variety of recreational facilities, two wildlife refuges, numerous historic sites, and an array of civic and military memorials.
George Washington Memorial Parkway was built in stages between 1929 and 1970. The first segment, Mount Vernon Memorial Highway, stretches from Arlington Memorial Bridge to Mount Vernon and was completed in 1932. As the first modern motorway built by the federal government, it popularized advanced highway engineering and landscape design features and strongly influenced parkway and highway construction throughout the country.
The northern sections of George Washington Memorial Parkway were mostly completed in the 1950s-1960s and were also considered masterful examples of parkway design. The roads in these later sections are distinguished by their broader width, continuous medians, more sweeping curves, and soaring concrete bridges. In 1989 the Maryland road segment was renamed Clara Barton Parkway in honor of the founder of the American Red Cross, whose house is preserved near the parkway at Glen Echo.
Mount Vernon was a popular tourist destination long before the invention of the automobile. Many visitors journeyed to Mount Vernon during Washington's lifetime. Tourist traffic increased after his death in 1799, as the estate passed through the hands of various relatives and gradually fell into disrepair. It was purchased by the Mount Vernon Ladies' Association in 1858, restored, and officially opened to the public. The trip became more popular after the Civil War, when regular steamboat service from Washington enabled visitors to bypass the region's notoriously poor roads.
Nineteenth-century Americans regarded Mount Vernon as a national shrine. The journey to Mount Vernon was cast as a patriotic pilgrimage that would improve the visitor's character and strengthen the nation by fostering greater appreciation for the ideas, events, and values of the early republic. Popular magazines and tourist guidebooks recounted the lore and legend of Mount Vernon and the surrounding area, celebrating Alexandria as Washington's "home town" and characterizing the old estate as "the Nation's Shrine," "The Mecca of America," and "The Home and Tomb of the Immortal Washington." Senator Leland Stanford captured the spirit of the era, declaring it "a sacred duty of all Americans to visit Mount Vernon, as they leave that sacred spot purer and more patriotic American citizens."
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