The other day I was canvassing the Library of Congress’ Chronicling America newspaper collection and came across this advertisement that was published on May 27th, 1910 in the Washington Times. It shows development plans for Randle Highlands, a neighborhood in Southeast, Washington, DC. I was curious about the results of the newspaper ad. As in, how much has the map changed in the last 99 years? Surprisingly, not too much. Most of the land was developed to plan, except for one large chunk of the land that remains “undeveloped” to this day: Fort Dupont Park.
This particular fort had six sides, each 100 feet long, protected by a deep moat and trees felled side-by-side with branches pointing outward. It was named for Flag Officer Samuel F. du Pont, who commanded the naval victory at Port Royal, South Carolina, in November 1861.
Although its garrison and guns never saw battle, Fort Dupont served as a lifeline of freedom. Runaway slaves found safety here before moving on to join the growing community of “contrabands” in Washington. The barracks and guns are gone, but the fort’s earthworks can still be traced near the picnic area on Alabama Avenue.
In the 1930s, the National Capital Planning Commission acquired the old fort and surrounding land for recreation. An 18-hole golf course was constructed. As the city grew, golf gave way in 1970 to the sports complex along Ely Place that now includes tennis and basketball courts, athletic fields, and a softball diamond. An indoor ice rink offers skating all winter. Where once the Civil War fort looked out over farmlands, city dwellers now grow vegetables in community garden plots.
This advertisement was printed 20 years before the National Capital Planning Commission changed the future of this neighborhood. I wonder what it would be like today if it wasn’t a park? Umm, I mean golf course. I was able to line up the old map with the contemporary imagery and by adjusting the transparency in Google Earth you can see how much has been developed. Click here to download the KMZ file for Google Earth