Deciphering DC: Fort Bunker Hill Park

fort bunker hill map
Ring of Civil War forts in DC

Let’s get historical.

Fort Bunker Hill Park in Brookland is where one of the many forts built to protect Washington, DC during the Civil War was situated. Known as the Fort Circle Parks today, the Union Army controlled these forts that circled the city to dissuade invaders. Most of the forts never really came into serious conflict and none were ever captured by the Confederate Army.

Fort Bunker Hill was itself built in 1861 by the 11th Massachusetts Infantry, with 13 mounted guns.

In 1919 DC tried to get Congress to pass a bill to turn the forts into parks or ‘green spaces’ in the city. That effort failed, but a later effort in 1925 formed the National Capital Parks Commission (NCPC), which begin overseeing the process of converting the forts into parks. The National Park Service took over the management in the 1940’s, and these forts are part of the National Park System today, classified under one of the 11 ‘Other’ designations* for ‘National Capital Parks’. It is managed by the National Capital Parks-East administrative unit as one of the ‘Fort Circle’ parks. Obviously, easy to sort out…

The city is much bigger today, and has expanded beyond where the forts would have protected it. In the 1930’s, the Conservation Civilian Corps (CCC) built some infrastructure in the parks in general, and specifically an amphitheater at Fort Bunker Hill Park. Apparently remnants of the amphitheater still exists, but the fort is long gone.

Today Fort Bunker Hill Park is only one block square with a few trails that weave around and through it, covered in dense forest. When I walked on the trails and through the brush searching, I didn’t see anything of note, but at the time I didn’t know what to look for and where.

It was striking how isolated I felt walking along the trails. I could have been convinced I wasn’t in the city, but rather far out in the woods. It’s cool that such green spaces exist in our urban neighborhoods, and cooler still that there is such history attached to them.

Maybe we’ll look at some of the other more prominent Fort Circle Parks in the future, ones where evidence of the forts still exist.

Until next time.

* The National Park System has 417 ‘units’ in the USA with 20 designations. The ‘Other’ designation is largely reserved for units found in or near Washington, DC.

Read more on the Fort Circle Parks here.

Read more about Fort Bunker Hill Park here.

Author: Jeremy Bailey

Writer and editor living in Washington, D.C.

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