Constitution Gardens

Ducks and geese swim across the surface of the Constitution Gardens Lake. The Washington Monument is visible at a distance and within the glassy reflection of the lake.
The Washington Monument reflected in Constitution Gardens Lake

Constitution Gardens: Cultural Landscapes Inventory, NPS, 2008

Constitution Gardens is considered part of the National Mall area, yet is somewhat hidden from view by grade changes: the 1930s/1940s flood control levee that runs along its south boundary, a low berm along Constitution Avenue on the north, and raised elevations at the east and west. Six years after the park was completed in 1976, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial was built in a meadow at its west end, requiring modification of the grade and planting design. Later, two sculpture groups with additional landscaping were added south of the memorial: the Three Servicemen in 1984, and the Vietnam Women’s Memorial in 1993. East and West Potomac Parks were created in the early 20th century from material that had been dredged from the Potomac River and deposited along its banks to improve navigation.

The reclaimed lands were graded, covered with top soil, seeded with grass, planted with trees, and developed into recreational areas. In the 1930s, an earth-and-concrete flood control levee was erected along the south side of the area. It forms part of a larger legislated flood control project that is still maintained by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the National Park Service. It also protects a large section of Washington from flooding.
From the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, the Washington Monument is seen rising over the west knoll of Constitution Gardens.
From the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, the Washington Monument is seen rising over the west knoll of Constitution Gardens.

CLP, 2008

Constitution Gardens comprises a rectangular site, the eastern half of which gently slopes down to a 6.75-acre lake that has a continuously curving shoreline. Near the north shore of the lake lies a half-acre island. A wooden pedestrian bridge provides access to the island, a memorial landscape dedicated to the 56 Signers of the Declaration of Independence that was designed by landscape architects from EDAW’s Alexandria office. From the bridge, a granite walk leads to a paved semicircular plaza lined on the north side by 56 granite blocks organized into thirteen groups representing each of the original states. Carved into the top of each block is the signature, name, hometown, and occupation of a signer.

Over two thousand (2,654) trees were planted at the time the park was built, in 1975-76, but a large percentage of these soon died because of poor soil conditions and heavy rains; many of the existing trees are replacements. Trees within the park are primarily a mixture of native deciduous species and flowering upland understory species. Because of replacements, the original species composition has been altered and is now more complex. In addition, some planting locations have been altered. Several existing trees were incorporated into the design, mostly at the west end near the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, and at the east end near the Lockkeeper’s House are several trees that pre-date the establishment of Constitution Gardens.
The asphalt walk along Constitution Avenue is flanked on either side by an alee of deciduous trees.
This wide asphalt sidewalk along Constitution Avenue replaced the former Tourmobile drive

CLP, 2007

Running through the park are meandering walks designed for use by pedestrians and cyclists. These are laid out in two large peanut-shaped loops; one follows the shoreline of the lake, the other curves around the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. At the northeast corner of the site stands the historic Lockkeeper's House, built when the Washington City Canal was joined to the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal in the 1830s.

Though secluded from the highly public grounds of the Lincoln Memorial and Washington Monument and the arterial road of Constitution Avenue, Constitution Gardens is tied to these other areas through circulation and views. The statues of the Three Servicemen and the Vietnam Women’s Memorial were placed to provide views from specific locations of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.

Quick Facts

  • Cultural Landscape Type: Designed
  • National Register Significance Level: National
  • National Register Significance Criteria: A,B,C
  • Period of Significance: 1882-1993

Last updated: May 25, 2018