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Studies of the Old Waterfront

A historical overview of the Old Waterfront.

Luallen DrawingThe Alexandria waterfront before the bluff was cut down. Note wharves under construction and Carlyle House on the top of the embankment. Drawing by Elizabeth Luallen based on research conducted by Alexandria Archaeology staff and volunteers. 

Return to Historic Alexandria Waterfront main page.

Historical Overview

Early History

  • Howson & Brent , by Ted Pulliam. It was probably the biggest real estate deal in the history of Northern Virginia. It took place in 1669 and included all the land on which Arlington Cemetery, the Pentagon, Reagan National Airport, and Old Town Alexandria now are located.

18th Century

  • Alexandria and Belhaven , by Diane Riker. For the first dozen years of its history, Alexandria, Virginia, was a town with two names. Which came first: Alexandria or Belhaven? This paper attempts to disentangle fact from fantasy.
  • Chadwicks on the Strand , by Diane Riker. From a sandy bank to a restaurant: the development of the Lawrason and Fowle warehouses on the Strand.
  • Alexandria’s First Wharf , by Ted Pulliam. In 1749, Alexandria was situated on high bluffs that formed a crescent-shaped bay with two points of land at each end of town extending out into the bay. This paper examines the first wharf, its location, date, and builder.
  • Fitzgerald Warehouse , by Diane Riker. At the corner of King and Union streets in Alexandria stands the earliest waterfront structure the city retains from its heady days as an international port. Seen today from across King Street, the brick and stone warehouse, built for Col. John Fitzgerald in the mid-1790s, appears to tilt toward the river. And the river is where its story begins. This paper is updated and enlarged from Ms. Riker’s, “ The Fitzgerald Warehouse: The Early History of an Alexandria Landmark,” published by the Alexandria Historical Society in The Alexandria Chronicle, Summer 2007.
  • The Warehouses of Lower King Street , by Diane Riker. In 1749, when the first town lots went on sale, the present 100 block was well east of dry land. But investors realized the potential. This paper examines early owners and development.

Early 19th Century

  • Fowle Warehouses , 204-206 South Union Street, by Diane Riker. By the mid-nineteenth century, Willaim Fowle and two of his sons had built a prosperous business and played important roles in pre-Civil War Alexandria banking, business, and government. The buildings at 204 and 206 South Union remain today as key relics of the Fowle family legacy and are some of the oldest buildings to survive on the waterfront.

Late 19th Century

  • Fiery Night,  by Diane Riker. The evidence of an 1897 fire at Bryant's Mill can be found on the wall inside what is now Chadwick's restaurant on the Strand.

Early 20th Century

  • 0 Prince Street , by Diane Riker. This building was originally the Beachcombers Restaurant that was built on stilts over the water and was one of the most elegant places to dine after World War II. The building survives today but is now on dry (filled) land.

Other Resources

  • Alexandria Archaeology Publications. (Available for purchase at the Alexandria Archaeology Museum.)
  • Alexandria Archaeology Site Reports -- The Waterfront  
  • Alexandria Artifact Stories - The Alexandria Gazette Packet, a weekly newspaper column, by Pamela J. Cressey, 1994-1997, covering many topics on the history of Alexandria.
  • Alexandria Historical Society - The Alexandria Chronicle archives 

    • Spring 2009 - A British Fleet Sails into Alexandria, by Ted Pulliam. In 1755 two British ships sailed up the Potomac River to the new town of Alexandria. Filled with 200 British soldiers, they were the first of 18 ships transporting General Edward Braddock’s army to North America to attack the French and their Indian allies at the beginning of the French and Indian War.
    • Fall 2007 - Gunpowder, Flour, Fire and Heirs: A Waterfront Block from Duke to Wolfe Streets, by Ted Pulliam. The history of Point Lumley (the southern projection of the 18th century bay before it was filled in) from early times to the 20th century.
    • Summer 2007 - The Fitzgerald Warehouse: The Early History of an Alexandria Landmark, by Diane Riker.
    • Spring 2006 - Reaching for the Channel: Some Documentary and Archaeological Evidence of Extending Alexandria's Waterfront, by Steven J. Shephard. Numerous wharves were built out into the bay in the 1780s by constructing walls and then filling them with soil.
  • Col. John Carlyle Gent.: A True and Just Account of the Man and His House. Dr. James D. Munson. Northern Virginia Park Authority, 1986. (Available at the Alexandria Library).
  • Discovering the Decades - Alexandria Archaeology Volunteer Newsletter, a series in honor of the City's 250th Birthday in 1999. Includes information on the history of the Waterfront.
  • Maritime Alexandria: the Rise and Fall of an American Entrepot. Donald G. Shomette. Heritage Books, Inc., 2003, second printing 2005. (Available at the Alexandria Library).
  • Oral Histories of Alexandrians, with remembrances of the Alexandria waterfront: 
  • A Seaport Saga: Portrait of Old Alexandria, Virginia. William Francis Smith and T. Michael Miller. Norfolk, Va.: Donning Co., 1989. (Available at the Alexandria Library.)
  • This Was Potomac River. Frederick Tilp. Bladensburg, Md., 1978. (Available at the Alexandria Library).  
  • Wandering Along the Waterfront. By T. Michael Miller, in The Fireside Sentinel, the Alexandria Library, Lloyd House Newsletter published from 1987 to 1995. (The full work is available for study at the City of Alexandria Library, Barrett Branch, Special Collections Division, 717 Queen Street. Select articles are posted below).