In our continuing series on deserving candidates for an historical marker, we turn back the pages and take a look at a bakery that got its start in the latter stages of the 18th century and went on to become one of the town’s most famous.
For this look, much is owed to Alexandria Archaeology for their extensive dig and documentations in 1997, as well as research by Patricia Bixler Reber. We made a nifty find ourselves - Thomas Cuddy’s “Revolutionary Economies: What Archaeology Reveals about the Birth of American Capitalism.” In it, he devotes a full chapter to “Alexandria and the Mechanization of Baking.”
In modern times, if a worker needs a snack to put in their pocket, they can choose from a variety of products. In earlier times, folks in Alexandria depended on places like the Jamieson Bakery, an outfit that produced biscuits, bread and crackers. Starting out small, the business grew into a thriving operation that lasted for over a half century.
Around 1791, Andrew Jamieson (1749-1823), a Scotsman, opened up a bakery at the northeast corner of Water (Lee) and Oronoco streets. He also leased a facility at the corner of Union and Wolfe for repairs of his ovens.
In 1807, Jamieson traveled to Fredericksburg to check out a new kind of oven patented by James Deneale. It placed the fire outside the oven. Jamieson bought one and expanded his business with a second bakery at Ramsay’s Wharf at the foot of King Street.
In 1821, Andrew’s son Robert (1795-1862) began helping his father. Andrew passed away two years later, leaving his son in charge.
Cuddy provides great insight into Robert’s helmsmanship and the economic changes occurring in Alexandria and the region. He reminds us “above all other towns on the Potomac, Alexandria emerged as the manufacturing and export center of the region.” He notes the 1820’s were a golden age of commerce in the port city and that Robert and his bakery were a significant part of it. Jamieson was highly respected for his civic duties, including a member of the Common Council and a Councilman of Ward 1.
Around 1832, Robert moved the operation two blocks closer to King Street and the heart of the city, setting up at the corner of North Lee and Thompson’s Alley (east side of the block between Cameron and Queen).
Even if the story that English royalty loved the Jamieson products is apocryphal, the bakery was famous. Converting to steam power, Robert’s business became the fifth largest in the city and he became influential. Cuddy notes his adoption of mechanization and mass production techniques represented a “major step towards a conversion from a market exchange to a capitalist economy in the city.” In fact, he pioneered the use of steam engines.
Before we get too excited, however, we must realize that Jamieson used enslaved humans in his factory. Unlike some owners, however, he used a system that allowed for their freedom after a certain period of time.
After a long and great run, Robert passed away in 1862. A few years later, George R. Hill purchased the property and ran it for several years. Hill moved the bakery to across the street at 216-218-220 North Lee. He also made candy there. We know this building today as the Crilley Warehouse, which houses the Overwood restaurant, retail and offices.
The old Jamieson bakery was torn down in 1888 to make room for the wholesale warehouses of Charles King and Son.
Alexandria Archaeology created a permanent exhibit for their Lee Street dig (1997) at their museum in the Torpedo Factory. Artifacts number in the hundreds and include a brick domed cistern, iron steam pipe, and brick platforms for the steam engine boiler. Evidence of wharves, taverns and residences was also discovered.
After the dig, townhomes and parking was put up. No clues exist there to what took place long ago. I think we owe something to the Jamieson’s for their role in helping to shape the course of the city’s history. Additionally, let us not forget those who worked inside the sweaty shops.