In 2002, the Friends of Alexandria Archaeology published the book, “Walk and Bike the Alexandria Heritage Trail.” The cover features an 1853 lithograph by E. Sache & Company. Prominent in the foreground is the north side of the seaport, seen as much more sparse than the rest of the historic town.
All these years later, this part of Alexandria still lacks the luster of the heart of the historic district. New life, however, is about to be breathed into Old Town North. Appealing places like the Harris Teeter grocery store and Haute Dogs have sprung up. Edens Corporation has plans to redevelop the Montgomery/N. St. Asaph streets parcel (Giant/ABC Store) into a new mixed-use. The 25-acre Potomac River Generating Station owned by Mirant will be demolished and re-developed.
Most importantly, the city of is holding a series of public meetings that will culminate with a new Old Town North Small Area Plan. I attended last night’s charette (held at the Canal Center) and took these photos of documents. My main interest is the cultural and history resources. Fran Bromberg and her staff at Alexandria Archaeology did a lot of work to produce a map of known and potential resources.
There’s no question that West’s Point and Oronoco Bay hold the greatest potential for re-discovery. Alexandria sprung from a tobacco loading point at the foot of Oronoco and sunken vessels might be found beneath the waters of the bay above it.
Another strong vocal point, one that ran just steps from the building the meeting took place in, is the Alexandria Canal. Many a riverside stroller has passed by the preserved tide lock, one of four that lowered boats some 40 feet from Washington Street. Buried below the tennis courts lies Lock number 3. Remnant stones of lock number 4 can be found one block to the west along N. St. Asaph.
The Alexandria Canal was completed in 1843. The seven-mile long, fifty-feet wide canal played an important role for the city and its merchants. A lot of coal, dubbed “black gold,” came from Cumberland, Maryland and was shipped out from Alexandria to San Francisco for the use of steamship lines operating in the China and Japan trade. The tidal lock system, which ran from Washington Street to the Potomac River (between Montgomery and First), is on the National Register for Historic Places.
Over in Pentagon City, a rather timely discovery has apparently been made. Construction work at 12th and Eads has revealed what may very well be a remnant of the canal. That location is obviously not in Alexandria, but perhaps both Alexandria and Arlington could join together to mark the path of the canal. In fact, Dale Drysdale has proposed such an effort.
Old Town North certainly does not have the same amount of historic assets as the Old Town and Parker Gray Historic Districts. It does, however, hold quite a few stories of its own.
And who knows? Old Town North might even make the cover of a book...
My sincere thanks go out to Sandra Sawin and the good folks of the Belle Haven Country Club. On Wednesday night, as part of their Distinguished Speakers series, they hosted Jim Bish, John Andrews and myself.
At first glance, one might think there’s not much history involved with this 18-hole championship golf course, which hugs the Great Hunting Creek shoreline and the GW Parkway south of Alexandria.
Bish kicked the evening off with a polished look at the early history of the property, also bordered by Fort Hunt and Belle Haven Road. Bish, a descendant of Thomas West, has been recognized for his extensive contributions in the areas of education, the history of Alexandria and genealogy. The West family built West Grove, whose site is probably right where the country club is located.
I picked up the story and told a condensed version of New Alexandria, a small industrial town that featured a pair of manufacturing firms, a hotel and the sole survivors - the grid-style streets and a couple of cottage homes.
Andrews, who grew up in the New Alexandria neighborhood and has served for many years as its de facto historian, capped the evening off with an entertaining look back at his childhood. He is fond of spinning the yarn about a man resident arrested for selling moonshine. Asked by the judge in Alexandria to state his name, the defendant replied, “You ought to know my name judge, you’re my best customer...”
Belle Haven’s complete history is told in a new book. Contact Sawin (Director of Membership & Communications) at Belle Haven CC for purchase information.
Some business took me to Pentagon City earlier this week.
Wandered through Metropolitan Park and took in the public art work by California-based Phillip K. Smith. Line to Circle and Arc Line Arc are "forms based on the optical three-dimensional renderings of a spliced circle" and were fabricated in Corten steel.
But no set of problems has ever challenged the American political and moral imagination—even the Great Depression and the World Wars—quite like that of the end of the Civil War and the process of Reconstruction. – David Blight
In July 2014, we wondered and worried about the sesquicentennial of Reconstruction. In terms of commemoration, would it get its due?
One of the biggest challenges is where to hold the commemoration events. Here in Washington, where the reconstruction amendments were hammered out, the Capitol would be quite appropriate. And yet, it also seems to not be the kind of place to hold such an event.
Emerging as a beacon in the darkness is the National Museum of African American History and Culture.
Although it does not open until next year, the museum showed itself off for the first time last night. With hundreds watching on a grassy knoll on the Mall, Director Lonnie Bunch pointed out the event was the first at the Museum.
The proceedings commemorated not only the sesquicentennial of the ratification of the 13th Amendment, but also the 150th anniversary of the end of the Civil War and the 50th anniversary of the passage of the Voting Rights Act. Bunch said the museum will open in one year from last night.
After introductions and remarks (District of Columbia Mayor Muriel Bowser, Congressional Delegate to Congress Eleanor Holmes Norton and Bunch), and performances including BeBe Winans, the southern façade of the museum building was illuminated with moving images. Given what those images were saying, along with the uniqueness of the design of the building and its preeminent location, I’ve never seen anything quite like it.
The other highlights of the evening were the warm embrace of Bunch and the remarks by Congresswoman Norton. Her mere presence served as a symbol of the civil rights work still to be done in the nation’s capital.
Panting, sweating, whips, heavy boots, black leather.
No, not that…
We’re talking a Horses & Hounds demonstration of fox hunting at Mount Vernon yesterday.
Not exactly a Middleburg wine-sipping crowd, but loads of fun seeing the rare treat this close to the Potomac.
Watching the perfectly orchestrated show of galloping horses and trained dogs on the estate’s sweeping lawn, we learned the sport was a favorite of George Washington. Quite often, one of his fellow riders was Thomas, Sixth Lord Fairfax, who sometimes stayed and spent time at nearby Belvoir.
According to several sources, Thomas organized what is believed to be the first organized hunt “maintained for the benefit of a group.”
From Mount Vernon’s good sources we also learned the political term “whip” derives from a fox-hunting expression (I felt like shouting above the recorded voice – hold your noses folks, the next lesson involves manure…)
George Washington Parke Custis, grandson of Martha and “adopted son” of George, was known to brag on the man who helped raise him. In his Recollections biography, he wrote:
Washington, always superbly mounted, in true sporting costume, of blue coat, scarlet waistcoat, buckskin breeches, top boots, velvet cap, and whip with long thong, took the field at daybreak, with his huntsman, Will Lee, his friends and neighbors; and none rode more gallantly in the chase, nor with voice more cheerily awakened echo in the woodland, than he who was afterwards destined, by voice and example, to cheer his countrymen in their glorious struggle for independence and empire. Such was the hunting establishment at Mount Vernon prior to the Revolution…
As noted, no foxes were used in the event (like they would have cooperated). I guess it is a cruel sport but according to the spokesperson, the crafty creatures often got away.
Washington wrote these entries in his diary.
Jany. 1st. Fox huntg. in my own Neck with Mr. Robt. Alexander and Mr. Colvill—catchd nothing. Captn. Posey with us.
[Diary entry: 9 February 1768]
Went out Hunting again. Started a fox. Run him four hours & then lost him. Mr. Stoddard went home. Alexr. stayd.
[Diary entry: 2 March 1768]
Hunting again, & catchd a fox with a bobd Tail & cut Ears, after 7 hours chase in wch. most of the Dogs were worsted.
By the way, several years ago a family of foxes set up their homestead in the woods behind our back yard. Before the crack of dawn, they would make the god-awfullest sound I had ever heard. And in what was surely a territorial skirmish, one even chased away our cat.
But they are one of God’s creatures. I surely would not get any enjoyment out of participating in a hunt. But I do admit seeing the demonstration at the home of George and Martha was a lot of (good, clean) fun…
The Torpedo Factory Arts Center, one of Alexandria's crown jewels, buzzed last night with activities that were part of "Second Thursday Art Night." The after hours events including Alexandria poet Sass Brown, who launched her new book, USA-1000.
Up on the third floor, the Alexandria Archaeology Museum offered an exclusive first look at artifacts found from the 220 S. Union Street dig.
Seen here are three different items. The shingles stand out, while the other two are not known precisely. The middle item could be from a barrel that held beer or spirits. The other pair could be pegs.
The shingles could have come from Ramsay’s Warehouse. Also, a firm at Point Lumley sold shingles.
The museum also played an authorized video of some of the dig, and gave me permission to take and publish this photo.
Thunderbird Archaeology, in conjunction with the City, will publish a full-length report. Normal lead times are about six months.