Rock Creek and Potomac Parkway
The idea of turning lower Rock Creek valley into an attractive driveway dates to 1867, when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers suggested building avenues along the creek to provide access to a spacious suburban park. When Rock Creek Park was finally created, however, most of the valley south of the zoo remained in private hands. An informal bridle path led from P Street to the zoo, but the only way to reach the park from downtown Washington was through busy and poorly maintained city streets.
By the end of the nineteenth century, lower Rock Creek valley had become an eyesore and public health hazard. The area between the zoo and Q Street remained attractively wooded, but below P Street the valley served as a sewer and public dumping ground. Towering banks of ashes, construction debris, and rubbish choked the valley. Cheap wood houses and tenements crowded the banks between M and P streets. Coal heaps, gas tanks, and small factories lined the Potomac waterfront between the creek mouth and Potomac Park.
Beginning in the 1880s, a group of Georgetown citizens promoted the idea of enclosing Rock Creek in a tunnel and filling in the valley between Washington and Georgetown so that a formal boulevard could be built over the old creek bed. At the same time, the Washington Board of Trade and other park supporters advocated restoring the valley to create a picturesque parkway containing a bridle path and winding carriage drive. The 1901 Senate Park Commission examined both schemes and recommended the restored valley plan "on the grounds of economy, safety, and beauty."
The commission's opinion did not end the argument, however. After several more studies and lengthy congressional debates, Rock Creek and Potomac Parkway was finally created by Congress on March 14, 1913, making it the first federally authorized parkway.
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