In preparation for an upcoming guide to running in Rock Creek Park (more on that to come soon!) I have been trying to visit some trails I don’t hit up very often. A few weeks ago I ran along a horse trail not far from the Rock Creek Park Horse Center. I had run this section of trail maybe 5 or 6 times before, and noticed a wall of large stones along one small part, but never thought much about it. Then the other day something caught my eye. I noticed that on top of one of the stones sat a small decorative piece. Immediately I stopped and went over to check it out. What I discovered was way more interesting than I could have imagined.
Once I walked past the initial wall you can see from the trail, the area opened up to hundreds of moss covered stones of all sizes and shapes. Most were plain and simple large stones, but others much more intricate.
Some of my favorites were clearly meant for decorative building corners like these:
The mostly sandstone chunks sit about 10 or 15 yards off the main trail, and sit rather unorganized throughout the woods. Not too far away you can see the maintenance building behind one of the makeshift walls. It was clear to me that whatever these stones were, they have been sitting in the same spot for decades.
Out of the half dozen times I’ve run that loop of horse trail, I’ve never actually seen anyone on it. At one point you pass by the horse center, where people clearly ride all the time, but I’ve never seen anyone on the trail. From the first time running that section, I’ve always been a bit spooked by that section, which is odd considering the rest of the park feels like a playground. But when I discovered this, masked behind the excitement of the discovery, the spooked became more of a frighten. I walked around for about 10 minutes, half expecting a ghost of haunted Rock Creek’s past to start knocking over the rocks, and half expecting some crazy man to jump out holding the bones of the last person who came back there and bothered him. Thankfully, the only thing to attack were a few mosquitoes, so I continued to take some pictures, and left on my merry way.
After about 3 fast few miles back down the trail home, I jumped on to the trusted Google to try and figure out what they were! A few minutes of clicking later, I found this article from City Paper. Turns out the stones were pieces of the US Capitol that have been aging there in the park since 1959. The City Paper writes:
According to Eva Malecki, spokesperson for the Architect of the Capitol, they were part of what was torn down during a renovation that started in 1958 and ended in 1962. The pieces, mostly sandstone and some marble from the east front façade, likely originate from the rebuilding that occurred after the Capitol was nearly burned down in the War of 1812. Instead of reusing the pieces, they were placed in this part of Rock Creek Park per an agreement with then-Architect of the Capitol J. George Stewart and the National Park Service (NPS), Malecki says.
Needless to say, this is a really cool find. It blows my mind that pieces of the US Capitol are just laying around, unprotected, in the woods. They don’t seem to be in any order, aren’t stacked all that well, and are just left, weathering away for the world to view. Awesome.
Things NOT to do there:
One thing that struck me almost as much as the stones themselves, was how little they seemed to have been bothered. Small stones which could have easily been taken, were left sitting seemingly untouched. Not only that, but the lack of graffiti was shocking! Nothing was marked. In a city where little can be left outside unlocked, and walls are tagged quicker than they can be repainted, it was so nice to see that such a neat find seems to have been left for everyone to enjoy. So, I’m about to post a map of where the hidden capitol is located, but please don’t ruin the experience for the rest of us!
You can get to the stones a few ways. The easiest would simply be to park at the Horse Center and walk the horse path down. You can also park near Pierce Barn along Beach Drive and walk the horse trail that follows the creek. This is a great smooth trail with nice views along the water.
Rock Creek Park proves time and time again to be full of hidden gems. A find li this is just another reason why I love running here. Have you ever run into these stones before? If not, I’d encourage you to go check them out. The slightly eerie, totally unique experience is well worth the time.