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26th President of the United States, 1901-1909
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Theodore Roosevelt Island National Memorial
Washington, DC

Statue of Theodore Roosevelt
Statue of Theodore Roosevelt
National Park Service

The only memorial to the 26th president of the United States in the nation’s capital is a small island in the Potomac River.  An architectural memorial and the restored natural landscape surrounding it together form a living memorial to the man known as the “Great Conservationist.”  Theodore Roosevelt was the first president to make conservation of America’s natural resources a centerpiece of his domestic policy.  For him, wise stewardship of land and wildlife made present and future growth possible.  Almost 230 million acres of land came under the protection of the Federal Government during his term in office.  Architect Eric Gugler and sculptor Paul Manship created the architectural memorial, with its open plaza and larger than life sized statue.  Landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr., and his associate Henry Hubbard, created the plan that still guides maintenance of the memorial landscape.

Located opposite the busy colonial port of Georgetown, the island itself has a long history.  For more than a century, it was "Mason's Island," the home of John Mason, grandson of George Mason of Gunston Hall, and one of the finest farming estates in the region. Stagnant water began to create unhealthy conditions after construction of a causeway to the Virginia shore in 1805, and the Masons departed about 1832.  The island changed hands a number of times before the Theodore Roosevelt Memorial Association bought it in 1931. The association transferred it to the Federal Government the following year to serve as a national memorial to President Theodore Roosevelt.

The Theodore Roosevelt Memorial Association hired the famous landscape firm of Olmsted Brothers to prepare plans for the memorial in May 1932. Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr., assumed primary responsibility for the creation of the plan but received important help from his associate Henry V. Hubbard. The overall goal of the Olmsted plan was the creation of a restored woodland as a living memorial to Theodore Roosevelt.  The woodland was to be “a real forest closely similar in character to the natural primeval forests which once covered this and other of the Potomac islands.” From 1934 to 1937, Olmsted directed the young men of the Civilian Conservation Corps in clearing the island of most non-native vegetation and planting about 20,000 native hardwood trees and shrubs.  Work came to a halt in the late 1930s and did not resume until after World War II.

Approaching Theodore Roosevelt Island
Approaching Theodore Roosevelt Island
National Park Service

The Olmsted design included a site for an architectural memorial.  This memorial was to be located on a terraced hillside at the south end of the island.  The location was the highest point on the low-lying island and had a good view of the Lincoln Memorial and other monumental structures in Washington, DC.  The controversial decision to build a new highway bridge over the southern tip of the island caused the abandonment of plans for this Outlook Plateau in the late 1950s.

Constructed between 1963 and 1967, the present memorial is a large plaza set in a clearing on the northern part of the island. Designed by architect Eric Gugler, it consists of an open granite-paved oval plaza flanked by two pools with fountains.  A water-filled moat spanned by footbridges surrounds the whole area.  Four 21-foot-high granite tablets inscribed with quotations from his writings surround a 17-foot-high bronze statue of Roosevelt.  Executed by sculptor Paul Manship, the statue shows Roosevelt with one armed raised in “characteristic speaking pose.”

The 88-acre natural area of Theodore Roosevelt Island has great diversity, representing three major ecological zones:  upland forest, swamp, and tidal marsh.  Theodore Roosevelt Island is part of the George Washington Memorial Parkway.  The National Park Service still follows the guidelines set forth by Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr. in maintaining the landscape and many of the two and a half-miles of trails are shown on his original plans.

Plan your visit

Theodore Roosevelt Island, located in the Potomac River between VA and the DC, is a unit of the National Park System.  Click here for the National Register of Historic Places file: text and photos. Theodore Roosevelt Island is open every day from dawn until dusk. The island is accessible only from the northbound lanes of the George Washington Memorial Parkway. The entrance to the parking lot is just north of the Roosevelt Bridge. A pedestrian footbridge leads from the parking lot to the island.  The closest Metro station is Rosslyn.  For more information visit the National Park Service Theodore Roosevelt Island National Memorial website or call 703-289-2500.

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