An Administrative History-The Park Managers

The Park's Managers

The negative report on neighboring land assessments concluded the role and active life of the Rock Creek Park Commission, which on December 13, 1894, had turned over the purchased lands to the Board of Control of Rock Creek Park. As prescribed in the legislation, the Board of Control represented the District of Columbia commissioners and the Army chief of engineers and was created to administer the park. The engineer commissioner of the District served on the board, as he did on the park commission, and his assistant engineer office (the executive officer of the park commission) became secretary to the board. In this capacity the assistant was immediately responsible for managing Rock Creek Park. Capt. Gustav J. Fiebeger held this position in 1894, making him--in fact if not name--the park's first superintendent. [7]

The commission had employed a watchman in the park early in 1892. J. J. Kramer, Rock Creek's first "man on the ground," submitted weekly written reports to Captain Fiebeger. A typical example, from June 6, 1892: "I find everything all right in the Park this week. There has been Picnics in the Park every day the past week. No damage done yet to the trees." After the park was shifted to the Board of Control, Kramer was replaced by a mounted member of the Metropolitan Police Force, who continued the weekly reporting to Fiebeger. [8]

In 1896 Fiebeger transferred to a professorship at the U.S. Military Academy and was succeeded by Capt. Lansing H. Beach. Beach remained secretary of the board after rising to the post of District engineer commissioner. His close involvement with Rock Creek Park was recognized by the board in 1901 when it named the principal park roadway for him. [9]

A civilian assistant to Beach, Lee R. Grabill, assumed operational responsibility for the park in 1907. Grabill doubled as superintendent of country roads in the District of Columbia, and by 1916 he was sometimes called superintendent of Rock Creek Park. [10]

The park remained under the Board of Control until 1918, when Congress made it and its Piney Branch Parkway adjunct part of the park system of the District of Columbia. On September 16 of that year the park was transferred to the jurisdiction of the Office of Public Buildings and Grounds, which had managed the District park system since 1867. Its officer in charge, Col. Clarence S. Ridley, reported to the Army chief of engineers. [11] Grabill, attached to the office of the District engineer commissioner, was separated from the park, but his staff on the ground stayed. It was headed by Patrick Joyce, who had been appointed foreman in 1910, and then included three skilled laborers, a wagon boss, and nine unskilled hands.

Francis F. Gillen was the civilian superintendent of the Office of Public Buildings and Grounds under Ridley, his superintendency extending to areas beyond Rock Creek Park. In addition to overseeing Joyce and his force, Gillen supervised Smith Riley, a professional forester hired by the office in 1920. Gillen would playa leading park management role into the 1940s.

In March 1921 Lt. Col. Clarence O. Sherrill replaced Ridley as officer in charge. He held the post until February 1925, when an act of Congress abolished the Public Buildings and Grounds office under the Army chief of engineers and assigned its functions to the new Office of Public Buildings and Public Parks of the National Capital. Sherrill became director of the successor agency, in which capacity he now reported to the president. [12] He did so only for the rest of that year, retiring from the Army in December to become city manager of Cincinnati. Maj. Ulysses S. Grant III, grandson of the Civil War general and eighteenth president, took his place and held it nearly to the end of military administration of Washington's buildings and parks in 1933.

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Last updated: April 10, 2015

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Mailing Address:

5200 Glover Rd, NW
Washington, DC 20015


202 895-6000
Rock Creek Park's main phone line.

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