Alexandria History

Alexandria, founded in 1749, has a fascinating history, and many of its historic buildings are still preserved today.

Page updated on Mar 13, 2017 at 2:46 PM

Soldiers' Rest, detail 

Alexandria in the Civil War: U.S. Military Railroad roundhouse and Union soldiers’ barracks south of Duke Street. (Detail from “SOLDIERS REST, ALEXANDRIA, VA.” Lithographic print by Charles Magnus, 1864.) 


Johnny Bull Cartoon image 

JOHNNY BULL AND THE ALEXANDRIANS. (Political cartoon, William Charles, 1814. Courtesy, The Lyceum: Alexandria’s History Museum.) Alexandrians are shown cowering and pleading with Johnny Bull, a symbol for England. 

    During its long history, Alexandria was a tobacco trading post, one of the ten busiest ports in America, a part of the District of Columbia, home to both the largest slave-trading firm in the country and a large free-black community, a Civil War supply center for Union troops, and a street-car suburb for Federal workers. Alexandria was also the hometown of George Washington, Robert E. Lee, Jim Morrison and Mama Cass. Learn more about Alexandria history from A Brief History of Alexandria, or from the more in-depth topics below.

    This Day in History

    Click here to see what happened on this day in history?  These daily events in Alexandria's history were first printed in "This Week in Historic Alexandria."

    Index of Historic Resources

    These Historic Alexandria web pages include synopses of historical topics and links to related sources.

    • Topics in Alexandria History: Learn about aspects of Alexandria's history by time period or topic. Time periods include prehistory, early Alexandria and the 20th century, as well as the War of 1812 and the Civil War. Topics include maps, African American history, the Waterfront, cemeteries, and earthquakes.
    • General Alexandria History: These Historic Alexandria web pages and outside sources provide more in-depth information about aspects of Alexandria history. These include a brief history, first person accounts, journals and newsletters, and early histories of Alexandria.
    • Historic Sites on the National Register of Historic Places: Many of Alexandria's most significant sites are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Also learn about Alexandria's five Historic Districts, and a few additional significant sites.

    Conducting Research in Historic Alexandria

    Historic Alexandria provides a list of Resources for Conducting Research on your property, genealogy, or local history. The Alexandria Library, Local History division is the best place to start your research. For certain records, the knowledgeable research librarians may refer you to the Archives and Records Center, the Clerk of the Circuit Court, the Library of Congress, the National Archives, or to one of the Historic Alexandria Museums.


    Alexandria commemorates important anniversaries in the history of our country and our city:

    • World War II: To commemorate the 75th anniversary of American entry into World War II on December 7 1941, The Lyceum presents The Five Payne Brothers: An Alexandria Family & Their Service.
    • World War I: The City of Alexandria is joining countless others around the world in commemorating the 100th anniversary of World War I. The war began in Europe in 1914, and the US entered the war in April of 1917. For a small city in the shadow of the Nation's capital, Alexandria was fully involved in World War I. Over 4,000 residents participated directly in uniform, while hundreds  more worked in war industries including aircraft construction, shipbuilding, and other war-related production. Effects of the war can still be seen in the City today.
    • The Civil War: Witness to war and reunion, Alexandria's place in Civil War history is truly unique. The occupation of Alexandria by Union troops forever changed the social, cultural and economic fabric of the old seaport town. For four years Alexandria was an occupied city; enduring the longest military occupation by Union troops of any town during the conflict. The Office of Historic Alexandria commemorated the Civil War Sesquicentennial (2011-2015) through special events and exhibits, and by pulling together resources on the history of Alexandria in the Civil War.
    • The War of 1812: The War of 1812 and the five-day occupation of Alexandria by British forces in 1814, had a profound effect on the town and its economy. Threatened with an invasion and with insufficient forces to defend the city, Alexandria’s Common Council surrendered  to the British without resistance. The city avoided being burned, but the was required to surrender contents of stores and warehouses. Learn more about how the War and occupation affected Alexandria, and view some artifacts from the Historic Alexandria collections.