Charles C. Glover Was D.C. Legend
Poor Thetus Sims.
The Tennessee Democrat had given what must have seemed to be a fairly insignificant speech on the House floor in the spring of 1913. He was, like many other Congressmen, speaking out against the establishment of national parks in the District of Columbia. Sims’ mistake, however, was accusing local crusader Charles Carroll Glover of charging exorbitant prices for the land.
Glover, the president of Riggs Bank, didn’t love that characterization, to say the least. When he came across Sims in Farragut Square on April 18, he assaulted the Congressman, according to the Office of the House Historian.
Ultimately, the matter was resolved when Speaker James “Champ— Clark (D-Mo.) issued a warrant for Glover’s arrest and reprimanded the banker on the House floor.
“If one person is permitted to go unpunished for an assault upon a Congressman, everybody can assault a Congressman for words used in debate on the floor of the House, and free speech is at an end,— Clark said just before he released Glover.
Yet Glover eventually had the last word in land preservation. For example, one bill he lobbied for finally passed Congress in a compromise that created the National Zoo, a more popular possibility among Members, and opened the door to a commission that established Rock Creek Park. It was just one of the many fights Glover fought on behalf of the District. In fact, Glover, after whom Glover Park was named, went on to help create a city that would be very different today had he not played his part.
Born in North Carolina, Glover moved to the District as a child. He began working for Riggs Bank as a clerk and rose to become its chief administrative officer in 1873 at the ripe age of 27. Yet he is best known today for the work he did outside his day job. Glover was involved in the establishment of the District’s first national parks, the zoo, the National Cathedral and Embassy Row, and he served as president of the Corcoran Gallery of Art and the Washington Stock Exchange.
His later position as president of Riggs Bank afforded him a uniquely Washingtonian kind of courtesy, according to Carlton Fletcher, the self-appointed historian of Glover Park.
“Glover lobbied tirelessly for his causes, and, as banker to congressmen and presidents, Glover did not want for what is now called access’: he was often a guest at the White House,— Fletcher wrote in a profile of the banker published in the Glover Park Gazette in 2004.
Glover was not shy about using his access on behalf of the District. At the dawn of the national parks movement, the banker looked at what locals now know as Rock Creek Park and saw land that should be preserved. Historian Cornelius W. Heine wrote a history of Glover’s contributions to the national parks in the National Capital Region and chronicled the idea for the park.
“On Thanksgiving morning of 1888, Charles Carroll Glover invited James M. Johnson, Calderon Carlisle, and Captain Thomas W. Symons of the Engineer Corps to join him in a ride through the Rock Creek valley. Riding through the thickly wooded slopes the party reached a hillside. Overlooking the picturesque valley that lay before them, these four men, at Mr. Glover’s request, pledged themselves to work for a national park, and to never cease their efforts until they were successful,— Heine wrote.
Glover took his plan to Congress, offering to donate or sell at low prices the land to the government, and found a supporter in Rep. John Hemphill (D-S.C.). In a fight that has echoes more than a century later, the legislative body — made up of lawmakers with loyalties far outside the District — didn’t go for it at first, but after multiple Congresses passed, so did the bill.
Glover has also been credited with donating the land for what was then called Potomac Park. President Grover Cleveland signed the bill to create the park out of the swamp after a last-minute plea from Glover, according to Heine. Today, West Potomac Park is home to the Lincoln and Jefferson memorials.
Glover himself is memorialized at the National Cathedral, which was first conceived in a meeting at his home in 1891.
“To the Glory of God and in the memory of Charles Carroll Glover 1846-1936 in whose home on December 8, 1891 it was decided to build this cathedral. And of his wife Annie Cunningham Glover 1856-1943. This bay is given by their son and daughter,— a headstone at the church reads.
Glover persuaded Congress to charter a foundation for the cathedral and became one of four donors to give $75,000, according to the cathedral’s exhibit “Dreamers and Believers: Cathedral Builders.— (Decades later, Virginia Glover, the wife of Charles Carroll Glover III, chaired the Cathedral Foundation’s development committee.)
Glover’s sale of land on Massachusetts Avenue Northwest to the British government for its embassy is credited with leading to better property value on the street and to the development of Embassy Row. Fittingly, his name is used for the Massachusetts Avenue bridge that crosses over Rock Creek Parkway.
Though Glover made so many contributions to the District, it’s not clear what contributions he made directly to the neighborhood that now bears his name. Fletcher said it was first referred to as Glover Park in print in 1926, 10 years before Glover’s death, possibly taken from the adjacent Glover Parkway, which is now known as Glover-Archbold Park.
Regardless, there’s no doubt that Glover’s impact on the District was enormous.