by ROBERTO BERNATE, for the Sun Gazette
A recently identified marker in Virginia hitherto thought lost to history has been rediscovered – hiding in plain sight.
Eight markers remain and are located along essential transportation routes into the District from Maryland and Virginia but are completely unrelated to the original boundary stones of the District of Columbia. Instead, they are the Garden Club of America’s ceremonial entrance markers.
The markers, now nearly 90 years old, were cut of the same sandstone and quarry location on Aquia Creek and chiseled to resemble a marker on display at the time at the Maryland Historical Society Museum (now called Maryland Center for History and Culture) that delineated the Mason-Dixon Line along the Pennsylvania-Delaware-Maryland-West Virginia borders. It may have paid tribute to Andrew Ellicott, who played a key role in the laying of the Mason-Dixon Line boundary markers and who was also an instrumental figure in the surveying and placement of the 40 original boundary stones of the District of Columbia in 1791-92.
The markers were chiseled with the coat of arms for Maryland and official seals for Virginia and the District of Columbia on the facet opposing their respective jurisdictions. The marker used to design the Garden Club entrance markers was the Mile Marker 50 of the Mason-Dixon line, from the west boundary between Pennsylvania and Maryland.
According to concomitant press reporting, these commemorative markers were to be placed in six sets of two and one individual marker in the following manner (from north to south):
• Two markers along the 16th Street, N.W., and Maryland Route 29 at the District line on Blair Circle. Both markers are missing.
• One marker at the pedestrian island at the intersections of Georgia Avenue (U.S. Route 29), Alaska Avenue, and Kalmia Road, N.W.
• Two markers in Friendship Heights/Village on either side of the north intersection of Wisconsin and Western avenues.
• Two markers in the Chevy Chase traffic circle on the northeast and southwest sides at the intersections of Western Avenue.
• Two markers in the Westmoreland traffic circle nearest the north intersection of Western Avenue and on the south side near Dalecarlia Parkway, N.W.
• Two markers on the Virginia and/or District sides of the Key Bridge in Arlington. One marker is missing; the second recently was rediscovered.
• Two markers on the Virginia and/or District side of the Highway Bridge (now part of the 14th Street Bridge) complex (Interstate 395/U.S. Route 1 north). Both markers are missing.
The newly-rediscovered marker stands at the Virginia entrance to Key Bridge in the furthest north grassy median separating the westbound entrance to the George Washington Parkway, North Fort Myer Drive, and North Lynn Street. A recently-felled tree likely had been obscuring its view.
It and the other markers were placed between April 1932 and October 1933 as part of a congressionally authorized national commemoration of the bicentennial of George Washington’s birth. Further commemorations included the opening of the Mount Vernon Memorial Boulevard (a portion of the George Washington Parkway), a commemorative natural-rock garden in Rock Creek Park, a “World War Memorial” in West Potomac Park in the District, and memorial columns on the entrances to the Arlington Memorial Bridge.
Also included, but unrealized, was a tree-planting along the major avenues into the District to denote L’Enfant’s Parisian influences into the District of Columbia’s grand plan.
There has been a kind of historical amnesia about the markers, which have fallen into obscurity, with little historical documentation. Even the Garden Club of America, in a 1942 report on its achievements, fails to mention their original purpose. The report simply notes that markers “mark the entrances to Washington.”
(On a positive note, the Maryland markers have been listed in the National Register of Historic Places since 2006.)
It is likely that the two remaining as-yet-undiscovered Maryland/D.C. markers in Blair Circle have been destroyed, stolen, moved, or lost. As for the three undiscovered Virginia/D.C. markers, they may remain near where they were once situated, or have been cast aside by unknowing construction workers during road- and bridge-repair work over the decades.