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Maryland's National Register Properties



Photo credit: Benjamin H. Latrobe, 07/16/1976
Piscataway Park
Inventory No.: PG:83-12, CH-668
Date Listed: 10/15/1966
Location: Bryan Point Road, Accokeek, Charles County, Prince Georges County
Category: Site
Period/Date of Construction: 1761-1799; 1961
Description: From the prehistoric period to the present, the Piscataway area has contained a mixture of woodland and cultivated cropland with a scattering of low dwellings and farm buildings. Of note within the boundaries of Piscataway Park are several historic sites. The Accokeek Creek Site is an archeological site which has yielded evidence of prehistoric occupation through as much as 5500 years and has been designated a National Historic Landmark. The National Colonial Farm is a project developed by the Accokeek Foundation to study and interpret agricultural practices of the 18th century. However, none of the structures or fields is specifically related to conditions which existed on the site in the historic past. Most of the buildings are of recent construction and do not replicate late-18th century architecture in anything but scale. Marshall Hall, constructed c. 1725, was added to the park in 1975 to complete the protection of the Maryland shoreline visible from Mount Vernon and to phase out the amusement park located there. Marshall Hall was since burned and then significantly damaged by a truck. Significance: Piscataway Park is principally significant for its role in maintaining the historic vista across the Potomac River from Mount Vernon. This was a pilot project in the use of easements to protect parklands from obtrusive urban expansion. The project began in 1952 to preserve the river view as in was during George Washington's day. As the only unit of the National Park System established specifically to protect the environment of a privately owned historic property, it is secondarily important as a new departure in the recent history of Federal conservation activity. The park itself is not significant for particular on-site landmarks or features; its value derives from its general scenic character as viewed from across the Potomac. "No estate in United America is more pleasantly situated than this," wrote George Washington of Mount Vernon in 1793. Noted visitors to the mansion echoed Washington's admiration. "Toward the east nature has lavished magnificence," Benjamin Latrobe wrote of the prospect from the famous portico in 1796, and he recorded in ink and watercolor the scene of the Potomac and the opposite shore. Julian Niemcewicz described the view even more enthusiastically in 1798: "It is from there [the portico] that one looks out on perhaps the most beautiful view in the world. . . . It is there that in the afternoon and evening the Gl., his family and the [guests] go sit and enjoy the fine weather and the beautiful view. The opposite bank, the course of the river, the dense woods all combined to enhance this sweet illusion. What a remembrance!" Although the Piscataway area was occupied in Washington's time, the predominant impression from Mount Vernon, as recorded in Latrobe's sketch, was of a natural scene. Except for Marshall Hall, no structures of the period have survived. By the middle of the 20th century, proposals by private developers to build high-rise offices and apartments and by public authorities to construct a giant sewage treatment facility on the property threatened the view from Mount Vernon. In 1961 Congress authorized the National Park Service to acquire lands and scenic easements to preclude such esthetically intrusive developments. As a result, Piscataway Park now preserves the approximate character of the landscape as seen from Washington's estate, thereby safeguarding a vital and historic aspect of the environment of one of America's greatest shrines.

 

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