Botanic Gardens & Senate Park Commission – Preservation Cafe

Posted on March 3rd, 2021 by Elizabeth Nelson

Historian  Matthew Gilmore, will present “The Botanic Gardens and the Senate Park Commission: Three Decades of Controversy” Wednesday, March 17, 2021, at 6:30 pm.

Throughout the first quarter of the 20th century a titanic struggle took place at the foot of the U.S. Capitol—Washington’s planners versus the Botanic Garden. The Senate Park Commission (or McMillan) Plan of 1902 was a design to utterly transform the Mall into a single, unified composition. All the individual segments from the Washington Monument eastward would be brought into harmony, unifying the agriculture, Smithsonian, Armory,  and Botanic Gardens grounds.

Botanic Gardens 1887

Best intentions, stubborn bureaucracy, limited funding, political feuding, and memorial trees all stood in the way of that goal. The most resistant was the Botanic Gardens, led by William R. Smith. The area adjacent was getting crowded. The Grant Memorial was placed to head the Mall, elbowing into the gardens. The Meade memorial took its place at Pennsylvania and 3rd NW—looking in vain to a companion memorial where the gardens still sat. It was not until 1927 that the gardens gave way, moving just a block south (the Batholdi fountain moved too). Transformations continued until the 1970s, giving us the landscape of today.

Botanic Gardens Interior 1860-1930

Botanic Garden Conservatory 1865

Matthew Gilmore is an independent scholar who specializes in the history of Washington, DC and the metro area. He has published several books and articles on a wide variety of topics related to DC history. He is the editor of the H-DC discussion list and blogs on Washington history and related subjects at matthew gilmore.wordpress. com. He served as reference librarian at the Washingtoniana Division of the DC Public Library for many years.

The presentation will be followed by a brief Membership Meeting which will include a report from the Elections Committee.

A link to the WebEx meeting will be posted below, a few days prior to the event.

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