Skip to main content
SUB-SERIES — Folder: 13 Identifier: DDO-RB-GAR-001

Dumbarton Oaks Garden, Dumbarton Oaks Park

Scope and Contents

Thirty-seven black and white photographs, 2 color photographs, and a collection of photographs with drawings and notes of the Dumbarton Oaks Park which refers to the 27-acre parcel of land that Robert and Mildred Bliss donated to the National Park Service in 1940. The acreage is now considered a part of Rock Creek Park.

When it was part of the Bliss estate, the park belonged to Beatrix Farrand’s garden design. It served as a rustic counterpoint to the complex and formal garden areas close to the mansion. A stream cut through the ravine at the bottom of the north-facing hill, and Farrand designed a stone clapper bridge to cross it. Along the water and through the naturalistic woodland, Farrand planted an undergrowth of flowers like azaleas, mountain laurel, and rhododendrons that proved difficult to keep up even during the Bliss years. Farrand designed a circular walk through the wilderness of the park, which began at the stone bridge and followed the water to the rustic Stream Arbor. The stream was dammed up at eighteen points to create still pools and minor falls along the path. For the most part, the design in the valley followed the natural topography of the park.

Compared to the terraced garden rooms near the Bliss residence, Farrand’s designs in Dumbarton Oaks Park enhanced rather than modified the wild landscape. However, even with so little necessary upkeep, the National Park Service found it difficult to maintain the deliberate plantings and design aesthetic present in the Park in 1940.

A few informally designed garden areas were lost after the National Park Service took control of the park, including the Hazel Walk and Wall Garden. Beatrix Farrand first suggested the Hazel Walk in her initial 1922 letter to Mildred Bliss. A tree-lined path leading away from Fairview Hill into Dumbarton Oaks Park became the realization of that idea. The Wall Garden featured heathers, ferns, and blueberries at the base of a low stone retaining wall north of Fairview Hill. By 1946, neither garden design existed. Farrand’s parkland was left to the elements until community efforts in the 1990s began a push to return the pathway, stream, and original structures to their original design.

A number of Bliss-era structures remain in Dumbarton Oaks Park. An old stone pump house, the clapper bridge, and the Forsythia Steps Gate are all Beatrix Farrand designs. The rustic arbor at the end of the woodland path is colloquially known as the Gray Arbor; it was built in 1937 as a memorial to William James Gray, the first superintendent of Dumbarton Oaks’ gardens. It still bears a plaque that the gardeners designed in Gray’s memory, under guidance from Mildred Bliss and Beatrix Farrand. The Park is also final resting place to six dogs and two horses who once belonged to the Blisses.

Dates

  • 1921-1979

Language of Materials

Materials chiefly in English with a few items in Greek, Latin, French, Italian, or Spanish.

Conditions Governing Access

An appointment is required to consult the collection. Please submit appointment requests here: http://www.doaks.org/research/library-archives/access-and-hours/schedule-an-appointment For research queries, contact the staff of Rare Book Collection (RareBooksLib@doaks.org).

Extent

8 linear feet (23 boxes of textual material with approximately 2631 items; 2411 drawings; and 1235 photographs)

Repository Details

Part of the Dumbarton Oaks Repository

Dumbarton Oaks holds archival collections in its Rare Book Collection, Image Collections and Fieldwork Archives, and the Dumbarton Oaks Archives. The collections include: the papers of noteworthy scholars in the three fields that Dumbarton Oaks supports (Byzantine, Pre-Columbian, and Garden and Landscape); image collections depicting objects or sites of topical interest to scholars in the three fields; Beatrix Farrand’s personal archive of letters and original drawings that document the development of the Dumbarton Oaks Garden; and institutional records and architectural plans and drawings documenting the history of Dumbarton Oaks. For more information about hours and to make an appointment to consult any of the collections listed here, please fill out the request form: https://www.doaks.org/research/library-archives/schedule-an-appointment

Contact:
1703 32nd Street, NW
Washington DC 20007 USA
202-339-6400