A bench of pink granite honors Jean Jules Jusserand, the French Ambassador to the United States during World War I, and a close friend of President Theodore Roosevelt. One of the most obscure monuments in Washington, D.C., the semicircular bench was erected by the Jusserand Memorial Committee and dedicated by Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1936. It holds the distinction of being the first memorial erected on federal property to a foreign diplomat.
Jean Jules Jusserand served as French Ambassador to the United States from 1902-1925. Soon after his arrival in Washington, Jusserand earned the confidence of President Theodore Roosevelt and became a member of his unofficial “tennis cabinet.” Roosevelt and Jusserand shared a love for the outdoors and spent many long hours hiking in Rock Creek Park. In his memoir, “What Me Befell,” Jusserand described their outings:
“President Roosevelt gave me that unique proof of trust and friendship when he asked me to walk. What the President called a walk was a run: no stops, no breathing time, no slacking of speed, but a continuous race, careless of mud, thorns, and the rest.”
Besides his significant contributions to diplomacy between France and the United States (serving under five presidential administrations and throughout the first World War), Jusserand’s writings earned him recognition at home and abroad. He won the first Pulitzer Prize in History for With Americans of Past and Present Days, a book recounting the key contributions of many Frenchmen to the history of the United States. For his efforts in Franco-American relations, Jusserand also received the “Grand Croix” of the French Legion of Honor, the highest French distinction. His efforts to promote friendship between the two countries led him to create the American Society of the Legion of Honor, which recognizes Americans who make significant contributions to France.
After returning home, Jules Jusserand eventually died in 1932. To commemorate his achievements, the Jusserand Memorial Committee erected a bench of pink granite as a memorial. The location was chosen to honor Jusserand’s love for Rock Creek Park, where he frequently walked with family and friends. The bench was approved by an Act of Congress in 1935, without expense to the United States. At the commemoration on November 7, 1936, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt reflected:
“Almost we can say - that he was a great American as well as a great Frenchman. We shall link Mr. Jusserand’s name forever with the names of Lafayette and Rochambeau and De Grasse and the other valiant Frenchmen whose services in this country entitle them for all time to the grateful remembrance of all Americans.”
Know Before You Go
The bench is along the north side of Beach Dr NW, just south of the intersection of Beach Dr NW and Tilden St. NW. Maps available at Rock Creek National Park pinpoint the location. The nearest parking lot is for the Rock Creek Park tennis courts off of Park Rd. After parking at the tennis courts, walking 100 ft or so down the hill to Beach Dr. NW puts you at the bench. An alternative is to park at Peirce Mill, and walk 1000 ft down Western Ridge Trail, a scenic walking trail that follows Rock Creek. A sign alongside the Western Ridge Trail and across the street from the memorial explains the significance of Jean Jules Jusserand and his affection for Rock Creek Park.