Alexandria Waterfront Documentary Study
Alexandria Waterfront Documentary Study
In June 2020, the Office of Historic Alexandria, with the support of the Department of Project Implementation, began the research for and preparation of a detailed documentary study of the Alexandria waterfront. Proposed plans to mitigate flooding triggered this dive into history.
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.
A spatial database preservation tool is also being created in GIS (geographic information system). The highlights of the study will be shared with the public in a variety of formats.
The report will include a chain of title, a description of the historic owners and occupants, and a discussion of the land creation and use of each block through time. The study area includes the land between Union Street and the Potomac River from Founder’s Park to Duke Street. This area represents the core of the port town’s historic waterfront as it evolved from a small hamlet to an industrial seaport. The research will reference blocks to the west of Union Street to demonstrate how the land was built out from the original shoreline.
Emerging research themes include Alexandria's maritime culture and the extension of the shoreline; women as property owners; and the economic role of slavery in the making of the waterfront.
City of Alexandria efforts to mitigate flooding have the potential to impact buried archaeological resources. Previous archaeological and documentary studies recommend a high potential for archaeological features along the waterfront including wharves, structures, and evidence of land filling activities. Potential flood mitigation infrastructure and streetscape stormwater improvements within these blocks will require below-ground solutions that could disturb potential archaeological features. This documentary study is one step to preserve the city’s past.
Archaeology and historical studies conducted in association with flood mitigation include:
- Initial Archaeological Assessment (Stantec, November 2018)
- Preliminary Archaeological Assessment (PAA) for Founders Park (Alexandria Archaeology, November 2022)
- Cultural Resources Work Plan: City of Alexandria Waterfront Improvement and Flood Management Project (Stantec, February 2020)
- Geoarchaeology Report (Mueser Rutledge, February 2023)
For information on Alexandria’s port history more generally, some suggested references include:
- Archaeology on the Waterfront
- City of Alexandria
2010 Alexandria Waterfront History Plan: Alexandria, a Living History. Prepared by Alexandria Archaeology, Office of Historic Alexandria.
- Claypool, Julia
2014 Robinson Terminal South: Property History. History Matters, Washington, D.C. Submitted to the City of Alexandria, Virginia.
- Preisser, Thomas
1977 Eighteenth-Century Alexandria, Virginia, before the Revolution, 1749-1776. PhD Dissertation, College of William and Mary.
1981 Alexandria and the Evolution of the Northern Virginia Economy, 1749-1776. Virginia Magazine of History and Biography 89:282-293.
- Pulliam, Ted
2008 Alexandria's First Wharf. Studies of the Old Waterfront. Alexandria Archaeology, Office of Historic Alexandria.
Shephard, Steven J.
2006 Reaching for the Channel: Some Documentary and Archaeological Evidence of Extending Alexandria’s Waterfront. The Alexandria Chronicle Spring 2006:1–13.
Shomette, Donald G.
1985 Maritime Alexandria: An Evaluation of Submerged Cultural Resource Potentials at Alexandria, Virginia. Donald G. Shomette. Submitted to Office of Historic Alexandria, Alexandria Archaeology, Alexandria, Virginia.
2003 Maritime Alexandria: the Rise and Fall of an American Entrepot. Heritage Books, Inc.
2019 Founders Park, A Biography. March 26, 2019.
Timeline and Project Updates
- Deed research
- GIS data entry
- Report Drafting
- Project Completion
Community Meetings and Public Outreach
Regular updates are provided to the Alexandria Archaeological Commission (AAC)