Schoolchildren in Washington check out the zoo’s bears, circa 1899. (Library of Congress)

Have you ever written about the quarry that gave its name to Quarry Road in Adams Morgan? It’s now occupied by apartment buildings.

K.L. Brown, Washington

In a word: no. No, Answer Man has not written about the quarry that gave its name to Quarry Road NW.

But that ends today.

The quarry was technically in the area between Adams Morgan and Mount Pleasant that sticklers today call Lanier Heights. And high it is. Its western edge sits atop a stony ridge line overlooking Rock Creek Park.

The undulating topography of the area is apparent in Quarry Road itself. The thoroughfare stretches from Columbia Road NW to Harvard Street NW. If you’re in a car, it’s discontinuous, broken up by two flights of stairs. The name is a remnant of a 19th-century stone-quarrying operation that was situated on the east bank of Rock Creek between Quarry and Ontario roads.

This was one of 22 quarries along Rock Creek and its tributaries. The oldest — along Piney Branch — was first used more than 3,000 years ago by Native Americans, who prized its quartzite for tools. Later, other quarries provided everything from soapstone for laboratory bench tops to granite gneiss for buildings. (Gneiss? Nice.)

The Lanier Heights quarry opened about 1872 and turned out bluestone.

A 1984 report prepared for the Adams-Morgan Community Development Corp. by Dan Durett & Associates noted: “The Board of Public Works used enormous amounts of rock for the construction of macadam roads during the territorial period, 1871-1874. Blasting from the quarry would have been a common sound. A massive crushing machine was in operation near the bank of the Creek.”

To get to the quarry, workers traveled via a road that led from Columbia Road. This road was known as Red House Lane because the only structure in the area then was a red-brick house.

The quarry was owned by a man named Thomas Morgan. Answer Man suspects this is Thomas P. Morgan, the District commissioner after whom an elementary school for African American children was later named. That school and another — the white Adams School — gave their names to the neighborhood.

The bluestone quarry was active until about 1885. A few years later, it was part of the acreage that became the National Zoo, when that institution moved from its original home on the Mall.

Today, the zoo is entirely on the west side of Rock Creek, and most people enter it from Connecticut Avenue NW. But in 1891, it straddled Rock Creek, and its main entrance was on the east side.

A 2004 Smithsonian report prepared by Gavin Farrell notes: “The road from the Quarry Road entrance to the center loop was the first paved and graded access to the Zoo. A cheap, temporary timber and steel bridge on granite piers served to carry zoogoers over the unpredictable creek and into the Zoo proper.”

In an 1891 story previewing the new zoo, the Evening Star noted how useful the old quarry was turning out to be: “It is an ideal place for bear pits and could not be better if it had been made to order. It is the site of an old quarry and the rocky face of the cliff rises so high and so steep that there will be no earthly chance for bruin to leave the home that has been chosen for him by the back way unless he puts up a very high ladder and then goes up that. The level ground in front of the cliff will soon be inclosed in a stout iron fence that will make a fine big yard.”

Workers did a little more blasting to create three separate, fenced-in caves for the bears.

It’s hard to say exactly where the bear pits were, but to get a sense, just look across from the Beach Drive entrance where a sheer wall of vine-covered stone rises. There was no Beach Drive in 1891. Lanier Heights was not studded with houses and apartment buildings, the way it is today.

The disused quarry proved to be a poor home for the bears. Damp conditions and falling rocks and earth prompted the construction of new bear exhibits in 1902. As for Quarry Road, the Adams Morgan ANC is hoping the 2700 block will be designated Casilda Luna Way, after the Latina activist.

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