Kingman Island (also known as Burnham Barrier) and Heritage Island are islands in Northeast and Southeast Washington, D.C., in the Anacostia River. Both islands are man-made, built from material dredged from the Anacostia River and completed in 1916. Kingman Island is bordered on the east by the Anacostia River, and on the west by 110-acre Kingman Lake. Heritage Island is surrounded by Kingman Lake. Both islands were federally owned property managed by the National Park Service until 1995. They are currently owned by the District of Columbia Government, and managed by Living Classrooms of the National Capital Region. Kingman Island is bisected by Benning Road and Benning Bridge with the southern half of the island bisected again by East Capitol Street and the Whitney Young Memorial Bridge. As of 2010, Langston Golf Course occupied the northern half of Kingman Island, while the southern half of Kingman Island and all of Heritage Island remained largely undeveloped. Kingman Island, Kingman Lake and nearby Kingman Park are named after Brigadier General Dan Christie Kingman, the former head of the United States Army Corps of Engineers.
Prior to the arrival of European settlers in the 18th century, the Anacostia River was a fast-flowing and relatively silt-free river with very few mudflats or marshes. White settlers cleared much of the surrounding forest for farmland, however, and extensive soil erosion led to a heavy load of silt and effluent in the Anacostia. In 1805, a local landowner built a wooden bridge over the Anacostia River at the present site of Benning Bridge. The wooden bridge was rebuilt several times after 1805. This included construction of a steel bridge in 1892. The construction of Benning and other bridges and the diversion of inflowing streams to agricultural use also slowed the river's current, allowing much of the silt to settle and be deposited.
Between 1860 and the late 1880s, large mudflats ("the Anacostia flats") formed on both banks of the Anacostia River due to this deforestation and runoff. At this time, the city allowed its sewage to pour untreated into the Anacostia. Marsh grass began growing in the flats, trapping the sewage and leading public health experts to conclude that the flats were unsanitary. Health officials also feared that the flats were a prime breeding ground for malaria- and yellow fever-carrying mosquitos By 1876, a large mudflat had formed immediately south of Benning Bridge and another flat some 740 feet (230 m) wide had developed south of that. By 1883, a stream named "Succabel's Gut" traversed the upper flat and another dubbed "Turtle Gut" the lower, and almost all flats on the river hosted substantial populations of American Lotus, lily pads, and wild rice.
In 1898, officials with the United States Army Corps of Engineers and the District of Columbia convinced the United States Congress that the Anacostia River should be dredged to create a more commercially viable channel that would enhance the local economy. The dredged material would be used to build up the marshes—drying them out and eliminating the public health dangers they caused, as well as creating land where factories or warehouses might be built.
Decisions on how to use the newly created land occurred over the next few years, leading to the conclusion that commercial land was not needed and the proposal to turn the reclaimed flats into parkland. The D.C. government agreed in 1905, and most of the reclaimed mudflats were subsequently declared to be parkland and named Anacostia Water Park (now Anacostia Parkl) in 1919. The National Capital Parks and Planning Commission (NCPPC) signed on to the park plan in 1928.
Dredging began in January 1903, at which time the Army Corps of Engineers began surveying the surrounding land to determine whether the federal government or private landowners had title to the marshes themselves. The survey work was complete by November 1905, with the U.S. government asserting ownership over the flats. In June 1912, Congress appropriated $100,000 to dredge the Anacostia from the 11th Street Bridges to the District-Maryland line. In June 1915, the dredges discovered two large anchors with many feet of chain attached to them. The anchors were believed to have come from United StatesNavy gunboat barges burned on the Anacostia River in 1814 during the War of 1812. Both Kingman Island and Heritage Island were completed in 1916.
In 1926, the National Aeronautic Association proposed filling in all or part of Kingman Lake to expand Kingman Island so that a new city airport could be built there. Two years later, the piers supporting the Benning Bridge were reconfigured to permit a dredge to pass between them. The reconfiguration was exceptionally complex, as 92 percent of the city's electrical supply passed through cables carried by Benning Bridge. The new, large dredging ship Benning was used to dredge the upper part of the Anacostia River, and some of the fill from this operation was used to create two new islands in Kingman Lake, named Island No. 3 (3 acres (1.2 ha) in size) and Island No. 4 (4 acres (1.6 ha) in size).
In 1934, the Corps of Engineers transferred ownership of Anacostia Park, Kingman and Heritage islands, and Kingman Lake to the National Park Service. The Park Service also proposed extending East Capitol Street onto the reclaimed land and then over the Anacostia River, and building a complex of sports stadiums, an armory, an outdoor theater, a swimming pool, an ice skating rink, and athletic fields on the flats. Legislation proposing a bridge across Kingman Island and stadium complex in Anacostia Park was submitted to Congress, which did not act on the proposals. The first nine holes of Langston Golf Course were built on the north end of Kingman Island in 1939, and the back nine on the lake's western shore in 1955.
In August 1947, construction of an airport on Kingman Island was again proposed, but the NCPPC disapproved the proposal in December. The project was proposed again in August 1948, because dredged material was still being placed on Kingman Island to build it up and large portions of the island remained undeveloped.
In 1946, the last pair of bald eagles on the Anacostia River abandoned their nest on Kingman Island. Although a bird watcher claimed to have seen a bald eagle nest on the Anacostia River in 1988, the bald eagle did not return until transplanted eaglets returned to the river as adults in 2004.
The Whitney Young Memorial Bridge, center, was built across Kingman Island and the Anacostia River in 1955. Construction on RFK Stadium began two years later.
The city finally extended East Capitol Street across the Anacostia River and Kingman Island in 1955. That 1934 proposal was finally approved by city and federal planners in 1949. The Whitney Young Memorial Bridge opened in November 1955.
Reclaimed land on the western shore of Kingman Lake became the site of RFK Stadium in 1957. D.C. officials, who had been seeking a site for a large all-purpose sports stadium since the early 1930s, finally won support from the U.S. House of Representatives for a stadium at Anacostia Park in January 1957 and the District of Columbia Stadium (renamed Robert F. Kennedy Stadium in 1968) opened in 1961.
A number of development proposals were made for Kingman Island throughout the 1960s, although few were adopted. A second concrete span for Benning Bridge was constructed in 1961; the old span now carried eastbound traffic, while the new span carried only westbound traffic. In 1961, the NCPPC proposed filling in 59 acres (24 ha) of Kingman Lake (about 50 to 60 percent of the lake's total area) and relocating some of the riprap walls to make Islands 3 and 4 part of the mainland and add an additional 19 acres (7.7 ha) to Langston Golf Course. This plan was never acted on, and a year later the city proposed turning Kingman Island into a landfill. Two years later, the city proposed closing the first nine holes of Langston Golf Course and building a $10 million public aquarium on the site, but the National Park Service refused to turn over the land to the city. In 1965, the city again asked permission to turn Kingman Island into a landfill. Although this plan was not approved, the city did begin dumping environmental trash (such as grass cuttings, leaves, and tree stumps) on Kingman Island at this time. Four years later, the city proposed closing all of Langston Golf Course and building extensive low-income public housing on the golf course and the rest of Kingman Island.