In Northeast Washington DC, right before the Maryland border, sits a 7.5 acre sanctuary. Lotuses. Lilies. Turtles. Dragonflies. Bees. Life is everywhere. Colors explode across the quiet, wet landscape. Green leaves and lily pads are flanked by yellow, purple, white, and pink flowers.
Out here, along the banks of the Anacostia River, the concrete jungle of city life gives way to the wetland jungle swamp it once was.
According to the National Park Service, the caretakers of the park, this area was purchased by Walter Shaw in the 1800s. Shaw lost a portion of his right arm while serving in the Army during the Civil War, but that didn’t slow him down much as he taught himself to write with his left arm and became a clerk for the US Treasury Department. Shaw bought 30 acres of land from his in-laws including an ice pond built by a previous owner. Instead of growing ice, Shaw planted 12 water lilies from Maine, his home state.
Over the years Shaw and his daughter Helen carefully cared for and grew their new lily business and sold the flowers worldwide. Some of the flowers were new varieties created right here in W. B. Shaw Lily Ponds. Helen Shaw Fowler eventually became an aquatic ambassador, traveling around the world in search of plants. She assumed ownership of the gardens upon her father’s death in 1921.
The Gilded Age was a boon to the gardens bringing thousands of visitors. These visitors included DC’s most famous residents: President Calvin Coolidge and First Lady Grace.
Despite their success and growing popularity, the gardens came under threat in the 1930s by the US Army Corps of Engineers on a dredging project in the Anacostia River. Fowler fought for her beloved gardens and eventually Congress decided to purchase the area and preserve it for the American people. The cost in 1938 was $15,000.
Things to Do
There are multiple ways to experience Kenilworth Park & Aquatic Gardens. Follow the links below to more detailed information on two options:
If You Visit
The park is free to visit. Hours are 8:00 am – 4:00 pm in the winter and 9:00 am – 5:00 pm in the summer.
The easiest way to access the park is with a car. Ample parking is available onsite.
The nearest metro station is about a 15 minute walk away. This is not the tourist corridor of town, so use caution if you choose this option.
Get off the beaten path in Washington, DC and explore an outdoor oasis.
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