Towers on DC's highest point are nothing new. Fatal shells rained down on the Confederates from canons behind the embankment above during the seige of Washington in 1864.
Fort Reno Park/Tenleytown, 429 Feet, 39th and Fessenden, Washington, DC
"The Summit that Saved the Union"I climbed Fort Reno on October 12, 1998.
The directions to the summit are straight forward. It's the only summit you can access via subway (the Tenleytown stop on the Red Line). I followed the computer generated Mapblast directions heading northwest Connecticut Avenue northwest from the White House for approximately 4.5 miles (passing under Dupont Circle and by the Washington Zoo) before turning left (west) on Fessenden and crossing 4 blocks (including Nebraska Avenue) en route to the obvious summit at 39th and Fessenden.
In almost any other area, the high point would be a coveted site because of its glorious history in the only Civil War battle to take place in the nation's capitol. However, with so much else going on here, it is merely dismissed on various other web sites -- The Washington Post in profiling the Tenleytown neighborhood doesn't even mention the summit that saved the Union and another popular site uses it as a landmark to identify speed traps "at the bottom of a big hill."
Fort Reno (at 429 feet) is actually lower than the top of the Washington Monument (which rises 555 feet from nearly sea level). However, the structures on top including the sandstone castle-like fort structure and obligatory highpoint antenna farm cause the overall effect to exceed that of the mandatory height limiting monument. Residents gather here on the 4th of July to look down on the fireworks display!
Fort Reno was originally constructed in 1863 by the 119th Pennsylvania Regiment as one of a string of forts circling Washington to defend it against the Confederates. Originally named Fort Pennsylvania, it was renamed in memory of Maj. General Jesse Lee Reno who was killed at the Battle of South Mountain in 1862. The fort with its reinforced earthworks along the 39th Street side sported a dozen heavy guns and contingent of 3,000 men -- the largest fort of those surrounding Washington.
It saw action on July 10-12, 1864, when Robert E. Lee sent 22,000 Confederates led by General Jubal A. Early against the 9,000 Union troops defending Washington (Ulysses S. Grant had depleted the Union defenses for his siege of Petersburg). The Confederates ironically attacked from the north in Maryland. The initial warnings came from Fort Reno lookouts spying movement by Rockville. The attack itself was directed about 4 miles to the east across Rock Creek at Fort Stevens. The battle is known as "Fort Stevens."
The battle for the most part was fought just across the District line in Maryland. Fort Reno's guns were used sparingly for fear of dropping shells on the Union side. However, one 100 pound shell from Reno is reported to have killed 4 Confederates near the present Bethesda Naval Hospital almost due north of the peak.
Abraham Lincoln watched the battle on July 12 from Fort Stevens -- the only time in the Civil War in which he was actually at an ongoing battle. Union troops were able to regroup from other skirmishes in Maryland and repelled the attack.
Both Fort Stevens and Fort Reno are maintained by the National Park Service and are undergoing restorations.
Following the war, the fort was turned into a Freetown for freed slaves and later into a reservoir.
The Washington Post says the neighborhood is noted for its scenic alleys and middle class homes. It is just a mile from the Maryland upscale suburb of Chevy Chase. School boys were playing soccer on the lawn when I visited.