George Mason Memorial Cultural Landscape

The words “George Mason 1725-1792 Author of America’s First Bill of Rights” are engraved on the edge of a rounded concrete turf planter at the entrance of the George Mason Memorial. A sidewalk, manicured shrubs, and low trees surround the planter.
Entrance to the George Mason Memorial in November 2022.

NPS / National Capital Region Cultural Landscapes Program


The George Mason Memorial is a historic designed landscape located in West Potomac Park along the southern edge of the Tidal Basin in downtown Washington, D.C. Since original development at the turn of the twentieth century, the garden has been widely known for its brilliant floral blooms. Today, the memorial and associated garden encompasses a historic water fountain (constructed in 1905) surrounded by concentric rings of flower beds, a circular pathway, and a monument to George Mason. Historically referred to as Fountain No. 4 or the Pansy Garden, the area was renamed for George Mason in 2002.

George Mason was a Virginian politician in the latter half of the eighteenth century and the author of the Virginia Declaration of Rights, which influenced Thomas Jefferson while drafting the Declaration of Independence. Mason served as a delegate to the 1787 Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Despite enslaving over 300 people on his plantation, Mason withheld his signature from the U.S. Constitution because it did not abolish the slave trade or afford protections for the individual from the federal government.

Landscape Overview

The George Mason Memorial cultural landscape is a 3.68-acre, tear drop-shaped site located along the Potomac River in West Potomac Park. It is south of the Tidal Basin, southwest of the Thomas Jefferson Memorial and bordered by Ohio Drive SW to the west, East Basin Drive SW to the north, and Interstate 395 to the south. The East and West Potomac Parks Historic District and the National Mall Historic District include the memorial as a contributing resource. The George Mason Memorial was the first of its kind on the National Mall, a commemorative work paid entirely by sponsors dedicated to someone other than a president. Possessing exceptional significance as the nation’s preeminent commemoration of George Mason, the memorial also incorporates early park features into its design and serves as a peaceful urban retreat.

The future site of the George Mason Memorial is marked by a black circle on the bottom of a sepia-toned map, located at the southern edge of the Tidal Basin. The map is a 1792 L’Enfant Plan of Washington showing plans for improvements to the National Mall
1900 map depicting the L'Enfant plan with the site of the future George Mason Memorial circled in black (bottom center). This map also shows how city planners intended to change the Potomac waterfront.

Corps of Engineers, U.S. Army, Office of Public Buildings and Grounds. Library of Congress.

Landscape History Summary

The waterfront in Washington, D.C. has changed immensely from when the city was first planned. Pierre L’Enfant was confronted by swampy mud flats on the Potomac River’s shore when he first laid out the plan for the District of Columbia in 1791. L’Enfant’s final plan placed the executive and legislative branches along axes that intersected at a point on the Potomac shoreline where a memorial to George Washington was to be built. Along these axes was an open space, which would come to be known as the National Mall. The desire for additional lands continued to dramatically alter the District of Columbia’s waterfront throughout much of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. In the 1880s, the US Army Corps of Engineers undertook several land reclamation projects in the Potomac River, creating 739 acres of new land. In 1897, Congress designated 621 acres of reclaimed land and 118 acres of the Tidal Basin as Potomac Park.

Five years later, in 1902, the McMillan Plan designated the area surrounding the Tidal Basin for recreation. Low vegetation that had grown on the island since completion of the land reclamation project had to be cleared before work could begin. The area that would become the George Mason Memorial was planted with flowering shrubs and by 1905 four concrete fountains had been constructed southeast of the Tidal Basin near Long Bridge. These fountains were arranged in a linear fashion with Fountain No. 4 being the northernmost and closest to the Tidal Basin. The southernmost three fountains were later incorporated in a rose garden.

In 1909, the Tidal Basin Inlet Bridge opened allowing foot, motor, and equestrian traffic to flow around the Tidal Basin. The Office of Public Buildings and Public Parks of the National Capital designated the space around Fountain No. 4 as a flower display area in 1931, formalizing it as the pansy garden. Construction began on the nearby Thomas Jefferson Memorial in 1938 and continued until 1943. The southernmost three fountains and associated rose gardens were demolished in 1947 to allow for the construction of the Rochambeau Memorial Bridge, which began that same year and finished in 1950. The George Mason Memorial Bridge was constructed between 1960 and 1962, adjacent to Fountain No. 4 and the pansy garden. Between 1965 and 1966, the pansy garden was improved through the introduction of new flowers, shrubs, and trees at the site as part of Lady Bird Johnson’s Beautification Program. The area around Fountain No. 4 continued to be used as a garden, but the number of pansies gradually declined in the decades that followed.

A round fountain is surrounded by a circular walkway and flower beds in the 1930s. A variety of trees line the edge of the garden and Ohio Drive extends into the background.
View looking northwest of the pansy garden and Fountain No. 4, ca. 1933-36.

National Archives

In the early 1990s, the Board of Regents of Gunston Hall began advocating for a memorial to George Mason to be constructed on the National Mall. In 1991, Fountain No. 4 and its surrounding garden were selected as the proposed future site of the memorial. By 1995, the site had been approved by the Board of Regents of Gunston Hall, the National Capital Memorial Advisory Commission, the Commission of Fine Arts, and the National Capital Planning Commission. The landscape architecture firm of Rhodeside Harwell of Alexandria, Virginia, was selected to design the George Mason Memorial. Design work continued throughout the rest of the decade and an official groundbreaking ceremony was held on October 18, 2000. The George Mason Memorial was dedicated on April 9, 2002.

A rehabilitation of the George Mason Memorial was undertaken between 2017 and 2019. During the rehabilitation, the memorial was cleaned, existing plantings were pruned, dead plants were removed, and new plants were added to the flower beds. Fountain No. 4 received new water jets and a new recirculation system to help prevent algae buildup. These improvements have ensured that the George Mason Memorial will continue to serve as a place of recreation for years to come.

The George Mason statue is a man reclined with crossed legs on a stone bench, holding a book, with tricorn hat, cane, and books on the bench to either side. Stone columns flank the bench and rise to a wooden trellis overhead.
The George Mason Memorial bench and statue in November 2020.

NPS / NCR Cultural Landscapes Program

Existing Conditions

Trees with pink blooms and a golden yellow forsythia hedge form a perimeter around a round fountain, circular walkway, and turf of the George Mason Memorial.
View overlooking the George Mason Memorial from behind in the spring with flowers blooming.

NPS / NCR Cultural Landscapes Program (March 2021)

The George Mason Memorial has one entrance, located at its northwest corner at the intersection of Ohio Drive SW and East Basin Drive SW. At the entrance, visitors are greeted with a low concrete wall surrounding an oblong turf planter with the words “GEORGE MASON 1725-1792 AUTHOR OF AMERICA’S FIRST BILL OF RIGHTS” carved into the face. Two paths, on either side of the planter, lead the visitor into a well-manicured garden designed in concentric circles around a circular fountain. To the rear of the garden sits the larger-than-life statue of George Mason, with his tricorn hat, walking stick, and stack of books resting at his side on a bench shaded by a trellis. The statue depicts Mason as if in deep thought looking towards the Tidal Basin, the Thomas Jefferson Memorial, and the Washington Monument beyond.

Visitors today will find the George Mason Memorial an intimate, secluded oasis in the bustle of downtown Washington, D.C. The trellis and bench provide a shaded resting place for visitors to take in the views of the Potomac River, the Inlet Bridge, and the beautiful landscape around them. Screened from the traffic by a mix of trees and shrubs, the memorial offers pleasing sights in all seasons. In the spring, bright blossoms paint the garden in dazzling colors; in the summer, the trees, shrubs, and flowers are vibrant greens; in autumn the garden becomes coated in the deep yellows, oranges, and reds of falling leaves; while in the winter, with many trees bare, visitors are offered nearly uninterrupted views of the Potomac River, Tidal Basin, Thomas Jefferson Memorial, and Washington Monument.

The garden landscape of the George Mason Memorial has changed little from its inception. Fountain No. 4, one of the oldest features in West Potomac Park, appears much the same as it did in 1905. The surrounding flower beds, though planted with different varieties of flowers throughout their history, have also remained a constant through time. The Inlet Bridge, an important transportation link when constructed, remains a well-travelled route utilized by thousands of people every day. While the George Mason Memorial is a relatively new addition to this landscape, it is compatible with the historic character of the garden and fountain and serves as a welcome addition to the site. Its human-scale is more approachable than other nearby, well-known monuments. When visitors enter the memorial, they are not overwhelmed by soaring architecture or statues, but instead, find a slightly oversized statue of George Mason. One could surmise that the figure of Mason at rest and in contemplation in the garden is representative of the experience of tens of thousands of people who have enjoyed visiting this place over the past century.

Flower beds, a low hedge, a trees of the George Mason Memorial with the Tidal Basin and Washington Monument in the background.
View towards the Washington Monument in October 2020.

NPS / NCR Cultural Landscapes Program

Quick Facts

  • Cultural Landscape Type: Designed

  • National Register Significance Level: Local, National

  • National Register Criteria: A, C

    • A (National/Local) in the areas of politics/government and entertainment/recreation

    • C (National) in the areas of landscape architecture, engineering, and community planning and development

  • Period of Significance: 1791-2002, 1791-1965

    • 1791-2002 beginning with the L’Enfant Plan and ending with official dedication of George Mason Memorial on April 9, 2002

    • 1791-1965 beginning with the L’Enfant Plan and ending 50 years before the 2016 national register nomination update was submitted

George Mason Memorial: 1951 to 2023

Aerial image of memorial landscape with round fountain and garden, thick canopy of trees, highway bridge over the river to the left, and cleared area to the right. Aerial image of memorial landscape with round fountain and garden, thick canopy of trees, highway bridge over the river to the left, and cleared area to the right.

Left image
George Mason Memorial in 1951
Credit: USGS Earth Explorer

Right image
George Mason Memorial in 2023
Credit: Google Earth

National Mall and Memorial Parks

Last updated: September 1, 2023