Ann Arbor's city parks sit on the ancestral and traditional homelands of several indigenous Native peoples. Read a
land acknowledgement from the city and learn more about the early history of the land
The piece of land that became George Washington Park was donated to the city in 1911 by Louis Hall. Eli Gallup, who served as parks superintendent from 1919 to 1964, placed The Rock on this piece of land. This particular boulder was found in a city gravel pit off of Pontiac Trail, which is now Olson Park. It was commemorated to the 200th anniversary of the birth of George Washington. A plaque, made from metal that Gallup salvaged from city landfills, was created by local students and put on the rock several years later. Read more about the history of The Rock on this site in a
1991 Ann Arbor Observer article, courtesy of the AADL.
The commemorative plaque on "The Rock", now buried under paint
The Rock sat undisturbed and unpainted for about sixty years, before the tradition of painting it began. Painting The Rock is now a tradition, but it has a surprising beginning. Sometime in the 1950s, The Rock was vandalized and painted for the first time with the letters of a rival school— M.S.U. This kickstarted a back-and-forth affair of painting the rock with the names of schools, fraternities, other organizations, rude messages and more.
In the past The Rock has been the subject of some controversy. Nearby residents complained of youth causing trouble in the area, and leaving paint cans and other debris behind at the park and in neighbor's yards. In 1993 the city considered removing The Rock due to the volume of complaints. Read a
1993 Ann Arbor News article covering the controversy. Soil samples were taken to check for VOCs (volatile organic compounds) and to measure the levels of lead in the soil around the rock. There was some lead in the soil, but below the MDNR's values for criteria for action. No VOCs were found, either, surprising some who thought that The Rock was a subject of massive contamination. The contractor who undertook the environmental investigation recommended no action was needed. The Rock, being seen as a cultural touchstone, was left to stay. It continues to be painted weekly as a tradition for University of Michigan students and Ann Arbor residents.
Today,The Rock is painted over constantly. Any message can appear on it, but most often it is covered with the names, logos and emblems of student organizations, clubs and fraternities. In February 2023 The Rock was seen painted white and green supporting the rival Michigan State University, in an act of solidarity after a tragic shooting on MSU's campus.