Archaeology at the Hotel Indigo Site
Archaeology at the Hotel Indigo Site
220 S. Union Street
Prior to construction of the Hotel Indigo, Archaeologists uncovered the remains of a fifty-foot vessel hull, as well as John Carlyle's 1755 public warehouse. Excavation took place in 2015-2017, and remains of this ship and warehouse are now undergoing conservation. The hotel lobby features a detailed archaeological map of the ship remains, and the historic 1749 shoreline is marked on the patio and inside the hotel.
Read the site report:
In 1749, when the Town of Alexandria was founded, the southwestern half of the property at 220 S. Union Street was on top of a bluff overlooking a cove of the Potomac River. The filling of the cove (called "banking out") in the late 18th century created the remaining land that became the northeastern half of the property.
Banking Out: When Alexandria was established as a town in 1749, the center of town was situated on cliffs above a crescent-shaped bay lying between two projecting headlands. Along the crescent bay, the cliffs rose 15 or 20 feet high. In 1749, the river in front of the cliffs was only four to five feet deep, but farther out in the Potomac River the channel reached 48-feet deep. Waterfront lot owners, who retained ownership of any new land they made in front of their properties, undertook the work of knocking down the bluffs and creating wharves reaching out to the deep channel, in a process known as banking out. Sometimes, old ship’s hulls were secured along the shore, as part of the wharf framework. Documentary and archaeological evidence shows that the bay was completely filled by about 1798.
The 1755 Public Warehouse: By 1755, Duke Street was cut through the bluff and extended down to the water. The Alexandria Trustees called upon John Carlyle to erect a public warehouse on the north side of Duke Street, on what would become 220 S. Union.
Other Foundations and Features: During the late 18th and 19th centuries, numerous industries sprang up on this site, including blacksmiths, carpenters, coopers, grocers, iron foundries, and commission merchants. A dwelling stood in the southwest corner with other residences probably present on some of the other commercial/industrial lots. At the time of the Civil War, the Union Army took over this property; quartermaster maps and period photographs depict a hay shed, grain storehouse, and commissary storehouse. In the 1890s, J. C. Herbert Bryant purchased all the lots that now comprise 220 S. Union and constructed the Bryant Fertilizer Company across the entire site.
Learn more about these discoveries below, in the Excavation Updates.
Save Our Ship Conservation Fund
The historic ship discovered on the Hotel Indigo Site in 2015 needs your help! Early Alexandrians sunk this vessel on the Potomac mudflats over 200 years ago. Archaeologists unearthed the ship, temporarily saving it from destruction. We need your help to ensure the preservation of the fragile wood timbers for future generations to study and appreciate.
As part of the conservation of the ship, researchers at Texas A&M University created a 3D printed model of the vessel. This model includes the archaeologically recovered remains and an extrapolated wire frame representing the inferred hull shape. The dimensions of the reconstructed remains are consistent with a vessel with a 58 foot long keel, a roughly 18.5 wide beam for an overall hull length of 70 feet. The heavy framing and relatively flat floors suggest the deep hold of a merchant vessel, perhaps a brig or large sloop. The 1:12 scale model is currently on display in the Archaeology museum as part of the Preserving Alexandria’s Maritime Heritage exhibit.
Read The Model Reconstruction and Presentation of the Indigo Wreck, Alexandria, Virginia, Glenn Grieco, Center for Maritime Archaeology and Conservation Ship Model Lab Texas A&M University
See the latest on the The Alexandria Ship Project from the Conservation Research Laboratory at Texas A&M.
Please make a generous donation to:
The ship conservation is also generously supported by:
- City of Alexandria
- Friends of Alexandria Archaeology
- National Park Service Maritime Heritage Grant, in partnership with the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Maritime Administration, $97,117
- Virginia Association of Museums Top Ten Endangered Artifacts $4,000
National Maritime Heritage Grant Program
The conservation of the ship from the Hotel Indigo Site (44AX229) has been funded in part by the National Maritime Heritage Grant Program which is administered nationally by the U.S. Department of the Interior along with the Maritime Administration of the U.S. Department of Transportation, and in Virginia, by the Department of Historic Resources.
The views and conclusions contained in this document are those of the authors and should not be interpreted as representing the opinions or policies of the U.S. Government. Mention of trade names or commercial products does not constitute their endorsement by the U.S. Government.
This program receives Federal financial assistance for identification and protection of historic properties. Under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, and the Age Discrimination Act of 1975, as amended, the U.S. Department of the Interior prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, national origin, disability or age in its federally assisted programs. If you believe you have been discriminated against in any program, activity, or facility as described above, or if you desire further information, please write to:
Chief, Office of Equal Opportunity Programs
United States Department of the Interior
1201 Eye Street, N.W. (2740)
Washington, D.C. 20005
Excavation and Ship Preservation Updates
Field Updates (2015-2016)
Ship Preservation Updates (2016-2017)
Recent Updates (2021-present)
- Iron Fasteners and X-ray Technology, March 2021
Conservators are still working on manually and chemically removing iron fasteners and corrosion and are close to being finished with this task. The team is using X-ray technology to assist in removing the more stubborn iron fasteners and concretions from the timbers.
- The Ship Model, May 2021
As part of the conservation of the ship, researchers at Texas A&M University created a 3D printed model of the vessel. The 1:12 scale model is currently on display in the Archaeology museum as part of the Preserving Alexandria’s Maritime Heritage exhibit. Read the report.
- Ship Progress, December 2021
The team at the Conservation Research Lab (CRL) are continuing their work on the ship remnant found at the Hotel Indigo Site.
- Conservation Continues, August 2022
The team at the Conservation Research Lab (CRL) are continuing treatment of the ship remnant to remove the remaining iron pins and spikes before polyethylene glycol (PEG) and freeze drying of the wood begins.
- Conservation Work Continues, July 2023
A chemical process is being used to remove enough of the corrosion products so that the ship's bow stem can safely move to the next step in the conservation process.