Alexandria Archaeological Resource Areas

Archaeological Resource Areas are like overlay Historic Districts, but for archaeology. The areas are defined as having distinct resource types relating to the history, archaeology and geology, and have a level of protection under the Archaeological Resource Protection Code. Preliminary Site Plans for development in these areas require reasonable archaeological evaluation reports and resource management plans.

Page updated on Aug 21, 2020 at 11:30 AM

The following are historic summaries of these areas and an evaluation of the significance of the resources in these areas.

The Resource Areas Map

Alexandria Archaeological Resource Areas map

See a larger PDF of the  Resource Areas Map.

Map Legend

Blue areas: Land that may have the potential to contain significant archaeological materials: All development requiring a site plan, development special use permit or erosion control plan shall follow the Archaeological Protection Procedure.

blue box to denote potential 1.  Old Town

blue box to denote potential 2.  Potomac 

blue box to denote potential 6.  Taylor and Timber Branch Run 

blue box to denote potential 7.  Shuter's Hill

blue box to denote potential 8.  Cameron and Backlick Run 

blue box to denote potential 9.  Outer Defense 

blue box to denote potential 10.  Seminary

blue box to denote potential 11.  Holmes Run 

Green areas:
Land where only specific properties may have the potential to contain significant archaeological materials: All developments requiring a site plan, development special use permit or erosion control plan on these properties shall follow the Archaeological Protection Procedure.

blue box to denote potential 3.  Del Ray/St. Elmo

blue box to denote potential 4.  Rosemont/Braddock Heights

blue box to denote potential 5.  Mt. Ida 

White areas:
Land not included in Archaeological Resource Areas: Site plans, development special use permit plans, erosion control plans, subdivision requests and rezoning requests are reviewed for archaeological potential at the time of submission.

1. Old Town

The Old Town Area is the historic urban core and, since the town’s incorporation in 1749, has been the urban center for Northern Virginia. King Street was, and continues to be, a thriving commercial corridor offering wares and entertainment to the region. The area includes the historic port, production and commercial sites, churches, cemeteries, schools, and residences, including historic black neighborhoods. It also includes prehistoric sites at Jones Point, boundary markers for the District of Columbia, evidence of Civil War military occupation, and craft and industrial sites such as breweries, glass companies, furniture factories, shipyards, flour mills, brickyards, potteries and tanneries. Much of Old Town is included in a National Register Historic District.

Significance of the Old Town Resource Area
The Old Town area encompasses the original city site and generally the land laid out as blocks by 1798. A survey of the degree of ground disturbance on the blocks included within this area indicates that 72% of the land has the potential for containing archaeological resources. Excavation of more than 70 sites in Old Town demonstrates that virtually all properties contain artifacts. Excavation of a typical townhouse backyard yields approximately 25,000 artifacts. If the yard also contains a trash-filled well or privy, this number of artifacts doubles. Most Old Town properties also contain foundations of older buildings and other historic features. This segment of Alexandria is of great archaeological significance since it has sites representing the full development of the City, from the tobacco warehouses at West’s Point (Oronoco Street) to the Belle Pre Bottle Company on West Street.

2. Potomac

The Potomac Area encompasses the northern part of Old Town, Potomac Yard and tracts of undeveloped land including large parcels on Daingerfield Island. This area would have been used by American Indians for hunting and fishing. It was part of a 6,000 acre tract purchased by John Alexander in 1669. There may have been a house on Daingerfield Island prior to 1730, although much of the area was wetlands. The Alexander family plantation was built here in the 1730s, near Four Mile Run. Other plantations were established in the area in the 18th and 19th centuries. A section of the Alexandria Canal extended through the area, from the turning basin at First and Washington Streets to Four Mile Run. Potomac Yard’s large railroad freight facility was first developed in 1906. The Yard incorporated large tracts of land owned by the Swann and Daingerfield families, and its resources include the location of early homes and family cemeteries. By 1894 a neighborhood known as “St. Asaph Junction” was situated near Powhatan Street. South of the Corporation Line (midway between First and Second streets), between Washington, Patrick, Montgomery and Second Streets, was the 19th and 20th century African neighborhood known as “The Hump.” Another Black neighborhood, “Cross Canal” was located on the north side of the Canal Locks along First Street.

Significance of the Potomac Resource Area
The Potomac Area is extremely important for archaeology, since it has large areas of relatively undisturbed land that may contain American Indian sites. An early plantation and elite homes were located here, and a large section of the Alexandria Canal traversed the area. This was also a major transportation corridor, with the Alexandria and Washington Turnpike, the Alexandria, Loudon and Hampshire Railroad, and its successor the Washington & Old Dominion Railroad tracks, and Potomac Yard.

3. Del Ray/St. Elmo 

From the early 18th to the mid-19th century, the Alexander family and their descendants owned and lived in this area. In the early 19th century the Alexandria and Washington Turnpike was built along the eastern boundary (Route 1). Most of the land was undeveloped or had agricultural use, although a race course was built north of Mt. Ida Avenue by 1845. Railroad tracks were laid through the area in the 1850s. By the 1870s, several farmhouses had been built on the former Alexander land. The St. Asaph Race Track was incorporated in 1888, with legal betting. Two subdivisions platted in 1894, St. Elmo and Del Ray, joined together in 1908 as the incorporated town of Potomac. Potomac exemplifies suburban growth based upon transportation development in the latter part of the 19th century. Residents commuted by train or trolley to jobs in Alexandria and with the expanding Federal government in Washington, D.C. At one time a third of the residents walked to work at the nearby Potomac Yards, a major railroad switching facility. Several houses and a Gold Bond Portable Chapel at 2701 DeWitt Ave. illustrate the commercial phenomenon of mail order buildings. The town of Potomac was annexed by the City of Alexandria in 1930, and is now a National Register Historic District.

Significance of the Del Ray/St. Elmo Resource Area
The area is significant because of the many 19th century structures that still remain as well as archaeological sites under the ground. These resources relate to the area’s early settlement and suburban life. The turnpike, canal, railroad and streetcar are evidence of an important transportation corridor. The race track site illustrates an interesting aspect of the community’s early social history.

4. Rosemont/Braddock Heights

This former Alexander land was owned by early settlers such as the Baldwin Brothers and Sybil West by the mid-18th century. At an early date, the road from Alexandria to Leesburg was constructed along what is now Braddock Road. In 1791, surveyors laid out the proposed boundary of the District of Columbia and boundary marker #2 was located near the intersection of King and Russell Road. In the 19th century larger country houses were built in the heights, such as the Anchorage and the Quinn house. The more level land toward Alexandria was characterized by smaller farms. The late 1890s saw the suburban development of Spring Park (now Rosemont) and Braddock Heights. These were streetcar suburbs like Del Ray and St. Elmo, also served by the Washington, Alexandria and Mt. Vernon Electric Railway. Rosemont is now a National Register Historic District. Its houses, the majority of which were constructed between 1908 and 1930 in a variety of styles and sizes ranging from small Craftsman bungalows to large Arts and Crafts and Colonial Revival houses, have retained exceptional architectural integrity. The original street layout of the subdivision survives, reflecting the suburban planning ideals of the City Beautiful movement.

Significance of the Rosemont/Braddock Resource Area
The area is significant because of the many 19th and early 20th century structures and archaeological resources relating to the area's early settlement and suburban life. The Old Leesburg (Braddock) Road and the electric railway are evidence of an important transportation corridor.

5. Mt. Ida

As early as 1719, a mill was built on the south bank of Four Mile Run. In 1800, a sixth generation descendent of John Alexander built the house known as Mt. Ida. After the Civil War, the “Gingerbread House” was built on an adjoining property. Other ante-bellum houses included Mt. Auburn, Warwick, and the Russell and Fractius farms. Military maps from the Civil War show a cemetery in the vicinity of Park Fairfax and several smaller farmsteads in other locations.

Significance of the Mt. Ida Resource Area
The area is significant because of the many remaining 19th century structures and archaeological resources under the ground. These resources relate to the area's early settlement and suburban life. The railroad and electric railway are evidence of an important transportation corridor.

6. Taylor and Timber Branch Run 

Two streams, Taylor and Timberbranch Run, flow through this area. During prehistoric times, wildlife was attracted to these water sources and as a result, the stream valleys became hunting grounds for Native Americans. Evidence of temporary hunting camps has been found in the form of stone tools and flakes produced during their manufacture, and cracked rocks resulting from the heat of camp fires. The land was patented in 1678 by John Carr and John Simpson, who may have built a residence in this area and farmed the land. By the 1760s prominent Alexandrians including William Ramsay and John Carlyle owned land within this area. They lived in the Old Town area, with tenants or overseers and slaves working their farms. Three major transportation arteries – the Alexandria Leesburg Turnpike (King Street), the Old Leesburg Road (Braddock Road) and Quaker Lane – converge in the northwest corner of this area. A tollgate was located on the Turnpike near this intersection, and by 1861 half a dozen houses stood nearby. An historic African American community, “Macedonia,” was located where T.C. Williams High School now stands. On Circle Terrace, a house and dairy farm known as “Oakland” was built in 1888. Two cemeteries were situated in this area, including Ivy Hill that still can be seen on King Street.

Significance of the Taylor and Timberbranch Run Resource Area
This area is significant because it contains important sites from virtually all time periods. Potential archaeological resources include American Indian hunting camps, early farms both large and small, two cemeteries, and an African American community. Two major roadways traverse this area and acted historically as the connection between Alexandria and the countryside to the west.

7. Shuter's Hill 

Shuter's Hill is the high land west of Old Town, where the George Washington Masonic Memorial now stands. This area is bounded by two turnpikes, The Alexandria Leesburg Turnpike (King Street) and the Little River Turnpike (Duke Street). In the 1760s, John Alexander owned this land. About 1781, a two story frame mansion was built, which was later used as a summer residence. It burned to the ground in 1843, and in the 1850s, a brick mansion was built nearby. In 1851, the Alexandria Water Company’s reservoir was built on the hill. At the start of the Civil War, Fort Ellsworth was built on the hill as part of the Defenses of Washington. The fort included 29 guns, bomb-proofs, powder magazines, and two wells. Barracks were built on the east side, and the brick mansion was used for military purposes. A Civil War period house still stands on Janney’s Lane, and many of the walls are covered with graffiti from the soldiers. A tollgate stood at the intersection of King Street and Janney’s Lane, described as old on an 1887 plat. In 1907, a large part of the hill was developed as a high income residential area. Ground was broken for the Masonic Memorial in 1922, with work completed a decade later.

Significance of the Shuter's Hill Resource Area
This area is highly significant for containing resources relating to 18th century and later residential settlement, Civil War period defensive structures and early road development. The site of Fort Ellsworth and its associated entrenchment lines offer perhaps the greatest resources left in Alexandria for gaining knowledge of Civil War defensive structures.

8. Cameron and Backlick Run 

This area has a long and complex history which includes nearly all phases of Alexandria’s development. Backlick Run, Holmes Run, Cameron Run, and Hooff’s Run create riverine environments that attracted much wildlife and offered prime hunting grounds for American Indians. Cameron, a small settlement that predated Alexandria, was probably situated at the head of Hunting Creek. John Carlyle and other early founders of Alexandria lived in this hamlet. If the Virginia Assembly had selected the Cameron petition instead of Hugh West’s in 1749, the new port town would have been established near the intersection of Telegraph Road and Cameron Run, rather than at the foot of Oronoco Street on the Potomac River.

A mill was established in the vicinity of Cameron by 1752. Prior to 1798 a second mill, Cameron Mills, was constructed nearby. A long millrace provided water power for the mills, with a viaduct carrying the millrace over Taylor Run. One of the early mills was incorporated into the Alexandria Water Company in 1851. Near the Water Company’s reservoir on Shuter’s Hill stood Cameron Mills Farm. A 19th century distillery was located north of Mill Road and west of Telegraph, and two Civil War period entrenchments ran just west of the distillery. Union blockhouses were built south of this area and near Duke and Colvin Streets. Other mills in this area include ones dating to 1733 and 1760. One building from the Brown’s Mill complex still stands on Wheeler Avenue.

The Little River Turnpike operated as a toll road from 1806 to 1896. The “West End,” a village just outside Alexandria’s 19th century town limits, clustered along Little River Turnpike from Hooff’s Run west to the toll gate. Homes, businesses, the Bruin slave pen, Catts’s Tavern, a brewery, slaughterhouses, many butchers, and the toll gate were once located on the 1400 to 2000 blocks of Duke Street. A stone bridge spanned Hooff’s Run at Duke and Peyton Streets.

The western section of this area was scattered with small farms and one large plantation, Bush Hill. Established in 1797, the plantation included a 12-room dwelling, overseer house, slave quarters, brick barn, frame granary, cow and sheep shelter, log corn house, blacksmith shop, seed house, carriage house, chapel, icehouse, smokehouse, limekilns, greenhouses, family cemetery and slave burial ground. In the 1850s the Orange and Alexandria railroad was built in the southern part, and two cattle stops were built beside the tracks on Bush Hill land.

Significance of the Cameron and Backlick Run Resource Area
This area is one of the most likely places in Alexandria to contain evidence of American Indian life. The filling of certain areas within the Eisenhower Valley may provide a protective cover to Indian sites dating back 10,000 years. From the 1740s, this area served as a connection between Alexandria and the west. The Turnpike, a major mill race and the railroad traversed this region. At least five mill complexes operated here. The remains of these resources, as well as the early village of Cameron, may still be extant underground.

9. Outer Defense 

This rural area had a history of agricultural production, country estates, and military defenses. It also served as a major transportation corridor, connecting Alexandria with the west. American Indians left traces of hunting camps, some dating back 10,000 years. European settlement came in the early 18th century when small farmsteads were established. There were at least four country estates in this area.

Prospect Hill stood on the current site of Bradlee Shopping Center, near a major intersection of the Alexandria Leesburg Turnpike (King Street) and the Old Leesburg Road (Braddock Rd.). By 1861 a cluster of houses surrounded the crossroads. To the west was the mid-19th century Monokin estate, which survived into the 20th century. The Vauxcleuse estate was destroyed in 1861, rebuilt in 1901 and demolished in 1972 to provide parking for the Alexandria hospital. Transportation arteries included Duke Street, an 18th century country road that became a toll road (Little River Turnpike) in 1806, and the Leesburg Turnpike (King Street), built in 1813. The Orange and Alexandria was completed in 1859.

The Civil War had a major impact on this area. From 1861-1865 the Cameron Run Valley was scattered with semi-permanent troop encampments that destroyed local agricultural production and decimated the woodlands. Three major forts and 10 batteries from the Defenses of Washington were located in this area, along with miles of entrenchments. Fort Worth was built on the site of “Muckross,” home of Confederate Colonel Arthur Herbert. This home was rebuilt after the war, using one of the stone powder magazines as its basement. Another Confederate officer’s estate, “Cameron,” was the site of Fort Williams. Bricks from the house were used to build a powder magazine that is still extant.

Significance of the Outer Defense Resource Area
This area is significant for its American Indian hunting grounds, 18th and 19th century agricultural settlements and country estates. This area includes the majority of Civil War defense remains still preserved in Alexandria. While most of the above ground structures no longer exist, many resources may still lie underground.

10. Seminary 

The Seminary Area is a relatively undisturbed tract of land in the center of Alexandria composed of the property of the Virginia Theological Seminary and Episcopal High School. Three major roads form the boundaries: Braddock Road, Quaker Land and Seminary Road. The remains of American Indian hunting camps may be located in this area, but the first recorded settlement began in the 19th century. The Seminary was founded in the early 19th century, stemming from the Educational Society and the School of Prophets. In 1827 Jonah Thompson sold his estate, “Oakwood,” to the Seminary. The home is still in use today. Another large mansion, “Araby,” once stood near the intersection of Stadium Drive and Braddock Road. Other significant 19th century structures are still in use, including Melrose Abbey and Aspin Wall Hall. A small frame building on Seminary Road continued to be used as a post-office until a few years ago. During the Civil War these grounds and buildings were used as a Union headquarters and a staging area for troops.

Significance of the Seminary Resource Area
The Seminary Area is one of the most significant properties in the City. It has many historic buildings, and large sections of relatively undisturbed land which may contain archaeological resources. The Civil War had a major impact on the Seminary. Its buildings were used for Union headquarters, five batteries and entrenchments were constructed along the western boundary, and troops camped on the grounds.

11. Holmes Run 

This area, located farthest from the core settlement of Alexandria was historically a sparsely settled agricultural community. The remains of hunting camps, dating as early as 10,000 years ago, have been found in many areas. Twenty of these sites have been registered with the Virginia Department of Historic Resources. John Carlyle’s plantation, “Tortherwald” (later “Morven”) dates to 1756 and covered 640 acres. A three-story house was built by 1770 and stood until the 1930s. The estate included a detached kitchen, overseer’s house, meat-house, barn, stables for 27 horses, cow house, dairy, weaver’s shop, smithy, grist mill and miller’s house. “Oakland” was built in 1741 by William Henry Terrett, and still stands at Palmer Place. The Strathblane estate included a family cemetery and a large home used during the Civil War as headquarters for Camp California. Mills and mill races, including Cloud’s Mill, were constructed in the 18th and 19th centuries. Union Forces launched observation balloons in this area, to follow the movements of Confederate forces in the Springfield area. A battery of two guns at the north end of an entrenchment line extends south to Fort Ward. The community of Lincolnia, in the southwest corner of this area, was established in the late 19th century. The Lincolnia Cemetery contains graves from the 19th and 20th centuries.

Significance of the Holmes Run Resource Area
The area was a hunting ground for American Indians and a sparsely settled agricultural region in colonial times. Until the 20th century, the area remained a rural hinterland. John Carlyle, a founder of Alexandria, established a farm in this area and exemplified the connection between the rural and urban communities. Because of the relatively sparse populations and large tracts of undeveloped land, the Holmes Run Area offers high potential for containing many prehistoric and historic archaeological sites.