Vintage landscape: into the beautiful

Rock Creek Park, Washington, D.C., ca. 1918-20, Natl. Photo Co. Collection, Library of CongressRock Creek Park in Washington, D.C., ca. 1909-32, photographers unknown.

As imperceptibly as Grief
The Summer lapsed away—
Too imperceptible at last
To seem like Perfidy—

Rock Creek Park, Washington, D.C., ca. 1918-20, Natl. Photo Co. Collection, Library of Congress

A Quietness distilled
As Twilight long begun,
Or Nature spending with herself
Sequestered Afternoon—

Rock Creek Park, Washington, D.C., ca. 1918-20, Natl. Photo Co. Collection, Library of Congress

The Dusk drew earlier in—
The Morning foreign shone—
A courteous, yet harrowing Grace,
As Guest, that would be gone—

Rock Creek Park, Washington, D.C., ca. 1918-20, Natl. Photo Co. Collection, Library of Congress

And thus, without a Wing
Or service of a Keel
Our Summer made her light escape
Into the Beautiful.

Emily Dickinson, Poem 1540 (Johnson 523)

 
Rock Creek Park, Washington, D.C., ca. 1918-20, Natl. Photo Co. Collection, Library of Congress

All photos via National Photo Company Collection, Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division — first two: ca. 1909-23; last: ca. 1909-32; all others: ca. 1918-20.

The almost 2,000-acre Rock Creek Park was established in 1890, making it one of America’s oldest national parks.

Rock Creek Park, Washington, D.C., ca. 1918-20, Natl. Photo Co. Collection, Library of Congress

The Rock Creek Park Day 2013 Festival will be held next Saturday, September 28, to celebrate the park’s 123rd. birthday.  For more information, click here.

Vintage landscape: take water, add children

Before air conditioning, water was the best remedy for hot summer weather.

The children in the photos just above and below were enjoying a public fountain in Washington, D.C., in the summer of 1912.

The fountain is the Peace Monument on the U.S. Capitol grounds.

Below are children in a public pool in Washington, D.C., also in 1912.

All of the above four photos were taken by Harris & Ewing.

The three photos below of bathers in Rock Creek Park were taken by the National Photo Company between 1920 and 1932.

The photo label for the above picture is “Women and children find some relief by wading in the creek on one of the hottest days in the history of the Capital. Snapped in Rock Creek Park today.”

The highest temperature recorded for Washington, D.C., was 106°F, in 1918 and 1930. The city just missed matching the old record yesterday, only reaching 105°F.

Below are children playing in an “old swimming hole” in the Washington, D.C., area. The photo was taken by Theodor Horydczak between 1920 and 1950.

The photo below shows a group of proper young ladies at the free public baths, Harriet Island, St. Paul, Minnesota.  It was taken by the Detroit Publishing Co. around 1905.

How hard to be so dressed up at the lake!

Below are children playing with a rope at a beach, possibly at Atlantic City, New Jersey.  The photo was taken between 1890 and 1910 by the Detroit Publishing Co.

The lure of water in a fountain during hot weather is universal. Below are children in Japan or Korea in 1908. The photo was taken by Arnold Genthe.

All images via Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.  Click on any photo to enlarge it.

Dumbarton Oaks Park: how it’s done

A footbridge over a waterfall.

On July 4th, my husband and I walked home through Georgetown after lunch.  When we reached R Street, we decided  to cut through Montrose Park and then over behind Dumbarton Oaks.

This is how we came upon Dumbarton Oaks Park, a section of Rock Creek Park with an exceptional pedigree, but a difficult present existence.  It is an almost lost remnant of the Country Place Era of American garden design (1880 – 1940).

The Dumbarton Oaks garden, which was designed by Beatrix Farrand for Mildred and Robert Bliss, is famous, but the park behind it is far less known.  I had never heard of it — not from garden history classes nor during visits to the DO garden — until this April, when I received an e-mail about the launch of efforts of save it.

Laurel Pool damaged by runoff.

But the DO Park, also designed by Farrand, is on the National Register of Historic Places.  “To landscape historians,” writes Adrian Higgins of The Washington Post, “it is hallowed ground.”

In 1928, these 27 acres of former farmland became a naturalistic extension of the Bliss estate’s formal gardens.  A series of paths and meadows were composed along a small tributary of Rock Creek and planted out with drifts of native and exotic wildflowers, bulbs, and woodland shrubs.  Eighteen waterfall dams were built, as well as two arbors and several benches and footbridges — all in the rustic Arts and Crafts style.

In 1941, when Dumbarton Oaks was given to Harvard University, this part of the property went to the National Park Service.

Over time, however, it seems that the highly designed and delicately crafted landscape was just too much for the Park Service to handle.  Photos taken in the late 1980s show it in very bad condition.  Through the decades, there has been serious damage from runoff to the stream-edge areas, and invasive weeds and vines have smothered and pushed out Farrand’s trees and plants.

The formation of the Dumbarton Oaks Park Conservancy offers some hope for its restoration.  Headed by Rebecca Trafton, a garden designer and documentary maker, it is currently raising money and hopes to present a  work plan in October.

The DO Park is a remarkable place even now, and the strength of Farrand’s vision and of her artful use of materials still shines through.  The refrain “this is how it’s done” ran through my mind as we walked along.  If you visit Dumbarton Oaks, please walk down Lover’s Lane on its east side and take a look.

Click on any thumbnail in the gallery below to scroll through the enlarged photos.  The order follows a walk from one end of the path along the stream to the other.