Rock Creek Park: Piney Branch Parkway – Washington DC


In 1935-36, the Works Progress Administration (WPA) built the Piney Branch Parkway on the southeast side of Rock Creek Park.  It was meant to serve as a new access road to the park and to improve traffic flow to and from Beach Drive and the Rock Creek and Potomac parkway.  It runs for two miles from Beech Drive to Arkansas Avenue.

The WPA-built roadway was 30 feet wide with a bituminous covering. A stone retaining wall was built along two-thirds of the route and the whole parkway was landscaped by the WPA workers (Work 1936).

Civil Works Administration (CWA) crews did preparation work for the new road in 1933-34. At the time, a narrow, unimproved dirt road wound along the edge of Piney Branch down to Beach Drive. Periodic flooding washed out sections of this roadway,  so a first step was confining Piney Branch to a concrete and stone floodway – likely built by the CWA workers (Davis 1996, p. 95).

In addition, WPA crews extended Seventeenth Street to connect with Piney Branch Parkway and landscaped that road.  They also improved other road entrances to the park  (National Archives).

Park and District of Columbia officials had planned for a new roadway along Piney Branch ever since the valley was added to the park system in 1907. Yet, “Despite the project’s widely acknowledged practical and recreational appeal, chronic funding shortages curtailed development until the mid-1930s, when New Deal relief programs finally provided sufficient appropriations to construct a substantial bituminous macadam roadway along the bottom of the valley.” (Davis 1996, p. 96).

(Note: the 16th Street Bridge in the photograph predates the parkway)

Source notes

Timothy Davis, Rock Creek Park Road System, HAER DC-55, 1996.

Works Progress Administration, "Improving Parks of Capital," Work: A Journal of Progress, Vol. 1, No. 1 (Sept. 1936). p. 10.

National Archives, Record Group 69, “Microfilmed Index to WPA Projects.”

Project originally submitted by Brent McKee - on April 15, 2015.
Additional contributions by Richard A Walker.

We welcome contributions of additional information on any New Deal project site.


Location Info

Piney Branch Parkway NW
Washington, DC 20011

Coordinates: 38.9382, -77.0365

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