Hooff’s Run was conduit for commerce, disease

This article is posted by permission of the Alexandria Gazette.

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Hooff’s Run was conduit for commerce, disease

September 7, 1995
By Pamela Cressey

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Hooff’s Run looking north from the old stone bridge to Duke Street. Photo courtesy Alexandria Archaeology.

I awoke with a sudden sense of urgency that stormy night. The heavy winds made the windows rattle of my Rosemont bungalow, but there was some other banging I couldn’t recognize. After a few moments I realized that someone was pounding on my door. I jumped out of bed in panic. What crisis had occurred? As a child of the 1950s trained with bomb drills, I had images of mushroom clouds and other forms of devastation. 

As I opened my door expecting fire or police officials, my neighbor burst in and yelled "Hooff’s Run is flooding! Look in your basement." We ran down the stairs into two feet of water spread like a dark lagoon across the basement. I spent the next week cleaning up my soggy belongings and appreciating the full force of Hooff’s Run.

Alexandrians have been dealing with Hooff’ s Run for a long time. Today it may only look like a trickle of water in the concrete channel which goes through Rosemont, but it once was navigable from Hunting Creek up to Duke Street. In 1868 the Alexandria Gazette reported that "We have heard old people say that they remembered when West End, was, in one sense, a shipping port--for that they have seen a flat bottomed boat come up Hooff’ s run to the Stone Bridge, land oysters there, and take on board a return cargo."

Since Hooff’s Run flows south across both King and Duke Streets, it has presented a problem to both traffic and health until midway in this century. The Alexandria Gazette of July 20, 1915, carried a story about a major storm that flooded Upper King Street stores when Hooff’ s Run by Union Station overflowed.

By April of the next year, the editor of the Alexandria Gazette wrote a lengthy comment entitled "An Upper King Street Cesspool." This water was considered to be a "standing nuisance which not only bred mosquitoes but dangerous fevers." Next to the water was land used as a public dumping ground, which the Citizens Association of Rosemont was attempting to beautify.

The Gazette quoted from a lengthy report by D.L. Van Dine, Entomological Attache of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. "Hooff’s Run and the streams entering into it are of special importance, especially in view of its use as an outlet for sewage...Throughout its winding course, however, are numerous locations...where conditions are ideal for breeding. A good example is offered between the lump of Alexandria and Rosemont along King Street. On either side of Hooff’s Run are two low areas where drainage into the stream is intercepted. The water...offers a breeding place for the malaria as well as the common mosquitoes."

Today we have the Metro and the new King Street Gardens Park adjoining Hooff’s Run, which is invisible under the asphalt. Pamela Cressey is the Alexandria City Archaeologist.