Archaeology on the Waterfront
Archaeology on the Waterfront
As redevelopment takes place along Alexandria's waterfront, archaeologists are exploring the properties undergoing development. Excavations took place in 2015-2016 at the Hotel Indigo Site at 220 S. Union Street and in 2017-2018 at Robinson Terminal South, at 2 Duke Street.
At the Hotel Indigo Site, Archaeologists uncovered the remains of the hull of a fifty-foot vessel, as well as John Carlyle's 1755 public warehouse. Excavation took place in 2015-2016, and remains of this ship and warehouse are now undergoing conservation.
At Robinson Terminal South archaeologists have located the remains of three 18th century ships, as well as foundations of Hooe's 18th century warehouse and store and the 19th century Pioneer Mill.
Archaeological excavation on these two blocks was conducted by archaeologists from Thunderbird Archaeology, a division of Wetland Studies and Solutions, Inc., working in coordination with the Alexandria city archaeologists. As required by the Alexandria Archaeological Protection Code, Thunderbird’s work is funded by the developers; Carr City Centers for the Hotel Indigo Site and EYA, LLC for Robinson Terminal South. Conservation is funded by the City of Alexandria, grants, and generous contributions to the Save our Ships Conservation Fund.
Passed by City Council in 1989, the Archaeological Protection Code requires developers to hire archaeological consultants to conduct investigations prior to construction on land with the potential to contain buried sites of historical significance. This will provide an opportunity for archaeologists to explore the 18th and 19th–century history of the City as development along the waterfront continues.
What's Happening Now
Researchers from the Conservation Research Laboratory at Texas A&M worked with Alexandria Archaeology staff and an amazing team of volunteers to document the three ships that were found at the Robinson Terminal Site in 2017-2018. All three ships have been laser scanned and reconstructed using computer models and 3D printing.
The Historic Ship Stabilization: Ship Ponding project includes the stabilization and storage of these three historic ship remnants excavated at the Robinson Landing Site. The overall goal of the project is to transport and store the timbers in Ben Brenman Pond (4800 Brenman Park Dr.) in a manner that preserves the possibility of future study and conservation when adequate funding and/or a location for permanent storage or display is available. Planning for the longer-term storage of the historic ship timbers began shortly after the ships were discovered in 2018.
The Conservation Research Laboratory also continues conservation of the first ship, discovered at the Hotel Indigo Site in 2015. The wooden timbers from John Carlyle's 1755 public warehouse were conserved at the Maryland Archaeological Conservation Laboratory. This is a multi-year project.
- Robinson Terminal South, 2 Duke Street (2017-2018)
- Hotel Indigo Site, 220 N. Union Street (2015-2016)
- Lee Street Site, 200 block N. Lee Street (1997)
- Alexandria Canal, Trans-Potomac Canal Plaza, 600 block N. Fairfax Street (1989)
- Roberdeau’s Wharf, Harborside, 400 block S. Union Street (1989)
- Carlyle-Dalton Wharf, Residences at the Torpedo Factory, 100 block N. Lee Street (1982)
- Keith’s Wharf, Ford's Landing, 700 block S. Union Street (1988)
John Carlyle’s Public Warehouse (Hotel Indigo Site field update, November 2015)
- Robert Townsend Hooe Warehouse and Store (Robinson Terminal South field update, April 2017)
- Pioneer Mills (Robinson Terminal South field update, November 2017)
Alexandria Waterfront Documentary Study
A comprehensive study is underway on a six-block area along the waterfront, in advance of flood mitigation. The final product will be a comprehensive report on the historical development of this six-block area. This report will serve as the historical guide for archaeological assessments of proposed and future infrastructure and development projects within this portion of the waterfront. Learn More.
- Resources for the Study of the Alexandria Waterfront. Resources for the study of events, people, and buildings important to the history and archaeology of the waterfront.
- Historic Buildings and Places on the Waterfront. History and images of historic buildings along the waterfront, and maps showing the location of these historic resources.
- Travelers' Accounts of the Historic Alexandria Waterfront. Descriptions of Alexandria by travelers from the early 17th century to the early 20th century.
- Pondering Shorelines, part 1; and Pondering Shorelines, part 2. Adapted from “‘On Examining the Records of the Town we find an Omission’ Using Historical GIS (hGIS) in Conjunction with Archaeological Excavation to Document Property Histories and Understand Changing Waterlines in Alexandria, Virginia.” Paper presented at the Society for Historical Archaeology Conference, January 2020 by Benjamin Skolnik.
Save Our Ships Fund
Alexandria’s rich maritime heritage needs your help! In addition to four historic ships, archaeologists unearthed the remains of a bustling waterfront neighborhood. We need your help to preserve, conserve, and interpret these amazing artifacts for future generations.
Alexandria Waterfront History Plan
Prior to the current waterfront redevelopment, the Alexandria Archaeological Commission prepared the Alexandria Waterfront History Plan in 2010. A subcommittee of the Commission, the Archaeological Commission Ship Committee, is now tasked with coming up with recommendations about what will happen with the ship(s) that were found during archaeological excavations along the waterfront. Meetings are announced on the City calendar.
Alexandria Heritage Trail Signs on the Waterfront
These signs are listed from north to south along the waterfront.
- Plundered War of 1812 (Torpedo Factory arcade, 101 N. Union Street, near the Timeline)
- Foot of King Street (King Street, east of Union Street)
- The Domestic Slave Trade (Waterfront Park, east of The Strand and south of King Street)
- Raise the White Flag War of 1812 (Waterfront Park, 1a Prince Street)
- Industrialization on the Strand (211 Strand, Watermark Condominiums)
- Waterfront Archaeology (211 Strand, Watermark Condominiums)
- Keith's Wharf (between Powhatan Park and Jones Point Park)
- Ford's Landing: Look for a series of historic signs on the waterfront walkway at Ford's Landing, at the east end of Franklin Street. (PDF unavailable)
- Jones Point: Visit 17 historic markers placed at Jones Point Park by the National Park Service. The Park is at 1 Jones Point Drive (walking access from the north end of Royal Street. (PDF unavailable)