National Capital Region-Greater Washington National Parks-Sites

Presidential Connections to Greater Washington National Parks

Here are a few of the stories of American Presidents and National Parks:

National Mall and Memorial Parks:

The National Mall and Memorial Parks possesses a unique and important presidential legacy. From the 1791 day when President George Washington walked the ground of the emerging capital city to the 2017 inauguration when president-elect Donald Trump descended the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, every President of the United States has visited some element of National Mall and Memorial Parks. This is the only National Park Service unit that can boast of this distinct honor. Click here for information about specific presidential connections to other National Mall and Memorial Parks sites.

National Capital Park-East:

Capitol Hill Parks: includes Lincoln Park, designated as such by Congress in 1867, making this the first area officially named for the fallen leader. On April 14, 1876, a statue of Abraham Lincoln was erected in the park in the presence of Frederick Douglass and President Ulysses S. Grant. The statuary grouping depicts a standing Lincoln holding the Emancipation Proclamation while a kneeling black man with outstretched arms symbolizes the broken bonds of slavery. The latter figure was modeled after Archer Alexander, the last person captured under the Fugitive Slave Act.

Frederick Douglass:

On March 4, 1865, Douglass attended Abraham Lincoln’s second inauguration. Following the inaugural address, he went to the White House to attend the reception in the East Room. Guards attempted to bar his entry because he was black, but Lincoln intervened and Douglass joined the receiving line. When Douglass shook hands with Lincoln, Lincoln remarked that he had seen him in the audience at the inaugural ceremonies and asked his opinion of the address. Douglass replied, “Mr. Lincoln, that was a sacred effort.”

Following Lincoln’s assassination, Mary Todd Lincoln gave Douglass one of Lincoln’s canes which is currently on display in the Visitor Center of Frederick Douglass National Historic Site.

Catoctin Mountain Park:

Camp David, the Presidential Retreat located within Catoctin Mountain Park, is a private, secluded place for recreation, contemplation, rest, and relaxation. It was renamed Camp David after the grandson of President Dwight D. Eisenhower. Many historical events have occurred at the Presidential Retreat: the planning of the Normandy invasion during the presidency of Franklin D. Roosevelt, the Eisenhower-Khrushchev meetings, John F. Kennedy's discussions of the Bay of Pigs, Vietnam War discussions during the Administrations of Lyndon B. Johnson and Richard M. Nixon, Jimmy Carter's Camp David Accords with Menachem Begin of Israel and Anwar Sadat of Egypt, and many other meetings with foreign dignitaries and guests. Maintaining the privacy and secluded atmosphere of the retreat is an important role for Catoctin Mountain Park. The Presidential Retreat remains within park boundaries but is not open to the public. It is a place where presidents can relax, unwind, contemplate, entertain distinguished guests in an informal setting, and cope with the pressures of modern day society. We hope that you will also understand the value of a place of privacy for the President and accept that the retreat is not open to visitors.

The first Job Corps Center in President Lyndon Johnson’s “War on Poverty,” operated from 1965-1969 in Catoctin Mountain Park. Goals were to combine work, education, and recreation “to create a desire to become happy, useful, and self-supporting citizens,” to “create a good work attitude,” and to improve reading and math skills.

Throughout the country, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s depression-era programs touched national parks. From the Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park to the first Recreational Demonstration Areas at Prince William Forest Park, Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) and the Works Progress Administration (WPA) programs created opportunities for more people than ever to enjoy outdoor recreation.

Chesapeake and Ohio Canal:

A great life is one whose early dreams carry you through to old age. As a young Virginia colonist, George Washington dreamed of “an easy communication”—a pathway for commerce—between the Chesapeake Bay and the Forks of the Ohio River. His dream became the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal. President John Quincy Adams dug the first shovel full of dirt and started the construction of the canal. President Grover Cleveland continued to enjoy the canal as a favorite fishing spot during his presidency.

Glen Echo:

President John F. Kennedy’s children, Caroline and John-John, enjoyed visiting Glen Echo Amusement Park where they would snack on hot dogs, throw darts, and ride the roller coaster.

Harpers Ferry:

George Washington surveyed Harpers Ferry as a teenager and later established the United States Armory and Arsenal there. Later, James Madison married Dolley at the nearby Harewood plantation.

On October 25, 1783, Thomas Jefferson visited Harpers Ferry, viewing "the passage of the Patowmac though the Blue Ridge" from a rock that now bears his name. John Q. Adams visited Harpers Ferry in 1834 and wrote about his disappointment at the view from Jefferson Rock.

President James Buchanan sent Army Colonel Robert E. Lee and the U.S. Marines to Harpers Ferry to capture John Brown in 1859. The book-length poem, “John Brown's Body,” chronicling the Civil War, was the favorite book of President John F. Kennedy.

James Garfield led the effort in the U.S. House of Representatives to support the transfer of Armory buildings in Harpers Ferry after the Civil War and create Storer College for newly freed slaves. Garfield’s example of rising from poverty to lead a nation inspired one of Storer College’s students, Nnamdi Azikwe, to become the first president of Nigeria.

Both President Bill Clinton and Vice President Al Gore celebrated Earth Day 1998 by working with volunteers on the Appalachian Trail at Harpers Ferry. A special wooden staircase was built to accommodate the staging area. The “presidential staircase” is still in use today.

Manassas National Battlefield:

President Theodore Roosevelt visited Manassas National Battlefield in 1903 after a turkey hunt, and ate a luncheon in the Henry House.

President William H. Taft visited Manassas battlefield in 1911 for the "Peace Jubilee" on the Fiftieth Anniversary of the first battle.

Mary McLeod Bethune:

Mary McLeod Bethune was the first woman to be the head of a federal agency, giving her the power to pick up the phone and talk to President Franklin D. Roosevelt. She was also good friends with Eleanor Roosevelt and worked for President Harry Truman.

Monocacy National Battlefield:

In August 1864 Lieutenant General and future president Ulysses S. Grant visited the Monocacy battlefield, where, a month before, a major battle had been fought that saved Washington, D.C. from possible capture by Confederate forces under Lieutenant General Jubal Early.

National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom:

President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation of January 1863 recognized the dreams of freedom held by enslaved African Americans in the United States. The Thirteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution later abolished slavery in 1865. Until all enslaved Americans achieved freedom, however, there were always those whose ingenuity, courage, and resolve enabled them to resist slavery through flight. The National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom facilitates efforts across the United States to document, preserve, and celebrate the history of freedom seekers and those of many religions, ethnic groups, and races who aided them until freedom was proclaimed nationally.

Prince William Forest Park:

Prince William Forest Park was created as a direct result of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal as a Recreational Demonstration Area. It also preserves a portion of the route over which then General George Washington took his troops to march to Yorktown to win the battle that ended the Revolutionary War. Nancy Reagan often visited Prince William Forest Park in the 1980s.

Rock Creek:

George Washington and Thomas Jefferson assisted with the survey of Rock Creek when developing the plan for Washington, DC. The Old Stone House at the Park was once thought to be the site of “George Washington’s Engineering Headquarters.”

Abraham Lincoln was at Fort Stevens, now a part of Rock Creek Park, July 11-12, 1864 during the Confederate attack on Washington during the Civil War. He came under direct fire from Confederate sharpshooters.

Many presidents enjoyed Rock Creek Park for its natural beauty and recreational opportunities. Theodore Roosevelt frequently hiked its trails; Dwight David Eisenhower used the golf course at Rock Creek due to a groundhog infestation on the White House lawn; Woodrow Wilson courted Edith Bolling Galt on park trails; and Ronald Reagan used the horse trails and equestrian ring by Picnic Groves 25 & 26.

U.S. Marine Corps War Memorial:

Presidents Franklin D. Roosevelt and Harry S Truman made difficult strategic decisions to bring World War II to an end, including taking the island of Iwo Jima. The Battle of Iwo Jima was the bloodiest battle in Marine Corps history, but the flag-raising portrayed on the U.S. Marine Corps War Memorial inspired hope for the soldiers present and hope for the American people that the war would be won soon. The memorial was dedicated by President Dwight D. Eisenhower, who served as Supreme Commander of Allied Forces in Europe during World War II. While not directly fighting in the Pacific theater, he served with a common mission and would oversee the cease-fire in the Korean War as president.

Last updated: February 7, 2018

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