Peirce Mill and Rock Creek Park

Best time to go: 04/01 - 10/31  

Pre-registration is highly recommended

Peirce Mill had been grinding away for nearly a hundred years before Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr. drafted his plans for Rock Creek Park. As the park grew and milling became less lucrative, the Peirce Mill transitioned into a tea-house for tourists.

Peirce Mill has been considered among the best spots in DC for outdoor recreation for over a hundred years. Local nature enthusiasts and birders also flocked to Peirce Mill. As the Federal Writer’s Project noted in 1942:

Rock Creek Park, in addition to being a natural woodland well suited as a habitation for native birds, draws an additional increment of bird-dwellers through a strange, but apparent, feeling of kinship for the captive birds in Rock Creek Zoo.

– The WPA Guide to Washington

When should I visit Peirce Mill?

Whether you’re a tourist or a local, plan your visit around summer weekends. The best time to tour is the second Saturday or fourth Saturday between April and October. On those days, the park service provides demonstrations at 11a and 2p. As part of the demonstration, a park ranger diverts water from Rock Creek to set the wheel in motion and grind grain to feed the livestock at Oxon Hill.

Not only is the wheel in motion, but all three floors of the rock building come alive. The park service recently closed the top floor, pending a safety review, but it is likely to open in 2020.

On the first and second floors, a ranger will walk you through the machinery, explain the function of each gear and conveyor, and let you touch the cornmeal as it comes out of the sifter in the basement.

When is Peirce Mill open and operational?

Peirce Mill is in operation at 11a and 2p on the second Saturday or fourth Saturday of every month between April and October.

What is the closest parking to Rock Creek Park?

You can park in the lot across from Peirce Mill. If it’s full, there is also street parking along Spring of Freedom St. by the Embassy of Czechoslovakia.

Outside the mill, Park Rangers offer family programs on the second and fourth Saturdays. On a recent Saturday a ranger gave an ice cream demonstration (using an original recipe from Thomas Jefferson). After the demonstration, he served us a generous helping of free ice cream after our tour of the mill.

History of Peirce Mill

A small museum tells the history of the land and of the Mill from its beginnings in 1829 [1]. The original owners required dozens of workers to run the mill the mill each day. They relied almost entirely on slave labor. In 1862, the Federal Government handed Peirce Shoemaker $6,000 in compensation for the emancipation of his 20 slaves.

The compensation from the US Government for each of Peirce Shoemaker's slaves at the time of their emancipation in 1862.
The compensation from the US Government for each of Peirce Shoemaker’s slaves at the time of their emancipation in 1862.

The history continues into the 1920s, when African-American entrepreneur Hattie Sewell took over operations of the mill tea-house. Although she doubled sales, her concession was cancelled as a result of “racism and political pressure from a neighbor and descendent of the Peirce family” [2]

A menu from the teahouse that operated in the Mill in the early 20th Century.
A menu from the teahouse that operated in the Mill in the early 20th Century.

If you’re a history buff, don’t pass up the opportunity to see an authentic mill operating in the heart of DC. Children, especially, will delight in the sound of the millstone, the smell of wooden gears, and the overall experience of how early America made its bread.

Explore More:

  1. U.S. Park Service, Peirce Mill, 2018.
  2. U.S. Park Service, Placard in Peirce Mill Museum, 2019.

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