City of Alexandria, VA
Alexandria in the Civil War: U.S. Military Railroad roundhouse and Union soldiers’ barracks south of Duke Street. (Detail from “SOLDIERS REST, ALEXANDRIA, VA.” Lithographic print by Charles Magnus, 1864.)
JOHNNYBULL AND THE ALEXANDRIANS. (Political cartoon, William Charles, 1814. Courtesy, The Lyceum: Alexandria’s History Museum.) Alexandrians are shown cowering and pleading with Johnny Bull, a symbol for England.
Alexandria, founded in 1749, has a fascinating history, and many of its historic buildings are still preserved today. During its long history, Alexandria was a tobacco trading post, one of the ten busiest ports in America, a part of the District of Columbia, home to both the largest slave-trading firm in the country and a large free-black community, a Civil War supply center for Union troops, and a street-car suburb for Federal workers. Alexandria was also the hometown of George Washington, Robert E. Lee, Jim Morrison and Mama Cass. Learn more about Alexandria history from an Interactive Timeline or A Brief History of Alexandria, or from the more in-depth topics below.
Commemorations: The Civil War and the War of 1812
Alexandria is commemorating two important anniversaries in the history of our country and our city: the Civil War Sesquicentennial (2011-2015), and the War of 1812 Bicentennial (2012-2015).
- The Civil War: Witness to war and reunion, Alexandria's place in Civil War history is truly unique. The occupation of Alexandria by Union troops forever changed the social, cultural and economic fabric of the old seaport town. For four years Alexandria was an occupied city; enduring the longest military occupation by Union troops of any town during the conflict. The Office of Historic Alexandria is commemorating the Civil War Sesquicentennial through special events and exhibits, and by pulling together resources on the history of Alexandria in the CIvil War.
- The War of 1812: The War of 1812 and the five-day occupation of Alexandria by British forces in 1814, had a profound effect on the town and its economy. Threatened with an invasion and with insufficient forces to defend the city, Alexandria’s Common Council surrendered to the British without resistance. The city avoided being burned, but the was required to surrender contents of stores and warehouses. Learn more about how the War and occupation affected Alexandria, and view some artifacts from the Historic Alexandria collections.
Conducting Research in Historic Alexandria
Historic Alexandria provides a list of resources for Conducting Research on your property, genealogy, or local history. The Alexandria Library, Local History/Special Collections.division is the best place to start your research. For certain records, the knowledgeable research librarians may refer you to the Archives and Records Center, the Clerk of the Circuit Court, the Library of Congress, the National Archives, or to one of the Historic Alexandria Museums.
General Alexandria History
Topics in Alexandria History
Alexandria Historic Sites
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General Alexandria History
- 200 Years of Progress: A booklet created for Alexandria's Bicentennial in 1949.
- A Brief History of Alexandria: An overview of Alexandria’s history, from prehistoric times, through early European settlement, the town’s development as a major port, the Civil War, the Industrial era, and its efforts in Historic Preservation.
- A Concise History of the City of Alexandria (1883): A Concise History of the City of Alexandria, Va: from 1669 to 1883, with a Directory of Reliable Business Houses in the City, by Brockett, F. L. and G. W. Rock. (Alexandria, 1883). An early history of Alexandria, available from Google Books.
- African American Historic Sites: A Remarkable and Courageous Journey: A Guide to Alexandria’s African American History. Produced by the Alexandria Convention and Visitor’s Association with assistance from the Alexandria Archaeology Museum and the Alexandria Black History Museum.
- Alexandria Archaeology Bibliography: A complete bibliography of publications and site reports. Site reports and public summaries are being posted online as time permits, and all reports can be found at the Alexandria Library, Local History/Special Collections, or by appointment at the Alexandria Archaeology Museum.
- “Alexandria Artifact Stories” from the Alexandria Gazette Packet: “Alexandria Artifact Stories” were published as a regular feature in the weekly newspaper from 1994 until 1997. The goal of the series was to take a small piece of a cultural heritage and examine it in a wider context to understand and appreciate its significance.
- Antebellum Reminiscences of Alexandria, Virginia. Extracted from the Memoirs of Mary Louisa Slacum Benham: Mary Louisa Slacum Benham’s reminiscences describe her life in Alexandria in the first half of the 19th Century. Transcribed and extracted from her memoirs, thought to be written in the 1880s. A variety of topics are discussed: the Potomac River; rural scenes; Christ Church; dancing school; the Alexandria Theater; childhood experiences including food, furnishings and African Americans; and Mount Vernon.
C-Span's American History TV. The series of seven videos on Alexandria history originally aired March 16-18, 2013, exploring Alexandria's Archaeology Museum, the Freedmen's Cemetery, Lee-Fendall House, Fort Ward and Alexandria's role in the Civil War, as well as the importance of the city to the first president, George Washington.
Discovering the Decades: Discovering the Decades places Alexandria’s history in the context of U.S. history. Originally published in the Alexandria Archaeology Volunteer News, 1999.
- Historic Alexandria Quarterly: Historic Alexandria Quarterly is a scholarly publication produced by the Office of Historic Alexandria from 1996 to 2004.
- Interactive Timeline: Historic Alexandria's timeline can be seen on the dock behind the Torpedo Factory Art Center, or in this interactive online version from the Alexandria Convention and Visitor's Association.
- National Register Sites: Alexandria Sites on the National Register of Historic Places. Over 40 Alexandria districts, sites, buildings and structures are listed on the National Register. Read short historic summaries of these important sites.
- Souvenir Virginia Tercentennial 1607-1907 of Historic Alexandria, Virginia (1907): Souvenir Virginia Tercentennial 1607-1907 of Historic Alexandria, Virginia, by Andrew J. Wedderburn (Alexandria, 1907. An illustrated guide to Alexandria buildings and neighborhoods. This book was created as a promotional piece with the support of Alexandria's then-new Chamber of Commerce, founded the same year, and attempted to tie into the statewide excitement surrounding the 300th anniversary of Jamestown. Today, it serves as a useful snapshot of the community, showing Alexandria as a busy city of small industries, shops, and regional commerce, even though its once famous port had long since declined.
- The Alexandria Chronicle: The Alexandria Chronicle has been published by the Alexandria Historical Society since 1993. Issues from 2006 to present are available on the Society’s website. Paper copies of earlier issues of the Chronicle, and of the Alexandria History magazine (1978-2002), can be found at the Alexandria Library, Local History/Special Collections.
- The Romance of Historic Alexandria: A Thrilling Narrative of Events founded on Facts and Fiction (1923): by Jackson Eugene Beauharnais. An early guidebook to Alexandria.
- Travelers Accounts of the Historic Alexandria Waterfront: Travelers Accounts, written between 1624 and 1900, have been compiled by Alexandria Archaeology as part of a study of the Alexandria Waterfront. The writings are organized by decade.
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- The Alexandria Canal: The Alexandria Canal operated from 1843 to 1886. The restored Tide Lock can be seen along the Potomac River at the foot of Montgomery Street.
- Alexandria Library: A brief historical sketch. Courtesy of the Alexandria Library, Local History/Special Collections.
- The Athenaeum: The Athenaeum, originally the Bank of the Old Dominion, is one of Alexandria’s two surviving examples of Greek revival neo-classic architecture open to the public.
- Boundary Stones: Five District of Columbia Boundary Stones are located in Alexandria and are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
- Bruin Slave Jail: The Bruin Slave Jail, at 1707 Duke Street, is on the National Register of Historic Places. The history of the Slave Jail was compiled as part of an archaeological preservation project. The building is not open to the public.
- Carlyle House: The Carlyle House, was built by John Carlyle in 1752. Operated by the Northern Virginia Park Authority, the house is open to the public.
- Christ Church: Christ Church, a place of worship, is open to the public.
- City Hall: City Hall, built in 1871, once housed the Masonic Lodge, court facility, and police and fire stations. Markets Stalls were located on the first floors of the west and north wings and in the courtyard. Today, only City offices remain.
- Del Ray and the Town of Potomac: The History of Del Ray and the Town of Potomac, including a slide show, historical markers, and oral histories, was created in 2008 for the 100th anniversary of the Town of Potomac.
- The Fort: Learn about the history and archaeology of this former African American neighborhood, established after the Civil War in what is now Fort Ward Park. Download a brochure, learn about archaeological investigations, and read transcriptions of oral histories.
- Fort Ward: Fort Ward formed one of the strongest links in a chain of 68 forts and batteries erected between 1861-65 by the Union Army Corps of Engineers for the protection of the Nation's capital. The Northwest Bastion was restored during the Civil War Centennial. Fort Ward is the only one of the remaining fortifications to have an active museum to interpret the fort.
- Freedmens Cemetery: Freedmens Cemetery, on South Washington at Church Street, served as the burial place for about 1,800 African Americans who fled to Alexandria to escape from bondage during the Civil War. The Contraband's and Freedmens Cemetery Memorial is planned for the site.
- Friendship Firehouse: Friendship Firehouse Museum is open to the public. The Friendship Fire Company was established in 1774, and was the first volunteer fire company in Alexandria. The current firehouse was built in 1855.
- Gadsby’s Tavern Museum: Gadsby's Tavern Museum consists of two tavern buildings, the ca. 1785 tavern and the 1792 City Tavern and Hotel. The buildings are named for Englishman John Gadsby who operated them from 1796 to 1808. Mr. Gadsby's establishment was a center of political, business and social life in early Alexandria.
- Gerald R. Ford Home: Gerald R. Ford in Alexandria: Remembering our 38th President. Alexandria is honored to have been the home of Gerald R. Ford and his family for more than 20 years.
- Lee-Fendall House: The Lee-Fendall House served as the home to thirty-seven members of the Lee family from 1785 until 1903, and was later home to labor leader John L. Lewis.
- Lloyd House: The Lloyd House, at 220 North Washington Street, now houses the administrative offices for the Office of Historic Alexandria.
- The Lyceum: The Lyceum, Alexandria’s History Museum is located at 201 S. Washington Street. Built in 1834, the Lyceum remains a center for education and culture.
- Parkfairfax: Parkfairfax was built during 1941 to 1943 to help alleviate the acute housing shortages resulting from the depression and World War II. Parkfairfax is located in the northwestern part of Alexandria near Shirley Highway, Quaker Lane and West Glebe Road.
- Portner’s Brewery: The well-known brewery made Tivoli Brand lager beer from 1868 until Prohibition. This history was produced as part of an archaeological preservation project.
- Potomac Yard: Learn about the history and archaeology of Potomac Yard, once a huge rail classification yard that facilitated distribution of freight cars between northbound and southbound trains. See Heritage Trail Signs along Potomac Yard Park, read oral history transcripts of Potomac Yard workers, and review archaeology reports.
- Ramsay House: The Ramsay House Visitor’s Center, at 221 King Street, is open to the public.
- Robinson Library: The Robert H. Robinson Library was originally constructed in 1940 following a sit-in at the segregated Alexandria Library. It is now part of the Alexandria Black History Museum.
- The Slave Pen: The Franklin and Armfield Slave Pen at 1315 Duke Street, now the Freedom House Museum, is open to the public.
- Stabler-Leadbeater Apothecary Museum: The Stabler-Leadbeater Apothecary Shop operated at this location from 1796 until 1933. The south building, constructed ca. 1775, housed the retail operations. The north building, constructed ca. 1815, was purchased by Edward Stabler in 1829 and served as the shop's warehouse.
- The Torpedo Factory: The Torpedo Factory, built in 1918, was originally the U.S. Naval Torpedo Station. It now houses the Torpedo Factory Art Center, open to the public.
- Volusia: These rare photographs of slaves were taken at a plantation near Little River Turnpike and Holmes Run.
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