Timeline of Alexandria History

Some events from Alexandria's history.

Page updated on Aug 26, 2020 at 11:16 AM

A Timeline of Alexandria History

Brief histories and online resources.


    Prehistory

    • 11,000 BC to 7,500 BC   The Paleo-Indian Period. The earliest evidence of human occupation here is a broken spear point, known as a Clovis Point. It was manufactured about 13,200 years ago (around 11,000 B.C.)
    • 7,500 BC - 1,000 BC  The Archaic Period. By about 4,000 tyears ago, Native Americans began to visit the area on a more regular basis.
    • 1,000 BC to 1600 AD  The Woodland Period. During this period, Native Americans began to gather in more permanent settlements, and began agriculture and the manufacture of pottery. Post-holes from 1,000 year old oval houses were found at Jones Point.

    17th Century

    • 1608   John Smith explores the Potomac River as far as Great Falls, noting Indian settlements called “Assaomec” and “Namassingakents” near present-day Alexandria.
    • 1654   Margaret Brent , first female lawyer in America and adviser to the governor of Maryland, receives a grant of land from the Virginia governor that includes the future site of Alexandria.
    • 1669  Scottish merchant John Alexander purchases some of the former Brent land from a Welsh ship captain for “six thousand pounds of Tobacco and Cask.”

    18th Century

    • 1732  An official tobacco inspection warehouse is established on the property of  Hugh West , approximately where the present Oronoco Street meets the river.
    • 1749  Prominent landowners and business men, led by Scottish immigrants John Carlyle and William Ramsay, petition the Virginia House of Burgesses to establish a town called Alexandria, named in honor of the Alexander family.
    • 1755  At the beginning of the French and Indian War, British General Edward  Braddock and several thousand soldiers camp in and around Alexandria. Five of America’s royal governors meet at John Carlyle’s house to discuss war strategy. The  Carlyle House  is open to the public.
    • 1773   Christ Church is built, so far outside of the tiny town that it is called “the church in the woods.” Christ Church is open to the public, as a house of worship.
    • 1774  Upset over British taxation policies, Alexandrians approve  George Mason 's “  Fairfax Resolves ,” which call for an end to trade with England.
    • 1774  Friendship Fire Company founded. The Company's 1851 building is now the Friendship Firehouse Museum , open to the public.
    • 1777  Alexandria is the chief smallpox inoculation center in Virginia for the American army. A quarantine station was located at Jones Point.
    • 1785  A meeting is called in Alexandria to discuss Virginia's and Maryland’s rights to trade along the Potomac River, raising issues which result in the Constitutional Convention two years later.
    • 1785  John Wise, local tavernkeeper and entrepreneur, constructs what will be known as Gadsby’s Tavern, with the largest function room in Alexandria.   Gadsby's Tavern Museum is open to the public.
    • 1785  The Alexandria Academy, the town’s first public school, opens.
    • 1785  Philip Richard Fendall builds house on Oronoco Street on lot purchased from his cousin, Revolutionary War hero Henry “Light Horse Harry” Lee.   The Lee-Fendall House  is open to the public
    • 1789   George Washington becomes first president of the United States of America and leaves Alexandria for New York. Before his presidency, he maintained a town house on Cameron Street, had a family pew at Christ Church, and dined, danced and conducted business at many of Alexandria's taverns.
    • 1791  First and southernmost cornerstone for new Federal capital set at Alexandria’s Jones Point; the town officially becomes part of the District of Columbia in 1801.
    • 1792  Edward Stabler opens an apothecary business, one of several successful commercial ventures by Quakers in Alexandria.   The Stabler-Leadbeater Apothecary Museum  is open to the public.
    • 1792 The new “City Hotel” opens on Royal Street and becomes famous when managed by John Gadsby four years later. Gadsby's Tavern Museum is open to the public; the 1792 building also houses a restaurant.


    19th Century

    • 1810  Robert E. Lee, young son of Revolutionary War hero Henry “Light Horse Harry” Lee, moves to Alexandria with his family.
    • 1814  During   War of 1812, Alexandria surrenders to an attacking British naval force.  To spare the town, a ransom of tobacco, flour, cotton and sugar is paid.
    • 1824 The Marquis de Lafayette, hero of the American Revolution, visits Alexandria for a Grand Reception and Celebration held in his honor. Lafayette was invited by President James Monroe to be "The Nation's Guest," attending parades, ceremonies and receptions in every state.  Lafayette souvenirs marked the occasion. 
    • 1827 A devastating fire begins in the workshop of cabinetmaker James Green, destroying 53 dwellings and businesses.
    • 1831 Construction begins on the Alexandria Canal.
    • 1838 Robert Mills, creator or the Washington Monument and Architect of Public Buildings, designed the District Courthouse for Alexandria, D.C.
    • 1845 Alexandria Canal is completed, connecting with the C&O Canal.
    • 1846 Congress votes to permit Alexandria and Alexandria County to retrocede to Virginia upon referendum.
    • 1847 Virginia formally accepted Alexandria back into the Commonwealth on March 13, and Alexandrians celebrated the occasion with a huge parade on the 19th.
    • 1848 Sisters Emily and Mary Edmonson are held at an Alexandria slave jail after an escape attempt on schooner The Pearl. The girls’ case captures the attention of abolitionist Harriet Beecher Stowe, and they ultimately gain their freedom.
    • 1851 First locomotive on the Orange & Alexandria Railroad reaches Alexandria.
    • 1858 Alexandria Custom House and Post Office built on the southwest corner of Prince and St. Asaph Street.
    • 1861 On May 23, townsmen voted for secession (958 in favor, 106 against). The next day Alexandria was occupied by Federal troops.
    • 1862  Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on September 22.
    • 1865 Robert E. Lee surrendered at Appomattox Court House on April 9, ending the Civil War.
    • 1870 Federal military rule in Alexandria came to an end on January 26.
    • 1871 Alexandria City Hall and Market House catch fire.
    • 1872 Daingerfield's and Cazenove's large grain and fertilizer warehouse on the east side of the 100 block of N. Union Street destroyed by fire.
    • 1873 Alexandria City Hall rebuilt.
    • 1880 Buffalo Bill Cody's Wild West Show comes to Alexandria.
    • 1881 Telephones are introduced to Alexandria.
    • 1887 Mail delivery begins, and the street numbering system is changed to the present system
    • 1887 Alexandria Canal fails and is abandoned after a long history of financial troubles.
    • 1889 Electricity comes to Alexandria.
    • 1893 Virginia Glass Company opens.
    • 1894 Robert Portner Brewing Company builds a large new warehouse.
    • 1898 Alexandria Light Infantry and a company of black soldiers left to fight in the Spanish-American War.
    • 1899 Alexandria celebrated its sesquicentennial with a lavish parade.

    20th Century

    • 1906  Alexandria’s  Union Station opens
    • 1907   Potomac Yard opens, and becomes one of the busiest rail yards on the Eastern seaboard
    • 1908 The  Town of Potomac is founded, comprised of the street-car suburbs of Del Ray and St. Elmo
    • 1909  Orville Wright demonstrates his flying machine for the U. S. Army by flying from Fort Meyer in Arlington to Shuter’s Hill and back.
    • 1915  Annexation of the Braddock and Rosemont sections of Alexandria.
    • 1919   The Naval Torpedo Station (now the Torpedo Factory Art Center) opens on the Alexandria waterfront to build and repair this new type of weapon.
    • 1920   Parker-Gray School, named for Alexandria educators, opens to serve Alexandria’s African American students.
    • 1929  American Legion Post #24 purchases historic  Gadsby’s Tavern and preserves it from demolition.
    • 1930  Annexation of the Town of Potomac, now the  Del Ray neighborhood.
    • 1932   George Washington Masonic Memorial is dedicated atop Shuter’s Hill.
    • 1932   George Washington Memorial Parkway opens, connecting Washington D.C. with Mount Vernon and using Washington Street as its course through Alexandria.
    • 1939  The  sit-down strike at the segregated Barrett Library on Queen Street is one of the first organized acts of civil disobedience in what became the Civil Rights movement.
    • 1939   John L. Lewis, president of the United Mine Workers of America purchases   Lee-Fendall House.
    • 1940  Robert Robinson Library (now the  Alexandria Black History Museum) built for the city’s African American residents.
    • 1940   Naval Torpedo Station reopens to produce munitions throughout World War II.
    • 1941  Under the Lend-Lease Act, surplus torpedoes from Alexandria are sent to Great Britain.
    • 1942-1945  New housing built for workers in the war effort includes  Parkfairfax, where future presidents Richard M. Nixon and Gerald R. Ford would later live as junior members of congress.
    • 1946  Old Town becomes the nation's third  Historic District, after New Orleans and Charleston.
    • 1949  Alexandria celebrates its 200th anniversary. A commemorative 6-cent airmail stamp is issued to mark the event.
    • 1952  Annexation of areas that were formerly part of Fairfax County, giving Alexandria its current shape. Areas south of the Interstate remain in Fairfax County, despite their Alexandria post-office addresses.
    • 1955  Construction begins on the Capital Beltway and the  Woodrow Wilson Bridge, crossing the Potomac River, is dedicated in 1961.
    • 1959  Nine African American students enter formerly all-white public schools for the first time.

    • 1961  Future rock star  Jim Morrison of the band The Doors graduates from  George Washington High School in Alexandria.
    • 1961   Fort Ward, one of the largest Union forts in the Defenses of Washington, is restored by the City of Alexandria for the Civil War Centennial.
    • 1966  Old Town Alexandria designated a  National Historic Landmark.
    • 1971  After desegregation, T.C. Williams High School wins state football championship and captures national fame in 2000 in the film, " Remember the Titans."
    • 1974   Gerald Ford becomes U.S. President and serves his first 10 days while still living in his Alexandria home on Crown View Drive.
    • 1974  The old Alexandria Naval Torpedo Stations reopens as the  Torpedo Factory Art Center.
    • 1975  Alexandria establishes the country’s first archaeological commission, leading to the development of the   Alexandria Archaeology Museum.
    • 1976  As part of the City’s bicentennial celebration, the City restores and opens  Gadsby’s Tavern Museum and  The Lyceum, Alexandria’s History Museum.
    • 1983  King Street  Metro station opens.
    • 1983  Robert Robinson Library re-opens as the Alexandria Black History Research Center.
    • 1984   Parker-Gray Historic District is established in an historically black neighborhood.
    • 1987  Office of Historic Alexandria takes over operation of Alexandria Black History Museum.
    • 1995   Watson Reading Room opens adjacent to Alexandria Black History Museum.
    • 1995  African American Heritage Park opens.
    • 1999  Alexandria celebrates its 250th Anniversary.

    21st Century

    • 2001  Alexandria emergency service personnel respond to terrorist attacks of September 11th at the nearby Pentagon.
    • 2007  Archaeologists recover a 13,000-year old  Clovis spear point discarded by a Native American hunter. The stone tool is the earliest evidence of human presence in present-day Alexandria.
    • 2011-2015  Alexandria commemorates the  Civil War sesquicentennial.
    • 2012-2015  Alexandria commemorates the 200th anniversary of the  War of 1812.
    • 2014  Dedication of the  Contrabands & Freedmen Cemetery Memorial at 1001 S. Washington Street.
    • 2016  Alexandria commemorates the 75th anniversary of American entry in  World War II.
    • 2017  City of Alexandria acquires the Murray-Dick-Fawcett House at 517 Prince Street.
    • 2017-2018  Alexandria commemorates the 100th anniversary of  World War I.
    • 2020  City of Alexandria acquires Freedom House Museum at 1315 Duke Street.

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