Anacostia Park, formerly known as Fairlawn Park, was composed primarily of the “flats”. A 1919 Washington Post article asserts that the river park “flats” came about after the Army Corps of Engineers deepened the Anacostia River and raised the adjacent land by an average of four feet to build cover for the water
pipes and channels to homes and businesses east of the river. Local officials and the Corps believed the wetland flats of the Anacostia River hosted disease and waste and that it would be better to dredge the
Flats and Swimming Pool at Anacostia Park, August 6, 1949, Wymer Collection, The Historical Society of Washington, DC
contaminated material and create new park space for the District.
James Manion, Jr., who grew up in Fairlawn during the 1940s and 50s, recalls the name “Fairlawn” signifying the park and the “flats,” the lower portion or northern-most part of Fairlawn. Gerald Upright, who attended schools in the area during the 1950s and 60s, described the flats as the park and the two to three blocks from the park over to Minnesota Avenue.
Manion‟s father told him stories of the Washington Redskins practicing at the park in the area where the swimming pool is now located. He went on to explain that Fairlawn Park had the No. 11 Police Boys Club, a golf course, and baseball diamonds, including what was then the best, if not one of the best, baseball diamonds in the city. He also recalled the crab apple trees, whose fruit he and his friends mostly used as projectiles. However, Mary Anne Upright, another former resident, noted the flowers of the trees were the inspiration for an annual Crab Apple Blossom Festival and father would drive the car carrying the Grand Marshal of the parade through the park on Anacostia Drive.
The flats were also the scene of some less pleasant memories. In May 1932, amidst the Great Depression, approximately 20,000 jobless black and white veterans and their families descended on Washington hoping to persuade Congress to pay them their promised World War I bonuses some 14 years early. Self titled Bonus Expeditionary Force but popularly known as the Bonus Marchers or Bonus Army, set up several camps on Capitol Hill, however, their primary camp was on the flats of Anacostia Park. “Camp Marks”, as it was called, housed almost 15,000 men, women, and children. The camp, located between the Sousa and 11th Street Bridges, became a small shanty town of small shacks and hovels created from tents and materials salvaged from a nearby dump. Some campers slept in cardboard boxes or metal barrels, or on mats or the muddy ground. The camp had streets, music and daily marches or parades. In Camp Marks, black and white veterans coexisted in unity. The men ate together, sang together, and rallied together despite Jim Crow laws. They even performed Vaudeville-type shows for their morale and the audiences often included nearby neighborhoods, curious about the life of the veterans at the camp.
In July 1932, after Congress failed to pass legislation to compensate the veterans, President Herbert Hoover ordered the veterans evicted from their sites on Capitol Hill. A brigade of six hundred specially trained troops led by then Army Chief of Staff Douglas MacArthur rousted the Bonus Marchers from sites along Pennsylvania Avenue. Then to the surprise of eye witnesses, the brigade paused to regroup before charging on Camp Marks, launching tear gas grenades and setting fire to the camp until
4 FAIRLAWN: From the Flats to the Heights