New Prehistoric and Historic Exhibit at Palisades Recreation Center


Photo credit: Chris Tierney

By: Elaine Bole

The Palisades Citizens Association Community Fund has given a grant of $7,040 to purchase cabinets for a new Palisades History Museum to be displayed in the newly renovated Palisades Recreation Center.

Doug Dupin, Committee Chair, Palisades Museum for the Palisades Citizen Association. Photo Credit: Rebecca Hale

Committee Chairman Doug Dupin, speaking for the Palisades Museum for the Palisades Citizen Association, said the cabinets will display items that depict lives of the people that lived in the neighborhood. One glass case will be dedicated to the pre-Colombian history of the Palisades, displaying American Indian artifacts that have been found in the Palisades neighborhood.  The other will be dedicated to the historic period from the 1800s through to 1962, when the streetcars that had transported people across the District and region for nearly a hundred years finally ended.

Dupin, the neighborhood expert on American Indian artifacts in the Palisades, came by his interest while digging a wine cellar on his property in the Palisades. “I got down about four feet. I started to find what I recognized were stone chip flakes, the byproduct of making stone tools. I recognized them because I had done Stone Age archeology in Hawaii for the Bishop Museum. So I thought it might be some prehistoric stuff, then I started finding projectile points to arrowheads.”

American Indian Relic. Photos Courtesy of Palisades History Museum. Photo Credit: Rebecca Hale

“I wasn’t familiar with pottery, but I found a lot of pottery shards. That got me thinking about what was going on here. Around the same time period they put in the soccer field [Palisades Recreational Center], they unearthed a lot of artifacts, and so I and a lot of neighbors would come to the site daily and look and see what had been unearthed.”

Prior to Captain John Smith, who was the first European documented to have reached the navigable head of the Potomac River during his exploration in 1608, there were three American Indian villages located in the Washington area. Metropolitan Washington, DC was rich in natural resources that supported local native people living here. The region is believed to have been a major trading center, according to the U.S. National Park Service.

The area surrounding the Palisades Recreation Center has been a plentiful site to find arrowheads and other relics of this period. The U.S. National Park Service reports the Anacostia and Potomac Rivers provided a variety of fish, including a dependable supply of migratory fish that converged seasonally at this “head of tidewater” location. The surrounding wilderness provided plenty of forest produce and wild game – turkey, quail, geese, ducks, deer, elk, bear, and bison. The native people also grew corn, squash, beans and potatoes in small cleared areas on the fertile floodplain. They quarried stone in nearby stream valleys and used it for tools. It is these and other relics that are still being uncovered.

Said Chris Tierney, DC Department of Parks and Recreation site manager for the Palisades and Friendship Heights: “To give you an idea of the abundance of American Indian relics on the site, just this past fall a man was sitting on a spectator bench at the turf field. He looked down at his feet and found an arrowhead.”   Considering 2018 was the wettest

Soapstone bowl fragment. Photo Courtesy of Palisades History Museum. Photo Credit: Rebecca Hale

calendar year on record, according to The National Weather Service, it is no surprise that some of these relics are appearing on the topsoil.

Dupin has about 200 relics, of which he is planning to bring about 80 pieces to the new exhibit at the Palisades Recreational Center.  Everything will be on loan, with contractual agreements in place for an agreed upon amount of time.

In addition, Dupin is looking for others in the neighborhood who have artifacts to loan to the exhibit, and to help curate it.  Dupin is especially looking for neighbors who can loan local historic artifacts from the period between the Civil War to the time of the streetcars

American Indian Relic. Photo Courtesy of Palisades History Museum. Photo Credit: Rebecca Hale

that help to tell the story of the neighborhood. The cases are scheduled to be delivered in mid-January. To volunteer or loan an artifact to the exhibit, email [email protected].

In 2019 DC Parks and Recreation is planning to resurface the current playing field and improve the retaining wall to prevent erosion on the spectator side of the soccer field. During the resurfacing and improvement of the area, Dupin again plans to be there to ensure that any new artifacts are recovered and preserved.