Archaeological Discoveries

Here a just a few of the many important discoveries made by Alexandria Archaeology and by Cultural Resource Management firms working in Alexandria under the provisions of the Alexandria Archaeological Protection Code.

Page updated on Jun 24, 2020 at 11:43 AM

Archaeologists first worked in Alexandria in 1961, when an excavation trench was dug across the bastion at Fort Ward during restoration of the earthworks. Since that time, over 230 archaeological sites have been registered with the Virginia Department of Historic Resources. The Alexandria Archaeology Bibliography provides a comprehensive listing of publications, site reports, and other written materials about archaeology in Alexandria, Virginia. 

Canal Excavation 1986 imageAlexandria Canal

The Alexandria Canal operated from 1843 to 1886. The Tide Lock, excavated in 1979, is now restored and can be seen along the Potomac River at the foot of Montgomery Street. Read a brochure

Alexandria Courthouse Dig imageAlexandria Courthouse - 500 King Street

The site of the Alexandria Courthouse – 500 King Street was the last of the six Urban Renewal blocks to be excavated in the 1960s and 1970s. Archaeologists excavated a number of wells and privies from commercial and residential properties. Artifacts relate to the households of slave-woman Harriet Williams, silversmith Adam Lynn, German and German-Jewish immigrants, and others.

Freedom House Slave Pen imageAlexandria Slave Pen

At the site of the Alexandria Slave Pen, archaeologists uncovered structural remains relating to the whitewashed brick wall surrounding the men's yard and a line of post holes for posts which once supported a shed roof. A few of the artifacts relate to the slave pen, while others were discarded at the site by soldiers held there during the Civil War when the building was used as a jail. Read the site report. Now known as Freedom House Museum, 1315 Duke Street is open to the public.

Scow Hull at Keith's Wharf imageAlexandria Waterfront

New archaeological discoveries on the Alexandria Waterfront include the 1755 town warehouse and the remains of four 18th century ships. Earlier studies of the waterfront, at the Carlyle-Dalton Wharf, the Lee Street Site, Roberdeau’s Wharf and Keith’s Wharf, are discussed in “Reaching for the Channel: Some Documentary and Archaeological Evidence of Extending Alexandria’s Waterfront” (Alexandria Chronicle)

Bruin Slave Jail imageBruin Slave Jail

Joseph Bruin, a slave trader, used the building at 1707 Duke Street from 1844-1861, to house slaves before he shipped them to the south. The Bruin Slave Jail is on the National Register of Historic Places.

Brick-domed Cistern imageCistern on South Fairfax Street

A 19th-century  cistern on South Fairfax Street, with a water filtration system, was discovered in a back yard in 2006.

Crimean Oven imageCivil War Crimean Ovens

In 2003 and 2004 archaeologists discovered Civil War Crimean Ovens, underground heating structures built by Union troops during the Civil War to heat hospital tents. Read public summaries (44AX193 and 44AX195) and site reports (44AX193 and  44AX195).

Rows of grave shaftsContrabands and Freedmen Cemetery

Archaeological investigations at Contrabands and Freedmen Cemetery on South Washington Street focused on the identification of burial locations to ensure protection during development and future maintenance of the site, and the recovery of information about the cemetery for use in the memorial design process.   

Clara Adams headstone, Fort Ward ParkFort Ward Park

The Office of Historic Alexandria is engaged in an effort to study and preserve the historic resources related to The Fort African American community formerly located at Fort Ward Park. Learn more about 2009-2012 archaeological excavations focusing on resources relating to the post-Civil War African American community. In 2009, The City of Alexandria’s  ground-penetrating radar (GPR) survey identified 38 possible unmarked burials in six known and potential cemetery and grave locations in “The Fort” (44AX90) and the Old Grave Yard (44AX153). The adjacent photo shows "Fort" community leader Clara W. Adams' gravestone. Further archaeological work took place in 2012.

Lee Street Site Excavation imageLee Street Site 

Excavations in 1997 at the Lee Street Site explored the remains of late 18th century wharves, an early 19th century bakery and tavern, and a Civil War support complex for U.S. Military Hospitals. Finds from this site are on display in the Alexandria Archaeology Museum's exhibition “A Community Digs its Past: The Lee Street Site. Read the exhibition booklet.

Municipal Fire Well imageMunicipal Fire Well

An 1890s municipal fire well was discovered in 2006 at the corner of Gibbon and South Pitt Streets.

Piercy Pottery Washing ArtifcatsPiercy Pottery - Alexandria Earthenware

Henry Piercy was Alexandria’s first potter. He came from Philadelphia in 1792, and made slip-decorated earthenware in the Philadelphia style. Read In the Philadelphia Style: The Pottery of Henry Piercy, in Ceramics in America.

Potomac Yard looking south, 1936Potomac Yard

At Potomac Yard, archaeologists assessed the former location of the Alexander family’s Preston plantation and cemetery, dating to the early 1700s, and the Alexandria Canal (1843–1887). The study area played a considerable role in rail transport, including by the United States Military Railroad during the Civil War. This image shows the Yard c. 1936, looking south (Library of Congress, LC-H814-T01-1015). Read the site report.

Portners Brewery Advertising imageRobert Portner Brewing Company

The large Robert Portner Brewing Company made Tivoli Brand lager beer from 1868 until Prohibition. A site report and extensive history are available for this site.

Shield's BathhouseShields' Folly: A Bathhouse in Old Town

A deep feature discovered in a Royal Street basement in 2014 may be from an aborted effort to dig a well for Thomas Shields' bathhouse 200 years earlier. 

Shuter's Hill Brewery Beer Cellar imageShuter's Hill Brewery

Shuter's Hill Brewery, an early German lager brewery was built in 1858 and burned in 1893. The brick-vaulted beer cellar was excavated, and has been preserved under the corner of Duke and Dulaney Streets. Read the site report.

Shuter's Hill Laundry imageShuter's Hill Plantation

An ongoing excavation on Shuter's Hill near the Masonic Memorial is exploring the Mills/Lee/Dulaney plantation, built in 1782. The mansion house burned in 1842, and was replaced by a larger brick house that was used by Union troops during the Civil War. Read a brochure.

Apothecary Basement Excavation imageStabler-Leadbeater Apothecary

In the 1980s, Alexandria Archaeology excavated two brick-lined shafts, portions of the old earthen floor, and a trash pit that pre-dated the brick buildings housing the Apothecary, which operated from 1796 to 1933. The Apothecary is now an Historic Alexandria museum. Learn more from the Historic Structures Report.

Kiln Foundations Excavation imageTildon Easton Stoneware Kiln

Tildon Easton manufactured both earthenware and salt-glazed stoneware for a very short period of time, between 1841 and 1843. His kiln, on the 1400 block of King Street, was excavated in 1985. Read A New Look at Old Stoneware: The Pottery of Tildon Easton, in Ceramics in America.

Glass Factory Furnaces imageVirginia Glass Company

In 1997, Archaeologists working at the Carlyle development on Duke Street discovered foundations, furnaces, ovens, a chimney base, and thousands of artifacts from the Virginia Glass Company (1894-1916). Archaeologists also found evidence of a fire known to have taken place in 1895, and the fire that destroyed the business in 1916. Read the site report.

West Family Burial Vault imageWest Family Cemetery

Hugh West was one of the founders of Alexandria, and owned the tobacco inspection station at the foot of Oronoco Street. The West Family Cemetery in Eisenhower Valley includes a family vault from the 18th century, which contains remains of Hugh's wife Sybil, son George, and daughter Sybil (the second wife of John Carlyle.) After the archaeological excavation, the remains from the vault and surrounding burials have been reinterred at Pohick Church. Read the site report.

Stoneware cake potWilkes Street Stoneware Pottery

The Wilkes Street Pottery is the site of stoneware potters John Swann and B. C. Milburn. The Virginia Research Center for Archaeology conducted rescue excavations here on four weekends in 1977, recovering thousands of pottery fragments, pieces of kiln furniture used to stack the pottery, and a fragment of a brick interior arch from a kiln. Learn more about the pottery of Swann and Milburn from articles published in Ceramics in America.