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Walter Pierce Park

Roads to Diversity

Adams Morgan Heritage Trail

Walter Pierce Park

The Rock Creek Valley, once home to Native Americans, had attracted European settlers by 1703. Before John Quincy Adams became president in 1825, he purchased Adams Mills on Rock Creek from his cousin. The mills, just down the hill, processed flour and plaster. While other millers here relied on slave labor, the anti-slavery Adams refused to do so. The park was once part of a pair of cemeteries, African American and Quaker, established back when this hilltop lay beyond the city limits. After the Smithsonian began building the National Zoo in 1889, the cemetery associations moved remains nearest the zoo to other locations, including Woodlawn Cemetery in Northeast Washington. In 1941 excavations began for new apartments where the park is today. But more graves were uncovered, so work stopped. In 1981 residents succeeded in creating Community Park West on the empty site. In 1991 the park was renamed for the late Walter Pierce, a high-profile member of the coalition that created it. That coalition included Washington’s Society of Friends (Quakers) and Charlotte Filmore, of the Filmore Early Learning Center. Filmore was born in 1898 and experienced three centuries before dying in 2002 at age 104. Her center provided low-cost and free day care to more than 500 African American children. The center’s last location was 1811 Ontario Place.

During winter you can see a mansion on the Zoo grounds. It is Holt House, purchased in 1844 by Dr. Henry Holt, who farmed the area.


During the Civil War, Cliffburne Barracks and Hospital occupied this area.

This 1909 map shows where the Society of Friends and Union Benevolent Association cemeteries once were located.

Henry Holt, son of Dr. Henry Holt and the last private owner of Holt House, sits in front of the house, 1889.

Walter Pierce, above, and Charlotte Filmore, two leaders in efforts to create a park.


The Adams Morgan story begins with its breezy hilltop location, prized by Native Americans, colonial settlers, freedom seekers, powerful Washingtonians, working people, and immigrants alike. Unlike most close-in neighborhoods, Adams Morgan has never been dominated by any of these groups. Today’s rich diversity is the legacy of each group that has passed through.

Follow the 18 signs of the Roads to Diversity: Adams Morgan Heritage Trail to discover the personalities and forces that shaped a community once known as “18th and Columbia.” Along the way, you’ll learn how school desegregation led to the name Adams Morgan, and you’ll meet presidents and paupers, natives and immigrants, artists, activists and authors.

Roads to Diversity: Adams Morgan Heritage Trail, a booklet capturing the trail’s highlights, is available at local businesses. To learn about other DC neighborhoods, check out City Within a City: Greater U Street Heritage Trail, beginning at 16th and U Streets, and visit:www.CulturalTourismDC.org.

Roads to Diversity is dedicated to the memory of Carolyn Llorente (1937-2003).

Caption: Clean-up Day in Community Park West, 1978, The Washington Post


More info on the Roads to Diversity: Adams Morgan Heritage Trail, and a brochure, can be found here: https://www.culturaltourismdc.org/portal/816



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