Almost 200 years ago, Isaac Peirce built a mill along Rock Creek. Now part of Rock Creek Park, the building stands today as a reminder of Washington’s agrarian past.
But from the beginning, the mill was also a popular subject for local artists. Around 1830, an unknown artist created the first painting of Peirce Mill.
Pierce Shoemaker, a grandson of Isaac Peirce, was an amateur artist. He drew this view of his family’s farmstead around 1880.
Many Washington families owned paintings of Peirce Mill, as described in this article from 1903:
“As a mecca for amateur painters and sketchers in this locality the Pierce Mill stands in the first rank. The structure itself and the natural scenery surrounding it challenge ever the attention of wielders of the brush and drawing pencil, and in many a Washington home suspended on mansion walls hangs the first success of the family artist, that being Pierce Mill and the vicinity done in oil.”
In 1890, Peirce Mill became part of the new Rock Creek Park. In the first decades of the 20th century, the building was used as a teahouse. This 1903 postcard shows the waterfall near Peirce Mill. Not a natural feature of Rock Creek, it was built as an aesthetic enhancement for the park.
This 1924 photograph shows a woman painting in Rock Creek Park. In 1933, the park became a unit of the National Park Service.
Well-known local artists portrayed Peirce Mill. Lily Spandorf’s work was featured in The Washington Post. She painted this image of the mill in the mid-20th century.
In the early 1970s, the former carriage barn next to Peirce Mill became the Art Barn, a place where local artists could show their work. Until it closed in the 1990s, the Art Barn was a beloved local landmark.
The Art Barn was the “first permanent local facility in Washington where local professional artists could display their works in rotating exhibits throughout the year.”
Artists associated with the Art Barn created memorable images of Peirce Mill. This print by Lindsay Harper Makepeace captures a snowy view of the mill from across Rock Creek.
Today, a small gallery inside the mill features paintings, drawings and prints of Peirce Mill.
In 2019, Peirce Mill hosted an Art Barn Reunion and Landscape Meet-Up. In 2020, this event became Create by the Creek, an invitation to make art inspired by Rock Creek Park–and a continuation of the long history of art at Peirce Mill.
Create by the Creek is organized by the National Park Service, the Friends of Peirce Mill, Washington Studio School, and the Rock Creek Conservancy.