Outside the Anacostia Community Museum, you will find a living exhibit, created by Smithsonian Gardens, which connects the museum to the surrounding neighborhoods and environment. The exhibit was designed to protect our waterways and restore native habitat. The plants you see in this garden are native to the area and provide food and shelter for native birds, insects, and other animals.
Explore this outdoor exhibit to discover more about the people, places, and plants that make this area unique.
A Museum Without Walls
For more than 50 years, the Anacostia Community Museum has reached beyond its walls to serve its community: you. Inside the museum, you will find engaging exhibits and public programs created by and for members of the community. Outside, you will find a living exhibit, created by Smithsonian Gardens, which connects the museum to the surrounding neighborhoods and environment. Explore this outdoor exhibit to discover more about the people, places, and plants that make this area unique.
The Anacostia Community Museum brings together diverse voices to celebrate our past and discuss important issues facing our community today. The museum seeks to answer critical questions, such as:
- Where do we come from?
- Who are we as a people?
- What is our heritage?
- On whose shoulders do we stand?
- How can we enrich our community?
The Anacostia River: People and Places
The Anacostia River flows 8.5 miles from the Maryland suburbs to its mouth at the Potomac River near downtown Washington, DC. Its watershed is home to more than 2.4 million people, including some of the city’s most economically distressed residents.
Despite the important role it has played in the history of our region, the Anacostia has often been neglected and abused, leading it to be dubbed “the forgotten river.” Today, local residents are working to reclaim and restore this valuable natural resource.
A Life Force
Before the first Europeans and Africans arrived at the banks of the Anacostia, the area’s native Algonquin peoples—the Nacotchtank—viewed the river as a life force full of richness.
The depth of the river, then 40 feet, allowed transatlantic ships easy access to the port of Bladensburg, Maryland. New settlers exploited the bounty provided by the river and its streams.
Over time, people often took too much from the rivers and depleted natural resources by overharvesting, killing off flora and fauna, and polluting streams with industrial waste.
“This place without all question is the most pleasant and healthful place in all this country . . .”
—British explorer Captain Henry Fleet, 1632
Reclaiming the Edge
The Anacostia River plays an important role in the cultural, spiritual, and creative lives of Washington, DC’s residents. It provides a peaceful place to rest and relax in an otherwise hectic urban environment and serves as a destination for leisure activities, including boating, biking, and fishing.
Today, community members are coming together to help restore the Anacostia watershed and fight for their right to a healthy, just, and sustainable future.
The Anacostia River: Pride and Preservation
The Anacostia Community Museum works to highlight the history of the Anacostia watershed and its surrounding neighborhoods through the lenses of faith, race, class, development, politics, and culture.
The museum seeks to cultivate deeper engagement between the river and residents to spur preservation and instill pride in communities.
It’s Our River
Throughout the 20th century and into the 21st, residents in neighborhoods along the Anacostia River have continually fought for environmental justice.
Communities have rallied against environmental hazards, such as utility generators, landfills, and incinerators, and have prevented their neighborhoods from being destroyed by freeway and bridge construction proposals.
Community organizations, including Seafarers Yacht Club, Earth Conservation Corps, and the Anacostia Watershed Society have worked to encourage a sense of civic engagement and stewardship among local residents.
It’s Up to Us!
Our actions can have a positive or negative impact on the Anacostia River. In small ways and big, we can take care of our waterways and repair years of neglect to achieve the swimmable, fishable urban river many desire.
“I learned the Anacostia River, even with all its problems, was a source of healing for a people who are often forsaken and ignored in our nation’s capital. My hope is the river can become a bridge . . .”
—Brenda Richardson, community leader
The Demonstration Garden
Gardens are great! They connect people to their community and environment. They empower people to grow their own food and live healthy, sustainable lives. They provide a space for neighbors to nurture existing relationships, create new ties, and get involved in their local communities. They are also restorative spaces that encourage a connection to and an understanding of the natural world.
The Anacostia Community Museum uses this demonstration garden for public programs for visitors of all ages. Visit anacostia.si.edu to find out about future programs.
The Benefits of Gardening
- Supports healthy lifestyles
- Encourages exercise and movement
- Helps reduce stress
- Promotes dialogue
- Cultivates community
- Connects you to nature and to the past
- Protects the environment
“We can love ourselves by loving the earth.”
—Wangari Maathai, activist and Nobel Peace Prize Laureate
This garden is designed to be welcoming – not only to humans, but also to wildlife.
Insects and other critters help our gardens thrive. Pollinators, such as bees and butterflies, pollinate our plants, providing us with flowers and food. Beneficial insects, such as ladybugs, eat harmful pests, including aphids. Other insects break down organic materials, such as leaves, improving the fertility of our soil. Insects are also an essential food source for songbirds and other creatures that bring our gardens to life.
Why Native Plants?
Native plants and animals coevolved with each other and depend on one another. Growing native plants helps restore native habitats that are threatened by urban development and invasive species. Native plants are also well adapted to the soil, average rainfall, and climate of our region.
Download these scenes from Smithsonian Gardens to use as your desktop background, or on your next Zoom meeting!