National Capital Parks
A History
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PARKS OF THE NATIONAL CAPITAL, 1933-1951 (continued)

Naturalist Division

The Naturalist program of National Capital Parks became effective December 1, 1932, with the appointment of Mr. Irvin N. Hoffman as Naturalist with the office of Public Buildings and Public Parks of the National Capital. [72] Mr. Hoffman resigned on August 15, 1934. In 1935, there was some activity in the field of Natural history, when Park Naturalist Raymond H. Gregg was assigned to the office for a brief period to conduct an intensive Naturalist interpretive program. On February 7, 1936, Donald E. McHenry reported for his assignment in charge of the Naturalist work of National Capital Parks. [73] The extent of services offered by the Naturalist Division has steadily increased over the years. At present, an interpretive force consisting of Chief Naturalist W. Drew Chick, Jr. and three Park Naturalists provide natural history enthusiasts of the Washington area with an outstanding service. This force of specialists is augmented by several temporary ranger—naturalists in the summer months. The division affords the office of National Capital Parks the services of highly trained personnel for research and interpretation in natural history.

National Memorials and Historic Sites Division

The National Memorials and Historic Sites Division was established in 1940. In April of that year Handle B. Truett, who had been assigned to the office as Superintendent of Lee Mansion in 1939, was appointed the first historian of National Capital Parks. [74] The responsibilities of the Historical Division were greatly increased in 1940, when the Lee Mansion, Lincoln Memorial, Washington Monument, Lincoln Museum, House Where Lincoln Died, end the Battleground Cemetery were placed in that division for the purpose of supervision and operation. [75] Mr. Truett then became Chief of the National Memorials and Historic Sites Division. In addition to its research and interpretive program, the Historical Division was charged with the maintenance, operation, and protection of all National Memorials and Historic Sites under the jurisdiction of National Capital Parks.

The Greenhouses

In 1942 there occurred another change in the operations of the office. Although having nothing to do with the creation or abolishment of any divisions, the permanent abandonment of the Greenhouses on July 1, 1942 brought down the curtain on an operation associated with National Capital Parks for many years. [76] For a long time the parks and the Executive Mansion had been graced with a beautiful array of flowers from the greenhouses staffed by personnel of the Horticultural Division. The operation of the greenhouses was a large scale operation requiring the services of a large number of employees of the Horticultural Division. In 1942 there were 33 separate greenhouses located at 15th and C Streets, S. W., indicating the comprehensive scale of the operation. The greenhouses represented a responsibility, which required constant maintenance and both general and specialized horticultural work. Plants in all of the greenhouses were regularly fumigated. General propagation of the flowering and foliage plants was an extensive operation. The beautiful roses, carnations, chrysanthemums and poinsettias, which annually came forth from the greenhouses, were a tribute to the skill and care of the greenhouse staff. The permanent abandonment of the Greenhouses, approved by the President in accordance with a letter of the Director of the Budget of April 2, became effective on July 1, 1942. [77] Operations at the greenhouses were terminated on June 30, 1942. Upon the President's direction, the Army and Navy Medical centers were granted first priority in claiming the greenhouse materials. The remaining stock was distributed to Bolling Field, United States Army War College, Arlington National Cemetery, and other Federal agencies.

Recreation Division

Until 1942, National Capital Parks had its own Recreation Division, having charge of the construction, maintenance, and operation on a permit basis of all recreational facilities in the parks of the National Capital. It was the policy of the Federal Government not to engage in supervised recreation. National Capital Parks built and maintained facilities for 30 major sports. These facilities were open to individuals and groups on a permit basis. The Recreation Division also handled public contact work of the office for all public events scheduled in the parks. The Annual reports of the Recreation Division illustrate the tremendous amount of work carried on by this division. Almost every conceivable type of athletic activity was available for park users. Excellent band and symphony concerts were offered to the public. All major celebrations, ceremonies, and dedications in the parks were arranged and supervised by the Chief of the Division, as they are so arranged today by the Special Assistant to the Superintendent.

On April 19, 1942, Congress authorized the creation of a District of Columbia Recreation Board. [78] This Board was given the authority to determine all questions of general policy relating to public recreation in and for the District of Columbia. [79] However, it is important to remember that the District Recreation Board was a local board, with power to act solely in and for the District of Columbia. It did not have authority to fix policy in the parks for that responsibility and authority was imposed by law upon the Secretary of the Interior and delegated to the Office of National Capital Parks. [80] The District Recreation Board carried on a program of supervised recreation in various park areas, making use of National Capital Parks facilities. These facilities were constructed and maintained by Federal employees. The use of these facilities conformed to the over-head park policy of National Capital Parks. The title to many areas used by the District of Columbia Recreation Board remained with the Federal Government and the ultimate jurisdiction over these areas remained with the Department of the Interior. The creation of the District of Columbia Recreation Board did result in the discontinuance of the Recreation Division of National Capital Parks. All public relations operations, permits, and supervision of park events, which had been handled by the Recreation Division, passed on to the Special Assistant to the Superintendent.



The plan of 1901, which gave rebirth to the L'Enfant plan, also gave the needed emphasis to park planning. Until recent years, National Capital Parks did not have its own Planning Division. However, the office had been fortunate in having the services of a landscape architect whose duty it was to prepare all architectural and landscape plans. This specialist was directly responsible to the Chief of the Branch of Plans and Design of the National Park Service. Today, architectural and landscape plans of the office are still subject to the approval of the National Park Service. However, the Chief of the Planning Division of National Capital Parks is now deputized to sign all National Capital Parks Plans for the Chief of Design and Construction of the National Park Service.


Prior to 1933, when the office of National Capital Parks was known as the office of Public Buildings and Public Parks of the National Capital, an Army Officer was executive officer in charge of engineering. Directly under this Army officer was a civilian chief of Engineering. Since August 9, 1933, the engineering matters of the office have been entirely in the hands of civilian engineers. Immediately following August 9, 1933, Mr. Gillen was made chief of the Engineering Section. All long—range engineering plans were subject to the approval of the Engineering Division of the National Park Service. Robert Horne, present chief of the Engineering Division, came to the office in 1935. Subsequently, National Capital Parks developed a separate Engineering Division.

Because of the nature and functions of the office, legal problems were continually arising. These problems were concerned with police matters, protection of public property, review of contracts, land titles, and many other legalistic aspects of park work. Following 1933, the office had at its disposal the services of the legal division of the National Park Service. Whenever any question involving a point of law arose, the advice and counsel of the legal division of the National Park Service was sought.

Legal Division

In time, it was considered advisable that National Capital Parks should have its own Legal Division. The first step in this direction came on February 18, 1943, when the position of Senior Attorney was set up in the Office. Mr. Sidney McClellan became the first Senior Attorney of National Capital Parks. The Legal Division became fully established as a Division in May of 1946. On May 20, 1946, Alexander J. Knox, formerly of the National Park Service Legal staff, was appointed Chief of the Legal Division, National Capital Parks. From this time forward, the Office has had the services and counsel of its own legal staff.

Special Problems

As a field office of the National Park Service operating the park system of the National Capital. National Capital Parks is placed in a unique position. Because of the nature of the Government of the District of Columbia, the park office is confronted with certain special problems foreign to other field units of the National Park Service, Washington, the seat of the National Government, is a Federal city. In the final analysis, the city of Washington is governed by the Congress of the United States. The District budget as approved by Congress is made up of revenue collected within the District plus a certain amount appropriated out of the Federal Treasury. Congress created a local government as early as 1802, assigning to it certain functions of a purely local nature. This Government was changed to its present form in 1878, consisting of three Commissioners appointed by the President of the United States. The citizens of Washington do not have the right of suffrage. For many years it was thought by certain members of Congress that if given the vote, Washington would become the battle ground of local interests, causing the disappearance of the National character of the city. It is not the intention here to discuss a Federal-Municipal controversy of long standing. This work is concerned only with the parks of the Capital, which were established as national parks to be administered by the Federal Government. They have remained national parks through the years, contributing to the enjoyment of the citizens of Washington, and those of the Nation.

The Budget

In the operation of these parks, National Capital Parks has been faced for many years with the necessity of operating under a duel budget, although ultimately all money comes by way of a Congressional appropriation. Perhaps the greatest source of friction between the Government of the District and Congress is the making up the Budget. [81] The source of all appropriations for National Capital Parks is the Congress of the United States. However, the National Capital Parks office may receive its total annual appropriation from at least four separate appropriations. First, there is the National Capital Parks appropriation included in the Interior Department Appropriation act under the heading "National Park Service." [82] Second, is the National Capital Parks appropriation included in the District of Columbia Appropriation act under the heading "National Capital Parks." This money is disbursed in total upon passage of the Appropriation bill and is deposited by National Capital Parks in a trust fund account. Thirdly, money appropriated to the District of Columbia Recreation Board is made available to the National Capital Parks for specific construction and maintenance work. [83] A fourth individual appropriation used by the Office, and one of major importance, is the separate appropriation in the Independent Offices Act for the maintenance and operation of the Executive Mansion and Grounds, a responsibility of the National Capital Parks office since 1792. In addition to these specific appropriations, the Office receives funds by virtue of a very large amount of reimbursable work performed annually for General Services, District of Columbia Government, Bureau of Public Roads, and other Government agencies. Considering the complexity of the Federal appropriations coming to the office of National Capital Parks, it is a distinct compliment to the Administrative Division that the fiscal functions of the office are carried on in a thorough and efficient manner.

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Last Updated: 31-Jul-2003