History: Glover Archbold National Park

A detailed history of Glover Archbold National Park tells that the 2.5-mile stretch of forest has been home not only to diverse wildlife but also a Native American quarry, an arsenal, and a 25-foot deep lake.

The history, part of a successful nomination of the park to the National Register of Historic Places, provides insights into how the park in northwest Washington, D.C., was formed, its benefactors, and threats it has faced.

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ONCE A LAKE VIEW: The area of Glover Archbold National Park south of Reservoir Road at one time held a lake that was 25 feet deep, according to history that was submitted as part of a successful nomination of the northwest Washington, D.C., woodland to the National Register of Historic Places. Photo Credit: John A. Bray

The history, which shows deep research and includes narrative footnotes, weaves in the broader economic and Progressive Era political forces in play in the early 1900s that lead up to the formation of the park. Namesakes Charles Carroll Glover and Anne Mills Archbold were wealthy landowners, who donated property for the park between 1923 and 1933. Famous park hikers have included Rachel Carson, whose 1962 book “Silent Spring” raised concern about the harmful impact of pesticides on the environment.

Clashes over the fate of the forest have pitted park conservationists against powerful development interests, contests that are ongoing.

Nuggets in the history, part of the historic register nomination in 2006, include:

  • Glover was president of Riggs Bank, after starting as a teller, and was a founder of the Washington Board of Trade in 1889, an organization that advocated before Congress about local concerns. He served on committees dealing with parks and education. Glover, who died in 1936, kept what the history terms a “country home” in Westover, near the area that now makes up the park. National financial reform proposals by Glover figured in legislation that led to the Federal Reserve Act.
  • Archbold was the daughter of John D. Archbold, who started an oil company in 1875 that merged with John D. Rockefeller’s Standard Oil Trust, where he served as vice-president. She spent much of her early life in Europe. Her donations included land in England for a forerunner organization to the Girl Scouts of America and financial backing for a tropical botanical garden collection expedition. Divorced, she established the Italian-villa style Hillandale estate on Reservoir Road, with the move to Washington possibly tied to her son’s attendance at Sidwell Friends School.
  • Geologically, the park is part of an “erosional element” of the Lafayette Plateau or Brandywine Terrace, which includes outcroppings of gray-blue stone categorized as Kensington granite. The valley walls of the Foundry Branch stream that drains the forest run 40- to 50-feet tall.
  • Around the early 1800s, a lake came to life in the area south Reservoir Road, the result of dam built to provide hydro power to the Columbian Foundry, which at its height annually produced 300 guns and millions of shots. It was the work site of Henry Foxhall, described as the “country’s preeminent iron worker” and someone who worked for Revolutionary War financier Robert Morris. It later became a brewery.
  • The Native American quarry was on the east valley wall near Beecher Street. Debris from the flint knapping, or chipping of the stone, can be easily seen.
  • As the 1950s turned into the 1960s, Archbold, C. Carroll Glover, Jr., along with Foxhall Village residents and other city denizens, fended off assorted plans to run multi-lane highways through the park, projects that involved a bridge over the Potomac’s Three Sisters Island by the Palisades and clover-leaf accesses at Massachusetts Avenue and other sites. Opponents called the city and federal highway plans a violation of the public trust. U.S. Senate majority leader Michael Mansfield (D-Montana), a park neighbor, pushed legislation to move authority for the park’s road right-of-way from the city to the National Park Service. Shortly after Archbold’s death in 1968, the shift occurred.

But the park was not out of the woods. Its struggles continue today, with new threats of encroachment by development and erosion.

© 2016 John A. Bray
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