Finding Historic Locations Through Wayfinding

“A successful wayfinding system… [uses] signage as a communication tool to not only facilitate access, but also to reflect the civic culture and complement the environment of its setting.” City of Alexandria Wayfinding System, Volume One: Design Guidelines Manual

Page updated on Oct 6, 2020 at 2:41 PM

Wayfinding Signage on King Street

The City of Alexandria’s wayfinding signage system helps people find their way around the city. The distinctive signage also presents a consistent image for the city; reduces visual clutter; and helps promote walking, biking, and transit use. The comprehensive system ranges from directional signs along the city’s major roadways to pedestrian-oriented maps and interpretive panels conveying the city’s rich history.

For a closer look at some of the map and history panel “mini-kiosks” in Old Town, and their locations, click on the individual pages below. The listings are arranged from west to east along King Street, from the Masonic Temple on Shuter's Hill to the waterfront.

Shuters HillShuter's Hill

Shuter’s Hill is now the site of the George Washington Masonic National Memorial. Archaeologists have uncovered evidence of Native Americans living on the site, vestiges of a late 18th century plantation, a mid-19th century estate, and Union troops from Civil War times. The elegant mansion, built on the hilltop in 1781, burned in 1842 and was replaced by several smaller houses in subsequent years. Two Civil War fortifications, Fort Dahlgren and Fort Ellsworth, were built upon Shuter's Hill as part of a series of 160 forts and batteries built to protect the nation’s capital, known as the Defenses of Washington. This wayfinding sign is located on the north side of King Street at Diagonal Road.  

Freedom House MuseumFreedom House Museum

Freedom House Museum at 1315 Duke Street opened in 2008 to educate visitors about slavery. This building once housed the headquarters of Franklin and Armfield, one of the largest slave traders in America. The property housed a slave pen from 1828 until the start of the Civil War, and then served as a Union jail. The building is dedicated to Rev. Lewis Henry Bailey—a former slave who was sold through the slave pen to a family in Texas. Freed in 1863, he walked back to Alexandria and founded several churches and schools in Virginia, still in existence today. This wayfinding sign is located on the south side of King at West Street. 

Alexandria, DCAlexandria, DC

Alexandria was included in the District of Columbia from 1801 until 1847, when it was retroceded to Virginia. Alexandria was established by Virginia’s colonial assembly in 1749, over four decades before the U.S. Congress authorized creation of a national capital on the banks of the Potomac River. Once the final site for the Federal city was selected by President George Washington, part of Alexandria was incorporated into the District of Columbia in 1801. To mark the new capital’s boundaries, large stones were set in a ten-mile square at one mile intervals by Andrew Ellicott, assisted by men such as African American astronomer Benjamin Banneker. This wayfinding sign is located on the north side of King at Payne Street. 

Port CityPort City

Alexandria, the “Port City” on the Potomac, was one of the largest ports in the United States in the 1790s. In the West End, Commerce Street connected Duke and King streets at an angle, to facilitate the passage of farm wagons from the agricultural lands in the west to waiting ships on the Alexandria waterfront. Historically, Alexandria’s development moved from east to west, and three distinct areas of the city have unofficially been known as the “West End.” The first West End ended at Shuter’s Hill, the current site of the George Washington Masonic National Memorial. In the 1930’s, the second West End extended to Quaker Lane, about two miles west of the Memorial. The final West End moved about four miles further west in 1952. This wayfinding sign is located on the south side of King at Fayette Street.

Carver SchoolCarver School 

The Carver School, still standing at Queen and Fayette streets (at 224. N. Fayette), was built in 1944 as an African American nursery school. The school, built using federal funds offered during World War II, operated as a segregated school until 1950. The building then became an African American post of the American Legion. Earlier, the Old Powder House stood on this site, built in 1791 to store gunpowder. This wayfinding sign is located on the north side of King at Fayette Street. Walk to the School to see the Heritage Trail Sign.

Friendship FirehouseFriendship Firehouse

Friendship Firehouse, at 107 S. Alfred Street, is now a museum open to the public. It was built in 1855 for the Friendship Fire Company, established in 1774 as the first firefighting organization in Alexandria. Volunteers of Friendship, Sun, Relief, Hydraulion and other local fire companies served the city faithfully for decades. Over time, as buildings grew taller, the old volunteer companies were replaced by a paid professional fire department. This wayfinding sign is located on the south side of King Street at Alfred Street.  

LibraryBarrett Library and Black History Museum

In 1939, the Barrett Library (717 Queen Street) was the site of the first “sit-down” demonstration in the United States, protesting segregation. As a result of these actions, the city built the Robert H. Robinson Library in 1940. This small building is now the Alexandria Black History Museum (902 Wythe Street). This wayfinding sign is located on the north side of King at Alfred Street. 

Christ ChurchChrist Church

Christ Church was designed by James Wren and opened in 1773. Prominent worshippers included George Washington. The church, located at 118 N. Washington Street, is open for worship and public tours. This wayfinding sign is located on King at the corner of S. Columbus Street.

Benjamin HallowellThe Lyceum

The Lyceum, at 201 S. Washington Street, was formed as a public education organization by Quaker schoolmaster Benjamin Hallowell, pictured here. The Greek revival building, constructed in 1839, is now opened to the public as The Lyceum, Alexandria's History Museum. This wayfinding sign is located on King at the corner of S. Washington Street.

TImbermanTimberman Brothers

The Timberman brothers owned pharmacies in Alexandria throughout the 20th century. The store at 106 N. Washington Street operated from around 1950 to 2004, and its neon sign is now in the collection of The Lyceum: Alexandria’s History Museum. This wayfinding sign is located on King at the corner of S. Washington Street.

George Washington Memorial ParkwayGeorge Washington Memorial Parkway

The George Washington Memorial Parkway was built in 1932, to commemorate the 200th birthday of the nation’s first president. Within the City of Alexandria, the parkway travels the same path as historic Washington Street, laid out in 1749. Nearly 200 years later, in 1946, the City Council established the “Old and Historic Alexandria District”, America’s third municipal historic district, in part to protect the commemorative nature of the parkway. This wayfinding sign is located on King at the corner of N. Washington Street.

Lighthorse Harry LeeThe Lee-Fendall House

The Lee-Fendall House, built by Light Horse Harry Lee’s cousin Philip Richard Fendall, was home to 37 members of the Lee family from 1785 until 1903. Labor leader John L. Lewis, President of the United Mine Workers lived here from 1937 until his death in 1969. The restored Lee-Fendall House and Garden is a period house museum that is open to the public. This wayfinding sign is located on King at the corner of N. Washington Street.

RetailRetail in Alexandria

The 500 block of King Street has long been associated with retail trade in Alexandria. Adam Lynn, Sr., a baker, owned a quarter of the block in the 18thcentury, and his son, a silversmith, became a major speculator in Alexandria real estate. By the early 1850s, more than thirty Jewish families, most from Germany, had moved to Alexandria seeking dignity, freedom and fortune in America. These new immigrants were all involved in the retail trade, selling clothing, shoes, dry goods and scrap in small shops and emporiums along King Street and its adjacent side streets. This wayfinding sign is located on King at the corner of N. St. Asaph Street. 

George WashingtonGeorge Washington in Alexandria

George Washington considered Alexandria his hometown after its founding in 1749, and it is here that he came to do business, learn the events of the world, pick up mail, and visit friends. He was a town trustee, attended services at Christ Church, owned a town house on Cameron Street, and dined at Gadsby’s and other local taverns. At 508 Cameron Street is the modest, reconstructed town house (now privately owned), first built by George Washington in 1769. This wayfinding sign is located on King at the corner of N, St. Asaph Street.

16 Loving v. Virginia thumbnailCohen, Hirschkop & Hall 

Loving v. Virginia

The law office of Bernard Cohen and Philip Hirschkop was here at 110 N. Royal Street on June 12, 1967, the day they were notified that their Supreme Court case Loving v. Virginia had been decided unanimously in their favor. The plaintiffs, Mildred and Richard Loving, had sued the Commonwealth of Virginia for its ban on interracial marriage. This wayfinding sign is located on King at the corner of N. Pitt Street.

Marshall HouseMarshall House

Within minutes of arriving in the Alexandria on May 24, 1861, Colonel Ellsworth attempted to remove a secessionist flag from the rooftop of the Marshall House hostelry that once stood at the corner of King and S. Pitt Streets. As he descended the stairs after removing the flag, proprietor James W. Jackson killed Ellsworth with a gunshot to the chest at point blank range. Jackson himself was then immediately shot and bayoneted by Corporal Francis Brownell. As the first two deaths of the Civil War, both Ellsworth and Jackson became martyrs to the defense of their country on native soil and were immortalized as heroes in popular culture and in commemorative wares of the period. This wayfinding sign is located on King at S. Pitt Street.

GadsbyGadsby's Tavern

In the 1920s, the American Legion purchased and restored the structures known as Gadsby’s Tavern, and opened them to the public for tours. In 1972, the Legion gave the buildings to the City of Alexandria, which restored both buildings again and reopened them in time for the Nation’s bicentennial celebration in 1976. Gadsby’s Tavern Museum is open to the public. This wayfinding sign is located on Cameron at the corner of N. Royal Street.

GadsbyGadsby's Tavern Museum

This tavern and hotel provided a place for locals to gather around food and entertainment as they discussed business and events of the day. For travelers, the tavern offered overnight accommodations. Gadsby’s elegant hotel became the destination for distinguished guests from both sides of the river. Famous events include the Birthnight Ball hosted to celebrate George Washington’s birthday, which Washington himself attended the last two years of his life. This wayfinding sign is located on King at S. Royal Street, across Royal Street from City Hall.

Market SquareMarket Square

Alexandria’s Market Square was established only a few years after the town was founded in 1749. By the start of the Civil War, buildings framed the block fronts of the square, with the marketplace reduced in size to an interior courtyard accessed by two small alleys. In the 1960s, a large urban renewal project was implemented to revitalize the downtown business district, resulting in the demolition of dozens of buildings to recreate the openness of the original public square. The current brick plaza and fountain serve as the focal point of a new, modern Alexandria. This wayfinding sign is located on Market Square in front of City Hall (King Street between Fairfax and Royal Streets).

City HallHall, Bank & Tavern

When Alexandria was founded in 1749, the corner of Fairfax and Cameron Streets was planned as the main intersection in the new town. City Hall and the market area and were established here by 1752, although the current building dates to 1871 with later additions. Wise’s Tavern was built diagonally across the intersection in 1777, and the Bank of Alexandria, across Fairfax Street, was built in 1807. This wayfinding sign is located near City Hall, on Cameron at the corner of N. Fairfax Street. 

ApothecaryStabler-Leadbeater Apothecary Museum

Founded in 1792 and operated until 1933, the Stabler-Leadbeater Apothecary Museum traces one of America's oldest, continuously-run family businesses. The Apothecary sold a wide variety of products to both city and country residents – from Martha Washington to Robert E. Lee, from the local doctor to the local farmer. Open to the public, the museum displays a remarkable collection of herbal botanicals, label-under glass display bottles, and pharmaceutical equipment from the 19th- and 20th-centuries. This wayfinding sign is located on King at S. Fairfax Street, across Fairfax from the museum.

AthenaeumThe Athenaeum

The Athenaeum, the columned building at 201 Prince Street, was constructed between 1851 and 1852 as the Bank of the Old Dominion, which claimed Robert E. Lee as a customer. During the Civil War, it was Chief Commissary Office of the U.S. Commissary Quartermaster and later a triage hospital for wounded soldiers. The Northern Virginia Fine Arts Association bought the building in 1964, restored it to its current condition, and renamed it the Athenaeum. This wayfinding sign is located on King at S. Lee Street.

Port CityThe Port City

When Alexandria was founded in 1749, the new town was perched on a high bluff some 20 feet above the river. The town was established on the shore of a crescent-shaped bay that extended inland to current-day Lee Street, then called Water Street. Efforts to fill the muddy bay began immediately to extend the shoreline of the newly founded town to the deeper river channel. By 1798, the shoreline extended two full blocks into the river to create the “Port City.” Archaeologists have excavated remnants of the early wharves that extended out into the river to reach the channel.This wayfinding sign is located on King at N. Lee Street.

ElectricRailwayElectric Railway

Alexandria’s electric streetcar system, the Washington, Alexandria & Mount Vernon Railway, was established in 1892, and extended into Washington in 1896. The line traveled from Mount Vernon Estate into Alexandria, up South Royal Street and for a time, South Fairfax Street, to King Street, then west to Commonwealth Avenue and north across Four Mile Run, into Arlington and then Washington. By 1930 service to Mount Vernon was abandoned south of Alexandria to make way for the George Washington Memorial Parkway, and in 1932, service from Alexandria to Washington also ended. This wayfinding sign is located on King at S. Royal Street, across from City Hall.

Torpedo FactoryTorpedo Factory Art Center

The United States Naval Torpedo Station was built during World War I, but it was barely completed when that war ended in November 1919. It was ready for service when World War II began, and greatly expanded during the war. The Torpedo Factory Art Center was created in 1974 as a Bicentennial project. It stands as one of the nation’s earliest examples of the adaptive reuse of a historic building. This wayfinding sign is located across from the Torpedo Factory Art Center, on N. Union Street between King and Cameron Streets.

CIvil WarThe Civil War Comes to Alexandria

During the 1860 Presidential campaign, business-minded Alexandrians were decidedly pro-Union. But when South Carolina fired on Fort Sumter and President Lincoln subsequently called for 75,000 troops to crush the rebellion, the mood of Alexandrians shifted dramatically from accommodation to war. On May 23, 1861, townsmen went to the polls and voiced their approval of Virginia’s articles of secession. The next day, a regiment of New York Fire Zouaves, led by Colonel Elmer Ellsworth, landed near this location at the foot of Cameron Street. Alexandria remained an occupied city throughout the Civil War. This wayfinding sign is located at the foot of Cameron Street, next to the Torpedo Factory Art Center.

War of 1812War of 1812

In August 1814, British ships sailed up the Potomac, and Alexandria’s militias were ordered to cross the river and take up post near Fort Washington, Maryland. They took with them nearly all the arms belonging to the town, leaving Alexandria defenseless. On the morning of August 28, 1814, a local committee rowed south to meet British Captain James Gordon to request terms of surrender. On Christmas Eve 1814, American and British peace commissioners signed the Treaty of Ghent, formally ending the War of 1812. This wayfinding sign is located on King at S. Union Street.

ArchaeologyAlexandria Archaeology Museum

City Council established the Alexandria Archaeological Commission, the first of its kind in the United States, in 1975, and hired a professional City archaeologist in 1977. The archaeology program continues today with collections of more than two million artifacts spanning 13,000 years of the City’s history. This wayfinding sign is located on King at N. Union Street.

FerriesRiver Ferries

Potomac River ferries date back to as early as 1740, while the first bridge was not constructed until 1797. Following the War of 1812, ferries that travelled between Washington and Alexandria primarily had horse-powered paddle wheels. A steam ship was first used as a ferry on the Potomac in 1816. This wayfinding sign is located on King Street at The Strand, between S. Union Street and the river.