The fifth running of the Wilson Bridge Half Marathon will take place this coming Sunday morning, October 5th. Thanks to the work of race founder, Steve Nearman, the race will, for the first time, course through parts of the historic district of Old Town Alexandria. Runners will make their way along 14 blocks of Washington Street, before turning around and proceeding back to the Wilson Bridge for the scenic cross over the Potomac River to the finish at National Harbor.
Inspired by this exciting new aspect of the race, we compiled a list of places along the course that have historical markers. Not every historic place or site the runners will see has an historical marker, but many do.
A half mile from the waterfront, Washington Street was once a lazy avenue. Alexandrians searching for a good time walked to the end of the street that overlooked Great Hunting Creek (modern day beltway). It wasn't until later that a bridge was built there. Some residents gathered at Broomilaw Point, a long lost counterpart to Jones Point.
Washington Street was a battleground of sorts in the 1960s. Under the influence of urban renewal, landmarks such as the Lyceum and the Lloyd House were targeted for destruction. Those were saved but other historic homes were not.
Good luck to the runners and may you be inspired by the rich history of Alexandria and its neighbors!
Note: In addition to the markers listed below, there are three interpretive markers on the pathway on the Wilson Bridge.
Memorial Trees and Historical Markers along the George Washington Memorial Parkway
The George Washington Memorial Parkway (“GW Parkway” in local parlance) opened in grand style in 1932, the bicentennial of Washington’s birth. The idea for a better way to get to Mount Vernon from Washington goes all the way back to the late 1880s. Working with E.W. Fox, the editor of the Washington-based National Republican, M.B. Harlow, an Alexandria businessman and civic booster, led the charge.
Three routes were proposed and each had pros and cons. Finally, almost fifty years from the planting of the seed, the new highway opened up on the riverside route we know today.
The years leading up to the 200th anniversary witnessed a strong coming together of patriotic efforts to commemorate the bicentennial. Historic groups and chapters lined up for the chance to do their special part to memorialize Washington.
One of the most prominent aspects of the commemorating was the planting of memorial trees. From Alexandria southward to Mount Vernon, a handful of chapters planted trees along the parkway and erected the corresponding bronze tablets.
Using research accomplished by Dr. Paul Kelsch, an Associate Professor in the Department of Landscape Architecture at the Washington Alexandria Architecture Center, we provide the following information on the trees and the markers.
Location: Mount Vernon.
Note: Tablet is along the sidewalk that runs from the main parking lot to the entrance, about 50 yards from the entrance.
Congress authorized the Mount Vernon Memorial Highway
May 23, 1928 as an activity of the United States Commission for the
Celebration of the Two Hundredth Anniversary of the birth of George
The highway was designated and constructed under the direction of
The United States Department of Agriculture, Bureau of Public Roads. Construction started September 12, 1929, opened to traffic January 16, 1932. This highway was formally dedicated to the service of the people, November 15, 1932.
Location: Riverside Park
What to Look For: About a mile from the start, you will see Riverside Park on the right hand side. The stone tablet and marker is about 15 yards from the parkway.
The thirteen adjacent elms representing the thirteen original colonies were planted in commemoration of the Bi-Centennial celebration of George Washington’s birth and to revere the Ancient and Honorable Artillery Company of Massachusetts.
Dedicated by the National Society Women Descendents of the Ancient and Honorable Artillery
Location: Near Waynewood Boulevard.
What to Look For: After two more miles or so, the Parkway curves and begins running northward. 200 feet or so before you reach Waynewood Boulevard, you will see a large grassy mound on the right hand side with a pair of large oak trees. The marker may not be visible from the road.
These willow oaks are planted in honour of the Bicentennial of George Washington by the National Society of the Colonial Dames of America in the District of Columbia, 1732-1932
Memorial Tree (Red Oak)
Location: Collingwood Road
What to Look For: Collingwood Road is about a mile from Waynewood. Look to the left as you pass by Collingwood Road. The small tablet and lone tree are about 100 yards north of the end of Collingwood Road.
Memorial Tree, George Washington Bicentennial, 1732-1932.
Gen. J.E.B. Stuart Chapter No. 1851, Confederate Flag Chapter No. 2000, Robert E. Lee Chapter No. C44, United Daughters of the Confederacy and Children of the Confederacy in the District of Columbia, Registered American Tree Association.
This tree (Oriental Plane)
Location: A cut out on the west side, across from southern most part of Dyke Marsh.
What to Look For: About a mile beyond the stone bridge at Alexandria, look to the left for a small cutout.
In memory of George Washington, 1732-1799. This tree planted by Fairfax County Chapter D.A.R. in the bicentennial year of his birth. 1932.
These Trees (Eight Presidents)
Location: Belle Haven Park
Tree Type: Honeylocust
What to Look For: About a mile and a half past the stone bridge, you approach the intersection with Belle Haven Road (Shell Gas station on the left). Right as you approach the bus stop sign on the right hand side, look to the right for the stone marker. It is the most visible of all the markers for the runners.
On May 17, 1932, The Washington Post reported on the unveiling ceremony that took place the day before. The Mount Vernon Chapter, Daughters of the American Revolution, dedicated eight trees which were “placed in the first two triangular islands south of Alexandria.” The bronze tablet commemorated the eight Presidents who were “sons of Virginia.”
The tablet was affixed to a granite stone that had been one of the old lock stones of the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal, built with Washington as supervisor. It was placed by the trees in the middle of the first triangular island.
Unveiling honors went to Mrs. Eleanor Selden Washington Howard, and Mrs. Woodrow Wilson, widow of the late President.
After the ceremony, invited guests moved over to Belle Haven Country Club for tea and cake.
I’m not certain when it took place but the marker was moved to its current location near the bus stop.
These trees were planted in commemoration of the eight Presidents of the United States who were sons of Virginia.
George Washington, 1789-1797 • Thomas Jefferson, 1801-1809 • James Madison, 1809-1817 • James Monroe, 1817-1825 • Wm. Henry Harrison, 1841-1841 • John Tyler, 1841-1845 • Zachary Taylor, 1849-1850 • Woodrow Wilson, 1913-1921.
Erected 1932 by the Mt. Vernon Chapter N.S.D.A.R., Alexandria, Virginia.
We now cross over the Beltway, entering city limits of Alexandria.
The City of Alexandria recently christened the new Contraband and Freedmen Cemetery Memorial. In addition to the State Highway Marker that has been there since 2000, the new park has bas relief works, bronze plaques and a wall of remembrance. Arguably, it is the most moving of all the markers in the city.
Federal authorities established a cemetery here for newly freed African Americans during the Civil War. In January 1864, the military governor of Alexandria confiscated for use as a burying ground an abandoned pasture from a family with Confederate sympathies. About 1,700 freed people, including infants and black Union soldiers, were interred here before the last recorded burial in January 1869. Most of the deceased had resided in what was known as Old Town and in nearby rural settlements. Despite mid-twentieth-century construction projects, many burial sites remain undisturbed. A list of those interred here has also survived.
Department of Historic Resources, 2000.
Opposite Freedmen’s and Contraband Memorial
Stone Dedicated for First Catholic Church in Virginia, corner of South Washington and Church streets
This stone taken from the canal of the Potomac Company of which Washington and Fitzgerald were directors commemorates the erection of the first Catholic church in Virginia, A.D. 1795, which stood until 1839 about twenty feet behind the marker.
In grateful acknowledgement of their aid in establishing this church the three trees to the north of this stone have been dedicated as follows to General George Washington as subscriber to the building. Colonel John Fitzgerald, his favorite aide de camp, as the collector of the building fund. Colonel Robert Hooe, mayor of Alexandria, as the donor of the acre of land.
In commemoration of the Bicentennial of the birth of George Washington this tablet was donated by the Holy Name Society of Sacred Heart Church (Vailsburg), Newark, N.J. on the 133rd anniversary of the funeral of Colonel John Fitzgerald.
December 4, 1932
Washington School Compound, 418 South Washington Street
Alexandria Academy, (Washington School), Built 1785-86, George Washington Member, Board of Managers
Washington Lancastrian School, (Site of), Built 1812, Razed 1870.
Alexandria Community Y, Erected 1870-71, Lancastrian School Marker incorporated above rear entrance.
In recognition of nearly 200 years of continuing education.
Placed by John Alexander Chapter NSDAR, 50th Anniversary, May 17th, 1982.
The Washington Lancastrian School
The Washington Lancastrian School, July 1812
Alexandria Academy (Virginia Highway Marker, E 89), 400 South Washington Street
On 17 Dec. 1785, George Washington endowed a school here in the recently established Alexandria Academy “for the purpose of educating orphan children.” In 1812, an association of free African Americans founded its own school here in space vacated by white students. Young Robert E. Lee attended another school in the Academy from 1818 to 1823, when it closed and the building was sold. During the Civil War the Academy served as a freedman’s hospital. Returned to the Alexandria School Board in 1884, the Alexandria Academy was used as a school and administrative facility until 1982. The Historic Alexandria Foundation restored it in 1999.
Department of Historic Resources, 1999
The Lyceum, 201 South Washington Street
The Jean E. Keith Memorial
Built in 1839 by the Alexandria Lyceum Company under the leadership of Benjamin Hallowell, this building housed the Alexandria Library and was the scene of concerts, meetings, debates and lectures featuring such speakers as John Quincy Adams and Caleb Cushing. It served as a hospital from 1861–1865 and later became a private residence. This fine example of Greek Revival architecture was saved from demolition in 1970 and restored in 1974.
On March 27, 1979, the City of Alexandria designated the Lyceum as a memorial to Jean E. Keith to commemorate his dedication to the restoration and preservation of this building and many others within the city. His outstanding and unselfish devotion to the cause of historic preservation has made a lasting contribution to the protection of Alexandria’s unique architectural heritage.
The Confederate Statue, (marker is at the southwest corner of South Washington and Prince streets). Memorial is called Appomattox.
The Confederate Statue.
The unarmed Confederate soldier standing in the intersection of Washington and Prince Streets marks the location where units from Alexandria left to join the Confederate Army on May 24, 1861. The soldier is facing the battlefields to the South where his comrades fell during the War Between the States. The names of those Alexandrians who died in service for the Confederacy are inscribed on the base of the statue. The title of the sculpture is “Appomattox” by M. Casper Buberl. The statue was erected in 1889 by the Robert E. Lee Camp United Confederate Veterans.
Site of Methodist Episcopal Church, 110 South Washington Street
In 1804, the Methodist Episcopal Church congregation of Alexandria moved from its first meeting house in Chapel Alley to this location. The meeting house remained here until 1942, when the building was disassembled and relocated to its present site, where it now stands as Trinity United Methodist Church, 2911 Cameron Mills Road, Alexandria, Virginia.
Alfriend Building, 621 King Street (NE corner of King and Washington)
Alfriend Building, Erected 1796, Restored 1955.
Christ Church, 118 North Washington Street
Christ Church, Registered National Historic Landmark (south side of church)
Christ Church has been designated a Registered National Historic Landmark, under the provisions of the Historic Sites Act of August 21, 1935, this site possesses exceptional value in commemorating or illustrating the history of the United States. U.S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service, 1970.
Honorary Pall-Bearers for George Washington (west side of church by entrance) Note: This is the oldest marker in the city with a date.
In memory of the honorary pall-bearers of General George Washington, fellow townsmen, brother masons, trusted friends, comrades in the cause of American Independence.
Col. Charles Simms, Col. Dennis Ramsay, Col. William Payne, Col. George Gilpin, Col. Philip Marsteller, Col. Charles Little.
In memory also of the Lieutenants, William Moss, James Turner, Jr., Lawrence Hooff, George Wise. Of the 106th Regiment of the Virginia Militia who bore his body to the tomb, December 18th, 1799.
Erected by the Mt Vernon Chapter National Society Daughters of the American Revolution of Alexandria, Va. in 1909.
Confederate Soldiers (by East Gate entrance)
“How sleep the brave who sink to rest, By all their country’s wishes blest.”
Beneath this mound lie the remains of thirty-four Confederate Soldiers, which were disinterred from the Alexandria Soldiers Cemetery (Federal) and reinterred in this ground on the 27th day of December 1879, under the auspices of the Southern Memorial Association of Alexandria, Va.
William Bamburg, Lieut. 42, Miss. Wm. T. White, Sergt. 3, NC Daniel A. Keever, Sergt. 25, SC Wm. J. Frolic, Sergt. 25, SC. Daniel V. Frazier, Corporal. 7, SC H. L .B. Fleming, 25, SC G.S Herron, 7, SC Henry G. Proctor, 25, SC Erastus W. Hays, 25, SC WM. W. Taylor, 25, SC Henry A. Strom, 14, SC David Rogers, 1, SC Charles Firtich, 25, SC Thos. W. Taylor, 25, SC Jacob W. Redmon, 25, SC Abner M. Buzhardt, 11, SC Gambriel Cox, 1, NC Wesley W. Skipper, 30, NC
Anderton Brown, 3, NC Lemuel Cheeney, 44, NC Ashbury Tarpley, 12, Miss. John Carter, 10, Fla. James E. Elder, 25, Tenn. Robert J. Morris, 16, Miss. R. Pittman, 60, GA James M. Stuart, Corporal. 48, VA Alexander Lyles, Richardson’s Battery, VA Gustavus W. Portlock, 61, VA John Bennet Davis, Partizan Ranger, VA James Augustine, James Cox and Thos. T. Royal. A Lieutenant and one private unknown.
These men were prisoners of war who died in the Federal Hospitals in this city. Military Order of Stars and Bars, Gen Samuel Cooper Chapter, Resurgemus, “Original Stone Lies Underneath.”
T.A. Sullivan & Son, Arl, VA, Made by: Joseph R. Poldiak, September 2002
Site of First Synagogue of Beth El Hebrew Congregation (Virginia Highway Marker, E 92), 206 North Washington Street
Site of First Synagogue of Beth El Hebrew Congregation.
On this site stood Beth El Hebrew Congregation’s synagogue, the first structure built as a Jewish house of worship in the Washington metropolitan area. Founded in 1859, Beth El, the first reform Jewish congregation in the Washington area, is northern Virginia’s oldest Jewish congregation. Beth El built the synagogue here in 1871 and worshipped in it until 1954. A new synagogue on Seminary Road, Alexandria, was dedicated in 1957.
Virginia Historic Landmarks Commission, 1984.
Lloyd House, 220 North Washington Street
Lloyd House, built 1797 by John Wise, tavern keeper, and his residence until 1799. Rental property when sold to Mayor Jacob Hoffman 1810-1825, included outbuildings, gardens, small sugar refinery. Next owner Elizabeth Thacker Hooe leased house to Benjamin Hallowell, schoolmaster, who had prepared Robert E. Lee for West Point. Lee was often a guest at the house. Purchased 1832 by John Lloyd and remained in his family to 1918. Saved by Robert V. New from demolition 1956. With contributions from Federal, state and city governments, the Hoge Foundation, Historic Alexandria Foundation, and others bought 1968 and restored by Alexandria Historical Restoration and Preservation Commission as a choice example of late Georgian architecture.
Placed by John Alexander Chapter NSDAR, 1983.
Note: This is one of the newest markers in Alexandria. The City formally unveiled this state highway sign on August 21, the 75th anniversary of the sit-in at the Barrett Branch Library (on Queen Street.
Historic Street, Princess and North Washington streets
In the 1790’s many Alexandria streets were paved with cobblestones. According to legend, Hessian soldiers provided the labor to cobble Princess Street. These cobbles remained essentially untouched until 1979, when the street was restored using the original cobbles.
Home of Edmund Jennings Lee, 428 North Washington Street
Home of Edmund Jennings Lee, completed 1801. Eminent lawyer, he lived here until 1837. His son, Cassius Francis Lee until 1865. Edmund Jennings Lee served as vestryman and warden of Christ Church, whose glebe lands he successfully defended from confiscation after the Revolutionary War. Mayor of Alexandria, 1814-1818. Robert Edward Lee, his nephew, considered this his second home. Placed by John Alexander Chapter, National Society Daughters of the American Revolution, 1967.
Washington-Rochambeau Route Alexandria Encampment (Virginia Highway Marker, E 106), 609 Oronoco Street
Most of the American and French armies set sail from three ports in Maryland – Annapolis, Baltimore, and the Head of Elk – in mid-Sept. 1781 to besiege the British army in Yorktown. The allied supply-wagon train proceeded overland to Yorktown, its itinerary divided into segments called “Marches.” Its “Fourth March” was from Georgetown to Alexandria; the wagons took two days, 24-25 Sept., to cross the Potomac and reunite in Virginia. The Alexandria camp was roughly a half-mile in area, located north of Oronoco Street and bisected by Washington Street. The train left Alexandria on 26 Sept.
Department of Historic Resources, 1998
Lee’s Boyhood Home, 607 Oronoco (State Roadside Marker E 91), 607 Oronoco Street
Robert E. Lee left this home that he loved so well to enter West Point. After Appomattox he returned and climbed the wall to see “if the snowballs were in bloom.” George Washington dined here when it was the home of William Fitzhugh, Lee’s kinsman and his wife’s grandfather. Lafayette visited here in 1824.
Virginia Historic Landmarks Commission, 1968
Lee-Fendall House (Virginia Roadside Marker E 93), 614 Oronoco
“Light Horse Harry” Lee, Revolutionary War officer, owned this land in 1784. The house was built in 1785 by Philip Fendall, a Lee relative. Renovated in 1850 in the Greek Revival style, the house remained in the Lee family until 1903. John L. Lewis, labor leader and president of the United Mine Workers of America and the Congress of Industrial Organizations, was the last resident owner, from 1937 to 1969.
Lee-Fendall House, 614 Oronoco Street
Lee-Fendall House, built by Philip Richard Fendall in 1785 on land purchased from Henry (Light Horse Harry) Lee. Lee was a brilliant cavalry officer in the revolution, close friend of George Washington, Virginia Assemblyman, member of Congress and Governor of Virginia. Born 1756, died 1818. His ashes lie in the chapel crypt at Washington and Lee University beside his son, Robert E. Lee. Placed by John Alexander Chapter National Society Daughters of the American Revolution, 1975.
Placed by John Alexander Chapter, National Society Daughters of the American Revolution, 1975
Jay Roberts is the author of “River to Rails, A Guidebook to Historical Markers in Old Town Alexandria, Virginia.” He ran the San Francisco Marathon in 1991. It was his first and his last…