Is This the End of D.C.’s Most-Beloved Hidden Landmark?

The fate of the stones that were once a part of the U.S. Capitol has locals despondent

The Capitol Stones
The Capitol Stones piled in Rock Creek Park Photo by Calla Kessler / The Washington Post via Getty Images

In the hills of Washington, D.C.’s Rock Creek Park, hundreds of stones, piled two stories high, have sat, largely unmolested apart from curious passersby, as moss and vines subsumed them into the forest.

What makes the stones remarkable, however, is their origin: They were once a part of the United States Capitol, about seven miles to the south. While the Capitol Stones hold national significance, they have been a treasured local secret—a rare piece of American history that longtime residents can claim as their own.

But soon, the stones’ time at Rock Creek Park will come to an end. Officials from the National Park Service will move them over the next few years to a storage facility in Maryland, where they will no longer be publicly accessible, reports Bloomberg Government’s Jack Fitzpatrick.

“The stones are being moved at the request of the National Park Service for safety, realignment and preservation purposes,” says Kiren Marshall, a spokesperson for the Architect of the Capitol in a press statement.

The stones date back to the early 1800s, when the Capitol underwent extensive reconstruction after British troops set fire to the building during the War of 1812, causing devastating damage. More than a century later, in the 1950s, renovations led to the stones’ replacement. Along with the Capitol’s old Corinthian columns, the stones spent a short stint in storage at the Capitol Power Plant. Per Bloomberg Government, they remained there until as late as 1972.

In the 1980s, the old columns moved to the National Arboretum, where they are still a popular—and officially sanctioned—tourist attraction. The stones, on the other hand, were dumped in Rock Creek Park.

Columns at the National Arboretum
Once part of the U.S. Capitol’s east portico, the columns now reside at the National Arboretum in Washington, D.C. Brendan Smialowski / AFP via Getty Images

Since then, they have become a beloved landmark, entrenched in city lore. Located beside maintenance offices, they are stacked in haphazard piles. Park hikers take pictures with their dogs at the site, or bring their children there to play. One local artist, Carlos Carmonamedina, even sells postcards featuring the stones. Still visible on many of the stones are “intricate carvings that have barely been tainted by encroaching vines,” per DC Refined.

Part of their allure is “how they seemed to have been unceremoniously dumped into Rock Creek Park as if to be forgotten,” writes DCist’s Martin Austermuhle. “In a city so well-planned and monumental, the stones [come] off as the historic underbelly.”

Last summer, fencing appeared around the ruins, and city residents started wondering about their fate. While officials had not commented on their plans until now, they have been in the works since 2020.

The move has garnered criticism from residents and officials alike. In the words of some of D.C. journalists and residents, stumbling upon the stones—the “badly-kept secret joy and shame of Rock Creek Park”—is a “magical” experience, even a “[rite] of passage.” Even Eleanor Holmes Norton, D.C.’s nonvoting delegate in Congress, weighed in on the decision to move the stones.

“I’d like them kept in Rock Creek Park,” Norton tells Bloomberg Government. “People go there anyway to look at them. And I think forming a more appropriate exhibit at Rock Creek Park would be the perfect place for them.”

On Friday, Norton issued a statement asking for a meeting with the National Park Service and the Architect of the Capitol to discuss the future of the “off-the-beaten-path landmark.”

“The stones should remain in the location they have been for almost 50 years while causing no harm,” she said. “Being stones, they’re well-made to withstand the weather and children climbing on them, and access to historical artifacts can only be beneficial for visitors to Rock Creek Park and the District.”