Alexandria's History: The 20th and 21st Century
A Brief History
New neighborhoods sprang up around the outskirts of the city by the turn of the twentieth century. Local industries included the Robert Portner Brewing Company, the Old Dominion glass works, the Virginia Marine Railway and Shipbuilding Company, and Potomac Yard, one of the largest rail facilities in the country. The U.S. Naval Torpedo Station, now the Torpedo Factory Art Center, was built during World War I and was expanded during World War II, with large industrial buildings dominating Alexandria's waterfront. A Ford Motor Company warehouse at the south end of the waterfront was also converted to military use during World War II.
The Second World War brought tremendous growth and change to the Washington area and to northern Virginia. National Airport was constructed at the beginning of the war on Alexandria's northern edge, the former site of Abingdon plantation. Thousands of people from all over the country poured into the region as the government expanded and Alexandria became one of many "bedroom communities" serving the capital city. This growth set the tone for the post-war period, as well, which has seen even greater development of Alexandria and her surrounding communities.
Today, Alexandria still retains much of its historic character. Many late 18th- and early 19th-century townhouses and warehouses remain in the "Old Town" section of the city, along the west bank of the Potomac River. While still a residential area for many Federal employees, Alexandria is also home to many national associations, corporations, restaurants, shops and other businesses. Many old landmarks have become museums, historic sites and art galleries. Public parks line the waterfront and the river is actively used by fishermen and recreational boaters.
The 21st century has seen increased density around Metro stations and the replacement of some low-income housing projects with mixed-income housing. A third Metro station and Virginia Tech's Innovation Campus are coming to Potomac Yard, and plans are in place to move Inova Alexandria Hospital to the site of the old Landmark Mark, as the anchor of a mixed-use development. With the Robinson Landing and Old Dominion Boat House projects, the City has finally realized its long-term goal to complete a public walkway all along the waterfront.
Visitors to the National Capitol area find that Alexandria serves as a quaint change of pace from the hectic hustle of downtown Washington, a place to relax and discover what the region was like many years ago.