Battle of the Parks: Which is Your Favorite?

Georgetown is blessed with four major parks within its boundaries: Rose Park, Montrose Park, Volta Park and the Georgetown Waterfront. Together they make up an emerald necklace strung around Georgetown’s historic homes. In GM’s opinion, they are among the top two or three reasons to live in Georgetown.

But which of them is the best?

Rose Park

Photo by Digitaldetection.

Rose Park is located on the eastern boundary of Georgetown between P St. and M St. It is owned by the city and administered by the DC Parks and Recreation department. Of the four parks, it probably has the most interesting history. Located as it is near the center of the historic Herring Hill neighborhood, Rose Park was a treasured resource of Georgetown’s African American population. It was founded in 1918 by the Ancient Order of the Sons and Daughters of Moses to serve the area’s African American children. Throughout its history it was known as Patterson’s Park, Jacob’s Park, or Winship’s Lot. While officially designated for Blacks only, the park was always a de facto integrated park, used by residents of all races.

Today Rose Park continues to be very popular. It offers:

  • A long and narrow grassy area used mostly for dog walking, picnics, and small ball games like bocce.
  • Three of the best (but most crowded) tennis courts in Georgetown
  • Full basketball court
  • Large playground
  • Little league park
  • Summer full of events
  • A Friends of Rose Park group
  • A summer farmers market every Wednesday

All and all a solid entry. What have the others got?

Montrose Park

Ok, full disclosure: GM lives across the street from Montrose Park. So he’s going to be a little biased. But that said: Montrose Park is a totally awesome park.

Montrose Park is on the northeast border of Georgetown between R St., Oak Hill Cemetery, Dumbarton Oaks (both the estate and the nature preserve) and Rock Creek Park. The land that became Montrose Park was owned by Robert Parrott a rope maker. The long walkway lit by gas lamps once served as the ropewalk where workers braided the rope. The lot was used by Georgetown families for recreation and was known as Parrott’s Woods. In the early part of the 20th century, the land was proposed for a housing development (in fact a house once sat on the property). Sarah Louisa Rittenhouse and a group of other Georgetowners petitioned Congress to purchase the land for the benefit of the public. A memorial in her honor stands at the park’s entrance.

The park is technically part of Rock Creek Park and as such is administered by the National Park Service.

Montrose Park offers:

  • The most open space of the four parks, with several large fields of grass and groves of trees. It probably has the best landscape architecture of the four parks too.
  • The aforementioned gas lamp-lit walkway.
  • Four tennis courts in rather shabby condition.
  • A large playground.
  • A small but fun hedge maze. (In reality it’s just a big hedge that kids like to run through. It’s not much of a maze anymore, if it ever was.)
  • Quick access to Rock Creek Park and the rustic Dumbarton Oaks Park.
  • Basically an off-leash dog park.

GM likes to say that Montrose Park is Georgetown’s worst kept secret. Over the last several years it has become an increasingly popular choice for people on a sunny day.

Volta Park

Volta Park is bounded by Q St., Volta Place, 34th St., and 33rd St. It is probably the most compact of the four parks, fitting in a surprising amount of stuff in one city block.

Volta Park was originally a cemetery. It was used as one from 1762 through the late 19th century. At that point the bodies were removed and the land was transformed into a park. According to the Friends of Volta Park, the park was the scene of Alger Hiss’s spying and the Kennedy brothers’ touch football games. By the mid 90’s, though, the park was in such poor shape that a group of citizens organized to rehab the park. We owe it to them that it is in such good shape now.

Volta Park is owned by the city and administered by DPR.

Volta Park has a wide variety of offerings, including:

  • A softball field.
  • A dog park.
  • A public swimming pool (which is in great shape, but is seriously lacking in deck chairs)
  • A community activity center.
  • A playground.
  • Two basketball courts.
  • Two tennis courts that are better than Montrose Park’s but not quite as nice as Rose Park’s.
  • As mentioned, a Friends of Volta Park group.
  • Summer events.

Volta Park is the West Village’s only option, but it’s a good one. Events and programs keep the park humming with activity throughout the warmer months.

Georgetown Waterfront

The Georgetown Waterfront Park is by far the youngest of Georgetown’s parks. Just a few years ago it was a giant parking lot. Now it’s four city blocks of beautiful meandering paths and well placed benches. And it’s only halfway built. By the end of this year or early next year, the full park will be complete and Georgetown’s waterfront will finally rise to its potential (oh yeah, except for that).

The Waterfront Park has the following to offer:

Maybe the Georgetown Waterfront is a little bit of a one trick pony, but it’s a hell of a trick.


So what do you think? They’re all wonderful in their own ways. But if GM would have to pick, he’d go:

  1. Montrose Park – It’s just the most visually attractive. Since GM mostly uses parks to sit and read, this is a winning feature.
  2. Rose Park – It’s not quite as attractive as Montrose Park, but it’s still pretty nice. Plus it has a good mix of sports facilities and a pastoral setting.
  3. Volta Park – Great mix of facilities, but lacks the natural attractiveness of either Montrose Park or Rose Park.
  4. Georgetown Waterfront – All attraction, no action.

How would you rank them?



Filed under Around Town

7 responses to “Battle of the Parks: Which is Your Favorite?

  1. Ken Archer

    A quick ranking from a toddler’s perspective:

    (1) Corcoran: Not really in GTown, but the best and safest playground that’s just for us tots! No potty for daddy though.
    (2) Montrose: Cushy playground and daddy can go potty nearby. Lots of grass to run around in too. But big kids on the playground can be meanies.
    (3) Volta: Rec center has preschool for tots and mommy can go potty while I play. Why is there no kiddy pool though? And big kids can be meanies here too.
    (4) Rose: “Tot lot” has dangerous freefalls from playground equipment, and no potty for daddy.
    (5) Waterfront: Freefalling into Potomac and running into traffic are fun! But not safe.

  2. I have always been partial to Volta Park……..the amazing efforts of the community and John Richardson to rehabilitate this park……the little league ball field……the open fields……..the ladies to walk their dogs………the sunbathers……..especially the sunbathers………a great community park for all seasons.

  3. Denis James

    Gosh GM,

    I can only guess that the newness of Jelleff as a public facility, that will later this year be run by DPR, most likely by a contractor, accounts for its absence from your listings.

  4. vb

    It is hard to decisively rank the 4 parks as they are all quite different yet wonderful in their own ways. Also the rankings change depending on the season or the weather or even the time of day. But one thing is for sure, the combination of the 4 is unbeatable – we are very lucky to have them all at walking distance.

  5. Kate Whitmore

    GM, I recommend you get your hands on “A Portrait of Old Georgetown,” (1951) by Grace Dunlop Becker. The DC Public Library/Peabody Room is sure to have at least one copy. It has lots of great information and anecdotes that you will surely appreciate. Mrs. Becker recounts that in 1822 Clement Smith, the first cashier at the Farmer’s and Merchant’s Bank (later Rigg’s, now PNC Bank) bought the property that is now Montrose Park from Richard Parrott. He called it Elderslie. He sold it in 1837 to a Mrs. Boyce, who planted many roses to please the public. She unfortunately does not tell us where the name “Montrose” originated.

    I confess to prefering Montrose over the other parks because it has such a beautiful atmosphere and landscape. Nothing beats picnicking on the green lawns of Montrose, with the breeze rushing through the immensely tall trees and fireflies lighting up the lawns on a hot summer night. And the hike down to the creek is like stepping into a wild landscape, filled with boulders and spooky, hollowed out trees. (You will find what must be one of DC’s tallest and thickest trees just below the kid’s sandbox on the ridge). I remember playing in the deeper pools of that creek with my dog when I was young. A place of inspiration, still partially untamed by the city.

  6. GM

    Dennis: I didn’t include Jelleff because I don’t think of it as a city park in the traditional sense. I think you make a fair point, though, that it should be considered as such since it offers some of the same facilities that the other parks do. Still, with all the changes under way it would be hard to judge it anyway.

    Kate: thanks for the recommendation. I will try to track it down. I seem to recall an article in the Post a few years back concluding that that Montrose Park tree was in the top five tallest trees, but wasn’t quite the tallest (I think the tallest actually may be in a Dupont alleyway if I remember correctly). I’ll add to your summer portrait the owl that we hear hooting away every night.

  7. Nate K.

    From a pet-owner responsibility standpoint, Waterfront Park is hands-down better than Rose or Montrose: it hasn’t yet been overrun by the “we know this isn’t an off-leash dog park, but we’ll treat it that way regardless” crowd.

    I respect the pet-owners who share the parks and comply with the leash laws. But those who blithely assume we all enjoy having their animals run loose around our kids: not so much.

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