City of Alexandria, VA
Oral History Summaries
Oral Histories are indexed by name, neighborhood and subject.
Born in Washington, D.C., Unalane Ablondi moved to Alexandria, Va., from Edgewater, Md., when she was fourteen years old, during World War II. She describes what Alexandria was like during the 1940s, when there were corner grocery stores and few restaurants. She talks about her classmates and activities at George Washington High School and her interest in dramatics. She also talks about her mother, Una Franklin Carter, a journalist with the Northern Virginia Sun and the Old Town Crier. Mrs. Ablondi moved back to Alexandria with her husband and children in the 1970s and was one of the first docents for the restored Carlisle House. She describes how Alexandria changed between the 1940s and the 1970s and how it continues to change now.
- August 10, 1981 interview: Ethel Abramson grew up at 711 King Street in Old Town Alexandria. Her family lived above the business her father ran from 1927 to 1947. This interview took place at her husband’s office at 312 S. Washington Street. In this interview, Mrs. Abramson describes what Old Town was like when she was younger, namely who lived where, what businesses existed there, and so on.
- April 22, 1999 interview: Born in 1915 in Baltimore, Mrs. Abramson has lived in Alexandria for the past 80 years. She discusses social life during that time including the Depression. Her father was a successful businessman and her husband the longest practicing dentist in Alexandria. Throughout her interview, she compares social and everyday life in Alexandria today to that of the 1930s and 1940s. Her memories are obviously very happy ones and her descriptions are quite vivid and entertaining.
Sidney Abramson was born in 1911. He lived above his father’s store at the corner of King and Washington streets. During the interview, Mr. Abramson describes the changes in businesses on King Street starting from the 1920s and 1930s over time, and includes references to Wiel’s Butcher Shop, Askins Men’s General Store, and Hoffman’s Tailor Shop, to name a few. Memories of flivver trucks and pianists at silent movies are also recalled.
Mr. Adem is a semi-retired self-made businessman who came to Alexandria when he was six years old. He was born in 1933. As a child and then a rising businessman, he was aware of the socio-economic changes, which have taken place in Alexandria in the past seventy years. During this interview, he is asked to compare life in Alexandria as he was building his business to everyday life as it exists in Alexandria today.
Hood Barringer was born in 1917 in Washington, D.C. and moved to Alexandria, Virginia later in life. Hood was an active member in many Alexandria committees, and participated in events through the Lyceum. She is also a former neighbor to the late President Gerald Ford. Hood Barringer gave an hour of her time on her 90th birthday to share these stories.
June and Jim Barry
June (Parsons) Barry and James Barry were born in Alexandria [Virginia] in the 1930s. During the interview, they recall attending George Washington High School, discuss the social activities they enjoyed both as part of and outside of school and comment on the segregation at the time and how it affected them.
- 2005 Interview: Mr. Howard Truslow Beach was born in 1920 and has lived in Alexandria for 86 years. Topics discussed include Mr Beach’s childhood, his positions at Potomac Yard from 1941 to 1982, training, benefits and opportunities at the Yard, a work-day, a description of the Yard and its history, social life and minorities at Potomac Yard, railway terminology, and changes to the Yard over time.
- 2006 Interview: This is the second interview with Mr. Howard Truslow Beach. Mr. Beach was born in 1920 and has lived in Alexandria for 86 years. The interview continues the discussion of Mr. Beach’s memories of working at Potomac Yard Railroad. Topics discussed include social life and minorities at the Yard, railway terminology, and changes to the Yard over time.
Maydell Casey Belk
Mrs. Maydell Casey Belk is around sixty years old at the time of this interview, and had lived on Fort Ward near Old Town Alexandria for fifteen years from 1952 until 1967 before moving to her current house. The objective of this interview is the development of the African-American neighborhood on Fort Ward, situated on a steep hill just outside Old Town. In it Ms. Belk describes what it was to live there before there was indoor plumbing, running water, or air conditioning, and how life centered around the local church.
Born in Alexandria in 1914, Sigmund Bernheimer, "Sig", relays his family history and childhood memories. Memories include those of the family businesses on King Street, such as the Torpedo Inn. Sig remembers selling newspapers at the Torpedo Factory as a young boy and taking newspaper routes for the local papers, and also describes for us Alexandria's trolleys and taxis.
- October 2004 Interview: Born in Alexandria in 1914, Sigmund Bernheimer, "Sig", relays his family history and childhood memories. Memories include those of the family businesses on King Street, such as the Torpedo Inn. Sig remembers selling newspapers at the Torpedo Factory as a young boy and taking newspaper routes for the local papers, and also describes for us Alexandria's trolleys and taxis.
- November 11, 2004 Interview: Sigmund “Sig” Bernheimer grew up in Alexandria. He lived through the flu epidemic after World War I, remembers the streetcars that used to run through Alexandria to Washington, D.C., and served in the Pacific during World War II. Sig spent most of his life working in the appliance business; his wife worked in the printing and engraving business, where she printed stationery for the vice-president of the United States.
C. Richard Bierce
- March 26, 2001 Interview: As part of the development of a Lyceum exhibit commemorating the 25th Anniversary of the Bicentennial, C. Richard Bierce was interviewed in 2001. During this interview he shares his thoughts on Alexandria in the early 70s, just prior to the Bicentennial, in terms of the City’s historical consciousness or attitude toward historical preservation.
- December 13, 2006 Interview: In 2006, as part of the Alexandria Legacies – City Preservation Movement Oral History Project, C. Richard Bierce was asked to review his role in preservation projects in the City of Alexandria since his arrival in 1973—most notably the restoration of Gadsby’s Tavern and the Carlyle House.
Born in 1893 in what is now the Rosemont area of Alexandria, Edwin Bohlayer talks about the neighborhood he grew up in, which then included a large dairy farm. He describes the well behind the house on Summers Drive that yielded ice-cold water in summer. He also talks about the racecourse in Del Ray and about Luna Park in what is now Arlington. He remembers one of the stores on King Street in Alexandria that would give regular customers a turkey or a fifth of whiskey at Christmastime.
Born and raised in Alexandria, Harvey Boltwood has been an active Alexandria community member since the 1960s. Involved in the former Retail Merchant’s Association at that time, he joined the Chamber of Commerce soon after the two organizations merged in 1968. He has been involved in community service work such as tutoring and volunteering for the Red Cross as well. He was chairman of the Chamber of Commerce in 1988. Mr. Boltwood currently works for Burke & Herbert Bank & Trust.
Howard and Dorothy Bontz
- Howard and Dorothy Bontz, August 12, 2008 Interview: Dorothy Bontz was born December 1918 in South Dakota and lived in Washington, D.C., in 1941-1942 and 1946-1948. She returned as a widow to Virginia in 1999. She describes her experiences with the War Department in Washington, D.C. at the time of the Pearl Harbor attack in December 1941, her later employment with the Strategic Air Command, and racial tensions in the late 40s in Washington, D.C. She also recounts how she met Mr. Bontz in August 2005 and their subsequent marriage. Howard Bontz was born in Chicago, Illinois, in June 1922.
- Howard Bontz, 2009 Interview: Howard Bontz was born in 1922 and moved to Virginia in 1969. In this second interview, he talks briefly about his family tree with lineage to a Bailey’s Crossroads innkeeper. He details his work life in Chicago, his army experience, his training with tabulating machines (working for Remington Rand, for example), and his career as a data processing operator (with Computer Systems Command). He explains how this training and experience with computers brought him to Virginia.
Julia Maria Adams Bradby was born in June 8, 1920, and has lived in Alexandria for 72 years. She traces the lineage and locations of the Bradby family and also dicusses other community members and the neighborhood she grew up in, including the Episcopal Theological Seminary, several churches, Fort Ward, and Donaldson's store.
Although Courtney Brooks worked for the Records Center of the General Accounting Office, his real interests as an adult were in activities that he started in childhood. One was a drummer in the Armstrong High School Band. The other was playing sports in the neighborhood. He played in his own band, the Courtney Brooks All Stars, and others all around the country. In 1946 he started a semi-pro football team, the Alexandria Rams, which was integrated by 1951. A decade later he started a football team for boys coming out of high school. He was also instrumental in starting a baseball league for youth. In all of these, he experience and moved along, the shift from segregation to integration. Today he is still helping his neighbors by volunteering at a food mission, directing the Blues Society, and organizing neighborhood festivals.
Henry Sidney Brooks, nominated in 2011 as a Living Legend of Alexandria, is one of the most active residents of Alexandria. After settling in Alexandria during the 1970s, Mr. Brooks outlines his career, which includes positions within the US Department of Veteran’s Affairs (VA), the Federal Energy Administration (FEA), and the Small Businesses Administration. He discusses his family’s immigration history, as well as his current wife Carolyn's. His story is peppered with intriguing anecdotes which involve some well known individuals of modern times (Colin Powell, Henry Kissinger, and Frank Lloyd Wright). There is scarcely a volunteer position that he has not undertaken and his community service record is inspiring. Mr. Brooks has held leadership roles on the Sister City Committee, Virginia School Boards Association, the Bienvenidos and Healthy Families programs, the Campagna Center, Boy Scouts of America and ROTC. He campaigned and lobbied for current and past Virginia legislators such as Patsy Ticer and Mark Warner. Mr. Brooks has cultivated a deep passion for his home and professes his incredible devotion towards educational programs for children of all ages within his community.
Mabel Burts has fond memories of her neighborhood around St. Asaph and Franklin Sts. where she was raised by an extended family, including her grandmother who had been a slave. She worked at the torpedo factory and Ft. Belvoir's Army Hospital. She has been very active at her church assisting in many social activities and benefit programs.
Walter H. Cable, Jr.
Walter H. Cable, Jr., lived and attended school in Alexandria as a boy and continued to live in the City for much of his adult life. Both before and after four years of service in the United States Navy, his principal adult employment was with Potomac Yard, where he worked for forty-three years. He describes his Alexandria boyhood as well as operations and various positions that he held at Potomac Yard. He also briefly discusses his wood-carving hobby. He made a gift of his carving of Bruce Ball, a Chief of Police, to the Lyceum: Alexandria’s History Museum.
Dee Campbell had a long and distinguished career coaching rowing in the Alexandria City’s high schools, starting in 1959 when he became an assistant boys’ coach at what was then Francis Hammond High School. He eventually became the girls’ coach at T.C. Williams High School and held that post until he retired in 2005. He spent his boyhood on Prince Street and the Potomac was always a major force in his life. He describes himself as a wharf rat as a child, living the life of a Huckleberry Finn. He learned to row at Old Dominion Boat Club after World War II and competed when club rowing was a high-profile sport on the Potomac, drawing rowers from as far away as New York City to compete in regattas such as The President’s Cup. Campbell remembers getting girls’ crew established at the new T.C. Williams High School when female rowers had to keep their clothes in a drawer in the microfilm section of the Torpedo Factory and their boats on racks outdoors. Known as the dean of girls’ scholastic rowing, Campbell saw many changes in rowing in the city, including the construction of the Alexandria schools’ new boat house, now the Dee Campbell Rowing Center.
Lynnwood Campbell, Jr.
Lynnwood Campbell, Jr. was born in Washington, D.C. in 1947 and has been nominated as a Living Legend of 2011. During his life, Lynnwood has accrued many civil rights “firsts”: he was the first minority student in St. Mary’s elementary school, the first black cashier at a local popular grocery store, and even one of the first black speakers at a national accounting conference. An accountant by training, Mr. Campbell was born with an unquestionable duty to community which is evidenced by his tenure with the Urban League, NAACP, the Human Rights Commission and the Alexandria School Board. He successfully campaigned to increase early childhood development in Alexandria schools and raised academic requirements for athletes – a debate that drew national attention! He has witnessed the incredible changes within the city of Alexandria during the height of desegregation and discusses the positive and negative effects it has had on the local population.
Keating Karig Carrier
Keating Karig Carrier was born in 1926. She has lived in Alexandria since 1934, first on Russell Road and then, since 1938, on Seminary Road. She graduated from St. Agnes Episcopal School in Alexandria. Ms. Karig’s father was the distinguished journalist and author, Walter Karig. Ms. Carrier recounts life growing up on Seminary Hill, attending St. Agnes School, recreational activities, filling the role of Acting Postmistress at the Seminary Hill Post Office, local transportation and commerce, buildings on Seminary Hill, and Seminary Hill animals -- both domestic and wild.
Mary Moss Child was born in the early twentieth century and has lived in Alexandria since 1938. She volunteered for the Alexandria Boys and Girls Club and became Personnel director for the City in 1955. The city had about 800 employees, by her estimate, at that time. At first each department offered different benefits. Mrs. Child oversaw benefit restructuring so that they were more equal across the board.
Celeste Coakley was born in Alexandria in 1918. She grew up in Old Town and has been a member of the First Baptist Church of Alexandria for 73 years. She recalls shopping at neighborhood stores, playing hopscotch on the sidewalk of Prince Street, walking to school, and going into Washington, D.C. on the trolley that ran along Commonwealth Avenue. She was in the last class to graduate from Alexandria High School, where she played basketball.
Kathryn Collins moved to Alexandria from Massachusetts in the early 1940s with her husband and young son when her husband got a job with Pennsylvania Central Airlines. She reminisces about: life in Alexandria neighborhoods --Del Ray, Dominion Gardens, and ParkFairfax -- where the family lived through the 1950s; her education in Pharmacy in the 1930s, when it was rare for a woman to choose that field; her volunteer work in Alexandria schools and at Alexandria Hospital when it was on Duke Street; and her other employment
Ms. Collins’s son, Len Collins, who was present for this interview, has also been interviewed by Alexandria Archaeology.
Leonard ‘Len’ Collins moved with his family to Alexandria as a toddler in the early 1940s, and has lived in Alexandria most of his life. He grew up in three Alexandria neighborhoods: Del Ray, Dominion Gardens, and ParkFairfax, and was educated in six Alexandria schools before leaving for military school (VMI). Later, he returned to Alexandria and has lived here most of the time since then. For the past eight years, Mr. Collins has served as a docent at Fort Ward Museum. In this interview, Mr. Collins shares memories of his family, homes, neighborhoods, and schools. He tells us about watching the Four Mile Run floods and later, as a Boy Scout, rowing around helping flood victims; the airport job he held as a teenager; what life in the 50s was like for a teen in Alexandria; and his decisions to go to VMI and later return here. He talks of how Fort Ward looked when he was a boy, the 1960s restoration, and current interest in commemorating the community established at the Fort after the Civil War.
Vernon Cockrell was born in Alexandria in 1920 near where Patrick Henry School is now. His grandfather, Charles Branner Cockrell, owned a farm in that area, as well as a mill located near the intersection of Quaker Lane and Duke Street. The mill used water from Holmes Run and got shipments of corn via the railroad. Mr. Cockrell’s father, Charles Norman Cockrell, worked at the mill and owned a feed store, which Mr. Cockrell converted to a hardware store. He later built a new store on Duke Street that has since been replaced by another building. Mr. Cockrell talks about growing up in Alexandria and the many changes he has seen in the City. He was interviewed by one man (Interviewer 1) and two women (Interviewers 2 and 3).
Joseph and Carol Dodd
Joseph Dodd, with help from wife Carol, tells us about growing up on South Royal St – about his schools, playmates, the neighborhood, and the city market among other things. Together they comment about Alexandria’s different neighborhoods, such as Old Town, Del Ray, and Rosemont, throughout the years.
Elizabeth Douglas was born in 1919 and has lived in Alexandria, Virginia her entire life. She discusses the adventures and hardships of Elizabeth’s youth and schooling in Alexandria, Arlington and Washington, D.C. Stories of everyday life in the 'Macedonia'-area of Alexandria, as well as some of its more notable residents are also told. Elizabeth gives us her family history and tells us about her favorite childhood games, favorite foods, and unusual pets.
- March 12, 1999 interview: Margery Fawcett was born in 1904 and lived in Alexandria since she was 17, after moving here from Washington, D.C. During the interview, Margery relays a description of the stores that populated King Street and stories associated with them, including the Stabler-Leadbeater Apothecary Shop and Shuman's Bakery. Memories of living during the Depression and bootleggers during Prohibition are also shared, as are those of Presidential visits to Alexandria through the decades.
- July 27, 2004 interview: Margery's father was rector of St. Paul’s and she was very active in the affairs of the church, the activities which are discussed in this interview. The interview also includes memories of World War I and World War II, stories of her great grandfather and older brothers, as well as her experiences as a Red Cross nurse and driving a Model-T.
Robert and Antoinette Fischman
Bob Fischman was born in Del Ray in 1925 and is a lifelong resident of Alexandria. He grew up in Del Ray during the Depression, when livestock, coal deliveries, and revival meetings were part of neighborhood life and everyone found some way to cobble together a living. Bob shares stories about his grandfather and father, both railroad workers at Potomac Yards, as well as stories about his grandmother’s rooming house in Del Ray. An award-winning dress designer, Bob opened and ran clothing and tailoring shops in three Old Town locations and continued tailoring later, for a total of 55 years in the business. Toni Fischman, Bob’s wife, suggested several interesting topics as the interview progressed and shared her own memories of the Palm Theatre, eating at Lipp’s and the character of some Alexandria neighborhoods at an earlier time.
Ed and Shirley Gailliot
Born in 1929, Edward Gailliot was raised in a ‘Sears and Roebuck’ house, (built by his father) located in the Del Ray neighborhood and still extant today. Ed shares memories of Hoover Airport, Potomac Yard whistles, his father’s carpool to Washington Navy Yard, as well as his years working for the phone company. Shirley Gailliot moved to Alexandria in 1941 as a child; she reflects on her childhood in Del Ray, playing with the girl’s basketball team, and her years as a bank employee.
James Gochenour was born in Columbus, Ohio in 1933 and has been in Alexandria since 1957. He started working at Potomac Yard in 1960 in a variety of positions all the way up to foreman when he retired in 1995. During this interview, he describes the type of freight that came through Potomac Yard and the various problems that would arise and their solutions. He also speaks of the many skilled workers necessary for the success of the Yard and their job descriptions, many of which he filled during his tenure. Mr. Gochenour is also on the Board of Directors of the Potomac Yard Retired Employees Association and, as such, is very active in its operation maintaining social contact with fellow retired employees. Throughout the interview, he is very upbeat and positive about all of his memories of the Yard and maintains a very humorous attitude, finding obvious enjoyment in his recollections.
Norman Grimm was born on September 18, 1931, and has lived in Alexandria his whole life. With a broad knowledge of the Del Ray area of the city, Norman takes us on a tour of the Del Ray streets, revealing stories of the Cottage Park neighborhood, the Potomac Yard railroad area, the “Raymond Houses,” and the changes in the area over time. He also shares memories of being a kid, sledding, and attending George Washington High School.
Ralph Grimm was born November 25, 1926, on East Alexandria Avenue, which was in Arlington County at that time. His family later moved to Del Ray, and he discusses the history of the neighborhood and his opinion about how it was given the name “Del Ray.” He has many poignant stories and memories of life in Del Ray, which he shares with the interviewer. He grew up and worked in Del Ray until 1978 at which time he was transferred by his employer, State Farm, to Roanoke. He retired to Florida in 1997, but returns to Del Ray often to visit friends, his four children, five grandchildren and seven great grandchildren. He shared with the interviewer many photos and other memorabilia from his life.
Norman (Norm) Hatch was born in Boston, Massachusetts, on March 2, 1921. He came to Alexandria in 1943, settling in Presidential Gardens. After World War II he and his wife Lois moved to Old Town upon purchasing a 1797 house on St. Asaph Street. Five years later they moved to Aldie, Virginia, for a brief period of time before moving to the Mount Ida/Del Ray section of Alexandria in 1951. Norm was a cinematographer and a federal administrator in photography for the Marine Corps and the Department of Defense. He was President of Photo Press International, Ltd., in Alexandria for more than twenty years, producing editorial/commercial photography for foreign publishers.
Ben Hayman was born in Alexandria to parents who had emigrated from Eastern Europe. His parents owned property and sold goods on King Street in downtown Alexandria. Ben Hayman, his wife Betsy, and his son Jimmy owned and/or operated several stores in different neighborhoods of Alexandria, including downtown, Del Ray, and Arlandria. Ben and Jimmy Hayman talk of the many different types of stores in Alexandria that attracted customers from as far away as Manassas when Alexandria was the major shopping destination for Northern Virginia. They describe the effects of Urban Renewal on the city, as well as the effects of the establishment of malls at Bailey’s Crossroads and Landmark. The City of Alexandria took special note of the Hayman family’s contributions to the city, including the annual fashion show benefiting Alexandria Hospital.
Elizabeth Hooff moved to the Seminary Hill area of Alexandria from Philadelphia in 1947. When she first lived in the area, Seminary Hill had large farms and relatively few homes; it had not yet been incorporated into the City of Alexandria. Mrs. Hooff talks about the homes and her neighbors and the changes that have occurred over the years in Seminary Hill.
Born in Alexandria in 1930, Christine Howard talks about growing up in the 300 block of North Patrick Street. Her mother, who owned a restaurant at the corner of North Fayette and Queen Street until it closed during the Great Depression, believed strongly in education, and Christine and her nine siblings all achieved education beyond high school. Christine attended Parker-Gray School and talks about Ebenezer Baptist Church as well as Hopkins House and other recreation centers for young people in the city. She earned her undergraduate degree at West Virginia State College and her master’s degree from the University of Virginia, and she taught in the Alexandria schools while the schools were segregated and throughout the process of desegregation and later. She was Principal of Jefferson-Houston Elementary School for 14 years and was active in the Urban League, the Alexandria Community YMCA (now the Campagna Center), Hopkins House, and the Commission of Equal Opportunity.
Mary Crozet Wood Johnson
Mary Crozet Wood Johnson was born in Alexandria and lived in a house near the corner of Quaker Lane and Woods Lane. She tells of the neighbors who lived in that area. She also talks about the one-room schoolhouse she attended at Fort Ward, which she knew as "The Fort," and the clothes she wore and the games she played. She tells of the occupations of her parents and grandparents, as well as the local churches her parents attended.
Virginia Knapper was born December 25, 1897 in a house located at 911 North Fairfax Street. Mrs. Knapper recalls her home, which was in the area of town known as Cross Canal. She describes the Cross Canal, its’ respective bridges and locks, its width and depth, as well as other vignettes of life near the Canal. Mrs. Knapper shares memories of family members, as well as her job at the glass factory, fishing in the Potomac River and the terrain of north Alexandria.
Helen Knight and Marion Knight Redmond
Helen Knight and Marion Knight Redmond are two lively sisters who lived in Alexandria their entire lives. The elder, Helen, remembers details about growing up at 427 South Fairfax and also recalls many of the family's neighbors and relatives. The sisters discuss summer vacations, childhood games, their first family car and moving from Old Town up to the hill near the Masonic Memorial.
Gladys "Dani" Lail
Gladys Lail, known to her friends as “Dani” was born in 1911 and grew up in Hume Springs outside of Alexandria, Virginia. She discusses what life was like while she was growing up and how the town has changed since her childhood. She discusses the progress that the city has made and what she thinks about the differences in the city that she grew up in but in some aspects does not recognize anymore.
Vola Lawson, who was Alexandria’s city manager for 15 years until 2000, began her love affair with the city as a young bride, living in Parkfairfax in the mid-1960s. She and her husband David hadn’t planned to stay long. They had their eye on suburban Maryland for their home. But tenant issues at Parkfairfax sucked them into community activism that eventually translated into a city job for Vola Lawson and a long and distinguished career of public service. Beginning as a city community outreach director, she moved on to become assistant city manager for housing. In 1985 she was appointed city manager. Now retired, she lives once again in the Parkfairfax neighborhood where she remains active and involved in the community.
The Fort Ward area, which was home to a number of African American families, became a park in 1961 because of its significance in the Civil War. Michael Lazich was one of the first workers to clear the land of dead trees and to make the park accessible. He started work there in 1962. He and the interviewers walk through the park as he describes the buildings, trees, and plantings that were there in the early 1960s and the changes that have been made.
Mabel Lyles spent her early childhood with her mother's family in the rural countryside of Spotsylvania County, VA. She tells stories of washing clothes in the stream there and going to school in a one room schoolhouse. She was able to attend Virginia Union University in Richmond on scholarship and went on to become a teacher. She moved to a segregated Alexandria in 1950 where she taught school and served her church in Christian Education and other activities.
Gilbert and Maudy Mays
Gilbert and Maudy both grew up in rural Brunswick County, Virginia. Gilbert joined a segregated U.S. Army just prior to World War II, served during the war in Europe in truck support, went to college under the G.I. Bill, and obtained a Master’s degree from the University of Virginia in 1957. He worked for the Virginia State Department of Education (1958-1970) and later served as Assistant Principal and Principal in the City of Alexandria. He retired in 1983. Maudy grew up in a family of 16 children, nine of whom were boys. She graduated from St. Paul’s College in Virginia with a degree in education and worked with teachers to improve their awareness of subtle as well as more explicit forms of prejudiced behavior.
Maria P. ("Pat") McArtor
Maria P. (“Pat”) McArtor is a fourth-generation Alexandrian who grew up on Del Ray Avenue in the home her parents purchased in 1922. Her father worked at Fruit Growers Express, and Pat recalls her home life, her education—including attending St. Mary’s Academy—and the churches, businesses, and theaters in the neighborhood and broader Del Ray area.
Jack McGinley arrived in Alexandria in 1965 upon accepting a position with the Richmond, Fredericksburg and Potomac (RF&P) Railroad to supervise special projects, specifically projects at Potomac Yard. Well respected as an engineer and circuit designer, Mr. McGinley was appointed superintendent (chief operating officer) of Potomac Yard shortly thereafter, in 1968. Mr. McGinley describes the implementation of automation processes that he assisted with during his tenure at the Yard (he retired in 1992), as well as railroad industry changes, worker culture, and his continuing activity with the Yard (via membership in the Potomac Yard Retired Employees Association) today.
Charles McKnight was born in Alexandria and talks about growing up in the Fort Ward area. His great-aunt, Clara Adams, was a founder of Oakland Baptist Church, and Charles and his family lived with her while he was growing up. He describes Clara Adams’ house and its beautiful yard facing Braddock Road. He also talks about the schools he attended, relating how he had to take a bus all the way to Manassas to attend high school. He also tells of how safe he and his family felt in Alexandria; doors were left unlocked. Charles served as secretary and Sunday school superintendent for the Episcopal mission at St. Cyprian.
Edmonia Smith McKnight
Edmonia McKnight was born in Fort Ward (Fairfax) in 1921 and has lived in Alexandria, Virginia, her entire life. During the interview she discusses life on Fort Ward during the Depression, as well as the families who made their homes there. Mrs. McKnight gives us a rich and vivid description of her family’s garden, animals, and food preservation methods. She recalls her primer, Baby Ray. She also speaks from her heart about slavery and integration in Alexandria.
Helen Miller proudly traces the history of civil rights for African Americans through her own family. Her grandfather, himself the son of a slave owner, was one of the first black residents of Aurora Hills. Her father was a cook at the Capitol and "kept his place" in spite of the many famous people he saw each day. Because of his steady job he was able to buy a house for his family when his children were small. Helen, and many others, marched and participated in sit-ins in order to open libraries, restaurants, banks, and ABC stores to blacks, as customers as well as employees. She marched for city jobs in the Fire, Health, and Police Departments. She pioneered as one of the first black graduates of the Police Academy. Her daughter was one of the first black bank tellers in the City. In addition, she tells us delightful stories about her childhood - swimming in the Potomac, the fire at the Vinegar Factory, and bootleggers during prohibition.
Ralph Mills was born in 1926 and has lived in Alexandria since 1938, after spending his early years in Washington, D.C. In Alexandria, Ralph has lived in the Rosemont neighborhood and recalls ice and milk deliveries, his paperboy route, sleigh riding down Walnut Street and playing ‘pick-up’ football with his fellow “Rosemont Eagles.” Ralph also discusses how he got into the printing business and stories of his ancestors with Kansas roots.
Robert Montague, III
As former President of the Historic Alexandria Foundation and former Chairman of the Preservation Commission as well as former President of the Old Town Civic Association and the Northern Virginia Conservation Council, Mr. Montague reviews some of the issues with which those groups dealt since his arrival in Alexandria in 1964. The issue of legal easements on properties as a means to help preserve the character of Alexandria is of particular importance and interest to him.
Joseph John Moraski
In the 1950s, Joseph John Moraski spent time playing in the area that is now Fort Ward Historical Park. He recalls the East Bastion structure, a small cemetery in the area, as well as a ravine where he and his brother found mini-balls, speculating it was once a shooting range for the soldiers.
Wilbur S. Morris
Mr. Wilbur S. Morris was born in Spotsylvania County, Virginia in 1924. Having obtained his first position for the RF&P Railroad in 1943 in Fredericksburg, Mr. Morris worked his way up to Master Mechanic at Potomac Yard in Alexandria in 1968. During the course of the interview Mr. Morris explains his responsibilities as Master Mechanic and the intricacies of the Potomac Yard operations.
Mr. Parker was a life long resident of Alexandria. His father owned a grocery store in the 700 block of King Street between 1904 and 1945. Mr. Parker discusses the store, including the pickle barrels our front, the cakes popular with children and how his father initially made deliveries via horse and wagon. Other businesses in the 700- and 800-blocks King Street are recalled, such as Lemenschawsky's shoe repair and the Hoy's stove and tinware shop. The streetcar line's route between Mount Vernon and Washington, D.C. is also vividly described.
Harold Payne was born in Alexandria and lived here all his life. His family moved often to different neighborhoods so he has great stories about many different areas of the city. He was a member of the Lions' Club for forty five years.
John D. Pierpoint was born in Hume Springs in 1928. Mr. Pierpoint recounts stories surrounding his family’s home in the Hume Springs area, as well as his grandfather’s heating business and helping out with his uncle’s store. Sharing memories of his boyhood paper route via bicycle, and his experiences as a teen working at the Torpedo Factory, Mr. Pierpoint paints a vivid portrait of Alexandria and its streets during the 1930s and early 1940s. During the interview, memories of dating, the prom and meeting his wife, Pauline are also fondly remembered.
Mabel Porter Price
Mabel Porter Price was born at home on Jefferson Street in Old Town, Alexandria, in 1908. She talks about the neighborhood of Jefferson and South Alfred Streets and her neighbors there. She also talks about shopping on King Street on Saturdays and memories of attending Parker-Gray. Mrs. Price worked for the federal government; her husband worked for the telephone company. They raised two children, both of whom graduated from college. She describes her marriage of 77 years and reflects on what a good life she has had.
Gant Redmon is a partner at the law firm of Redmon, Peyton, & Braswell, L.L.P., in Alexandria. He has practiced law in Northern Virginia since 1964; he has specialized in banking, commercial and real estate transactions, and estate planning. He was chairman of the Alexandria Chamber of Commerce in 1989 and was interviewed in 2005 as part of the Chamber of Commerce Oral History Project. He talks about some of the activities of the Chamber and the issues facing the business community in Alexandria.
Dorothy Joan Roland
Dorothy Joan Roland (known as Joan) was born on North Fairfax Street in Alexandria in 1932. She has lived most of her life in the 200 or 300 block of Queen Street. The interviewer is her neighbor. Miss Roland describes life in downtown Alexandria before, during, and after World War II. She talks about the farmer’s market in Market Square, where she and her family shopped every Saturday, and the apartment buildings that are now the single-family homes of Old Town. She also talks about the small-town atmosphere of Alexandria while she was growing up and how much she has enjoyed living in the city.
Charles Sampson was born in Alexandria and lived here all his life. He was a member of the fire department from 1937 until his retirement in 1975. As a result, he knew the streets, businesses, and landmarks of Alexandria like the back of his hand. He carefully kept a collection of photos and mementos from his career which he has donated to the Alexandria Library and is now available in its Special Collections.
During World War II, Chinquapin Village was established as housing for workers at the Torpedo Factory in Alexandria. Mr. Sare, his six siblings and mother came from Wyoming to Alexandria in 1940, when his father received employment at the Torpedo Factory. First living in temporary housing at Rosemont, the family soon moved into Chinquapin Village (located on the grounds of the present day Chinquapin Park Recreation Center). Mr. Sare recalls Alexandria and the close-knit Chinquapin community in the 1940s and 1950s. He provides descriptions and design layout of the Chinquapin houses and the grounds and relays humorous stories of being a teen in Chinquapin Village, including working at the grocery store, Halloween, swimming holes and innocent mischief.
B. J. Sheridan
B. J. Sheridan grew up in post-Depression era Alexandria and became a fighter pilot during the Korean War. In this self-recorded reflection, B.J. speaks about his many adventures --childhood adventures at Hunting Creek and Lake Barcroft, and later adventures, including working for United Airlines. He recalls his childhood home at 207 S. Washington, stories of his uncles and his stepfather’s car dealership, ‘Hunter Motors,’ as well as anecdotes of famous people he once knew.
Charlotte Spittle Smith
Charlotte Ann Spittle Smith was born in Alexandria in 1921. Her parents were also born in Alexandria, as was her grandmother. Charlotte lived in several neighborhoods as a child, including Seminary Hill, Rosemont, and Old Town. The Great Depression had an impact on her family and where they lived. She talks about growing up in Alexandria and about the city during World War II, how she met her husband, and the changes in Alexandria over the years. She was a graduate of George Washington High School and worked for the government during the war. She recalls the trolley that ran through Alexandria to Mount Vernon, and she tells of being taken to view the damage caused in Old Town by a tornado.
Dorothy Hall Smith and Barbara Ashby Gordon
Dorothy Hall Smith and Barbara Ashby Gordon grew up in Alexandria. Mrs. Gordon grew up in the vicinity of what is now the Fort Ward Museum and Historic Site, which they called “the Fort.” Mrs. Smith, her cousin, visited there in summer. The women describe the homes and families “up Fort,” and they talk about growing up at a time when Braddock Road required new tar be put down each year; when Barbara walked to her aunt’s house to get milk from the cow; and when no one felt it necessary to keep their doors locked. They also describe in detail the house belonging to the Jacksons at the Fort. During Reconstruction, the Fort Ward area was a neighborhood of African Americans. The women talk about the importance of remembering the neighborhood as it was before it became a Park.
Mrs. Smucker was born in Lynchburg, Virginia. She moved to Fairfax County in 1946, and the portion of the county in which she lived became part of Alexandria a few years later. In this interview Mrs. Smucker relates something of her family background, her early memories of Alexandria, changes in her neighborhood, the annexation of the portion of Fairfax County where she lived to Alexandria, and some of the people in her neighborhood.
David Speck was born in New York City in 1945, but his parents moved to Alexandria when he was six weeks old. He is Managing Director of Investments for Speck Caudron Investment Group of Wachovia Securities. He has been a very active member of Alexandria’s Chamber of Commerce since 1978. He was also a member of the Alexandria City Council for several terms. The interview was confined to questions supplied by the Curator of the Lyceum; since Mr. Speck had only half an hour of his business day to devote to this interview, subject matter was confined to the specific questions. The interviewer and transcriber is a volunteer at the Alexandria Archaeology Museum.
Sarah O. Strother
Sarah O. Strother was born in 1938 in Farmville, Virginia. She moved with her parents and older sister to Alexandria when she was two years old and has lived in different locations in Old Town since then. She remembers early days at play and at school, family meals and entertainment, and raising her two children.
John and Mary Sullivan
John and Mary Sullivan live in the Del Ray area of Alexandria. John grew up there and Mary has lived there since her marriage in 1946. They describe the businesses and families of their neighborhood, and what it was like for their children in the fifties and sixties as they were growing up. John had a long career with the FBI. Mary was a homemaker, a community and church volunteer, and also held some professional positions. They are a couple who has seen the neighborhood change throughout the years.
- April 21, 2002 interview: Elsie Virginia Tucker Thomas was born in 1919 in Alexandria. She lived on Queen Street between North Patrick and North Alfred, and she talks about what the neighborhood was like. She also talks about the church she attended with her family. She went to school in Alexandria and graduated from Dunbar High School in Washington, D.C. She also followed her mother’s path and attended Virginia State College while her brothers went to Howard University. She supported her brothers in their work for civil rights; they protested the exclusion of African Americans from the Alexandria public library as early as 1939. Her father was among the citizens who supported the establishment of Hopkins House as a community center for young African Americans in 1939. This is the first of two interviews conducted with Mrs. Thomas; the second interview occurred in December 2006.
- December 15, 2006 interview: In this additional interview, Elsie recalls her work as the second President of Hopkins House in Alexandria, established in 1939 (from 1954 to 1965). She also recalls the music at Zion Baptist Church as well as parades sponsored by the Odd Fellows.
John "Jack" TIcer
- 1997 Interview: John Ticer was born in 1923 in Alexandria, Virginia, and graduated from college in 1948. In this interview, he talks about his father’s significant civic career in Alexandria in the 1930s, which included City Council member, Railroad Operator, and Mayor of Alexandria. Mr. Ticer also gives incite to his mother’s genealogy as well as information on his father’s later years.
- February 25, 1999 Interview
John Ticer, known as Jack, was born in 1923 in his family’s house in Alexandria, and never lived farther than seven blocks from there. Both of his parents also grew up in Alexandria, and while Jack was growing up here, his father was on the City Council, served as mayor, and had a long career with the railroad. Jack attended the old Washington School, now the Campagna Center, the old Jefferson School which has been torn down, George Washington High School, and graduated from the University of Virginia. He worked as a soda jerk at Nicklin's Drugstore, served as an enlisted man in World War II, and worked for Westinghouse Electric and Atlantic Research Corporation. He and his wife Patsy both served on the City Council, and Mrs. Ticer is now a senator in the Virginia General Assembly. Jack continued to have an active interest in Alexandria’s history until his death in 2007.
Marian Van Landingham
Marian Van Landingham, an Alexandria artist, is a founder of Alexandria’s Torpedo Factory Art Center and former Delegate to the Virginia General Assembly, where she represented Alexandria for 24 years, from 1982 to 2006. During the interview, she discusses how the Art Center was established and its early years --when there was little heat and no air-conditioning for the artists. She also recalls her years in the Assembly, where she was one of the few female delegates.
Natalie Thompson Sanks Vaughn was born in Alexandria in 1920. She worked as a substitute teacher at Parker-Gray School in Alexandria and for a short time during World War II for the Office of Price Administration in Washington, D.C. She then taught in North Carolina and at Manassas Institute when it was the only high school for African American children in rural Northern Virginia. She was Dean of Women at North Carolina A&T College and taught at Bowie State Teachers’ College before becoming a teacher, vice-principal, and then principal in the Alexandria public school system. She talks about segregation of the schools in Virginia and about their integration in Alexandria. She talks about what happened in the schools at the time of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (Mrs. Vaughn also gave an interview to the Oral History of the Public School Principalship Program in May 1988.)
Betty Ward was born in 1933 and has lived in the Del Ray area of Alexandria since she was seven years old. Mrs. Ward was nominated as an Alexandria Living Legend in 2011. In this interview, she recalls her childhood in Alexandria; working at the Harding House Home with her grandmother, and for the Federal Railroad Administration. She currently works with her brother in his tour company giving tours of Alexandria. They have filmed a documentary about historic Alexandria.
During World War II, Chinquapin Village was established as housing for workers at the Torpedo Factory in Alexandria. Mr. Warthen moved to Chinquapin with his family when he was 11 years old. He shares memories of the community’s softball team and other activities provided for the children and teens. He describes the Chinquapin homes, its community center and the neighborhood context. “…It was a very friendly place to live.”
Shirley Grimm Warthen
Shirley Grimm Warthen describes her childhood growing up in the 1930's and ‘40's in the Del Ray neighborhood of Alexandria. She had a special attachment to the city because her dad was one of its policemen. As the youngest of six children, she saw a larger view of life through her siblings, even experiencing World War II through the death of a brother. She describes walking to school, enjoying life at its best at the roller skating rink, going to the movies at the Palm Theater, and other common activities.
Charles K. "Buster" Williams was born in Alexandria in 1908 and has lived here all his life. He attended elementary school at St. Josephs and Parker Gray, then went to high school in Washington D.C. because there were no secondary schools in the city for African Americans at that time. Some of the jobs that he talks about are hauling ice on an ice cart, boot black at a local barber shop, truck driver and delivery person for Virginia Public Service, working at the White House, and barnstorming as a semi-pro baseball player. He has fond memories of growing up in a small city as a child.
Paula Haskins Williams
Ms. Paula Haskins Williams was born in 1952 and has lived in Alexandria all of her life. During the interview, she discusses her family history, recalling how her father’s family lived in the ‘Cross Canal’ neighborhood and later on, ‘the Bergs.’ She remembers her father telling her that their ancestors were buried in Alexandria’s Freedmen’s Cemetery.
Sgt. Lee Thomas Young
Sgt. Lee Thomas Young lived in the Fort Ward neighborhood before the Fort was established as an historic Civil War and recreational park. During these interviews, conducted in 1996 and 2009, he reflects what it was like living in the neighborhood, describes some of the houses and recalls his neighbors. His Fort Ward home, originally a church, was adjacent to one of the family graveyards that are still present on the site. He was one of the last people moved from the Fort Ward area to new housing in order to make way for the park.
- 1996 interview: This interview was videotaped; Sgt. Young and interviewer, Patricia Knock walked through the areas as they talked about them.
- 2009 interview: During this interview, Sgt. Young and several family members walked through his former property with archaeological museum staff.