On June 15, 1963, an article by Walter B. Douglass in The Washington Post spelled out an urban renewal plan that targeted 13 blocks in downtown Alexandria for destruction. As you can see from this map, wholesale blocks were identified, including Prince Street, arguably the city’s most beautiful avenue.
Fortunately, preservationists such as Jean E. Keith and other local citizens organized community activism, and the wrecking balls stayed away from Prince Street, as well as some other areas. Alexandria’s stock of historic homes was reduced, but remains one of the most impressive in the nation.
To see this living history, visitors need only wander away from King Street in either direction. Of course, this is the age of knowing before you go. Wouldn’t it be nice to know what blocks contain the most historic homes?
We’re not set to answer that question fully, but armed with a used copy of “Alexandria Houses, 1750-1830,” a book by Deering Davis, Stephen P. Dorsey and Ralph Cole Hall, we can make a start. In 1946, they compiled a list of homes that were built between 1750 and 1830 and still standing. Not all these homes still stand, so we know from the get-go we are using a flawed method. Nevertheless, certain streets stand out with a good number of older homes.
In Part One, we take a look at South Lee Street.
When Alexandria was laid out in 1749, this street was known as Water. Residents along this street had bragging rights. The north side of King had the greatest cachet, holding the stately Georgian manor of John Carlyle and the home of William Ramsay.
The south side of Water also overlooked the sandy heights and the river. The Davis/Dorsey/Hall book identifies 14 homes on the 200 block, seven on the 300, and 17 on the 400. It is arguably the most impressive three block stretch this side of the Potomac. During Halloween, residents here seem to be the most active and creative participants.
The 200 block announces itself with the hefty Georgian built by Colonel Robert Townsend Hooe, also Alexandria’s first mayor. This house was built around 1780, not as old as others, but nevertheless, with five sashes wide, it packs a mean punch.
It’s difficult to pick any one stand out property on this stretch. 418 certainly has lineage. Having three and a half stories signaled financial strength. This brick beauty also had a famous owner, Daniel Roberdeau (1727-1795). An immigrant from the West Indies, he became a General in the Revolutionary War, and a member of the Continental Congress. Roberdeau moved to Alexandria in 1785 and surely became very popular as the maker of “Alexandria Rum.”
By the way, an interpretive marker created by the City of Alexandria in conjunction with the National Park Service will document “Roberdeau’s Distillery Wharf,” which was located at Point Lumley (foot of Duke Street). His son Issac (1763-1829) assisted Pierre L’Enfant with the laying out of Washington city.
Paradoxically, the entire stretch of South Lee has only one commemorative marker, the one for George Johnston’s Home at 224.
George Johnston’s Home, Trustee of Alexandria 1752 until death in 1765, and was succeeded on Board of Trustees by George Washington. Member of House of Burgesses and moved the adoption of Patrick Henry’s resolution on the “Stamp Act.”