Fort Washington Park

During its lengthy occupation as a military installation, Fort Washington was the most important defensive work protecting Washington, DC from seaborne attack via the Potomac River. When the large masonry fortification was completed in 1824, it replaced the earlier Fort Warburton, which had been destroyed during the War of 1812. At the recommendation of the Endicott Board, Fort Washington's defenses were expanded and modernized beginning in 1891. Many of the defensive and support facilities survive in Fort Washington Park, incorporating elements from two successive eras of coastal fortifications and standing as an example of the development of coastal military defenses.
A tall archway opens through a red brick gatehouse in a brick wall
Gatehouse at Fort Washington

NPS Photo

A squat, rectangular lighthouse stands near a large house, with fort walls on the hill beyond
The Light 80 (originally built as a fog bell tower in 1882), and the ca. 1885 lighthouse keeper’s house at Digges’ Point shown in 1912. Note the Endicott period electric lamppost adjacent to the lighthouse

NPS Photo / Fort Washington photo files (in NPS Fort Washington Park Cultural Landscape Inventory report)

Today, Fort Washington Park is a 341-acre historical and recreational area in Prince George’s County, Maryland, just south of Washington, D.C. The Fort Washington cultural landscape's period of historic significance begins in 1808, when the federal government first acquired property at Digges' Point to build a fortification, and continues to 1921, when the final Coast Artillery troops were withdrawn. After that, the post no longer served a defensive role.

The landscape is the former site of Warburton Manor, the Digges's family plantation that predated the fort. After years of negotiation, in 1808, the family sold a portion of the property to the U.S. government for the construction of a fort overlooking the Potomac River in order to help protect the new capital city. Fort Warburton, a component of what is known as the "Second System" of fortifications built to protect the U.S. coast, was completed the following year. The fort was destroyed in August of 1814 after it was assaulted by a British naval squadron.

The more substantial Fort Washington was a brick and stone work, typical of American forts of the "Third" or "Permanent System" of fortifications. When the fort was completed in 1824, it had a system of walls, moats, and outerworks for protection. It was designed to take advantage of the topography, positioned above the river and defended on the landside by a ravine. Forts during this era were intended to operate as relatively self-sufficient communities, and much of the development of the post supported this expectation.

A uniform row of two-story houses lines the edge of a flat, open field
The former large bachelor officer’s quarters (left) and smaller married officers’ quarters, were located in what is now an open field east of the main parking area, 1919.

NARA/Records of the Office of the Chief Signal Officer, #47691 (in NPS Fort Washington Park Cultural Landscape Inventory report)

Leafy trees frame a view of a two-story red brick structure with a wooden porch across its full width and boarded windows.
The Bachelor Quarters remains in its original position from the Endicott Period. Although many of the ancillary buildings from this period have been removed, the layout of the post during that period is easily identifiable.

NPS Photo

At the recommendation of the Board on Fortifications of Other Defenses (Endicott Board), Fort Washington's defenses were expanded and modernized beginning in 1891. Fort Washington Park retains significant physical evidence of its service as an Endicott period Coast Defense installation, representing the period 1890 through 1921. This includes eight artillery batteries; a handful of command/fire-control, residential, and administrative buildings; and a variety of small-scale features. The fort stood as a critical component of the nation's coastal fortification system and the most important defensive work protecting Washington, D.C. from seaborne attack. It continues to represent the development and characteristics of military defense technology during different periods in United States history.

The Fort Washington Park landscape today is a large recreational area, with expansive, well-manicured open spaces interspersed with lightly-wooded picnic areas and mature woodlands. The park landscape retains historical integrity from the various eras in which it served as the principal defensive post protecting the Potomac River access to Washington, D.C.

Quick Facts

  • Cultural Landscape Type: Designed
  • National Register Significance Level: National
  • National Register Significance Criteria: A, C, D
  • Period of Significance: 1808-1921

Last updated: May 22, 2019