King Street bustled around meandering run

This article is posted by permission of the Alexandria Gazette.

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King Street bustled around meandering run

September 14, 1995
By Pamela Cressey

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Map drawn in 1851 of the Orange and Alexandria Railroad which shows the extensive Hooff’s Run watershed west of the City of Alexandria. Library of Congress.

In 1937 a long-time Alexandria resident, R.E. Lee Tyler, wrote his reminiscences of Upper King Street. They were edited and published by T. Michael Miller in the Fireside Sentinel in 1989. This account provides one of the best descriptions of the terrain and cultural features around the area we now call King Street Metro. 

On the south side of King Street, from Peyton Street to Hooff's run, was a very wide and deep ditch, on an average about 20 feet wide and about 15 deep, about where those five brick houses are, was the greatest width and depth of this ditch. To the south of all the houses was a very large meadow which extended from King Street to an old stone bridge on the south, and from east of the houses to the west as far as Hooff's run.

"This meadow was owned by the late Townsend Baggett. It was a great place in winter for sledding, as our winters in those days were very severe . How often have I seen this meadow filled with cattle and horses. These horses were owned by men who made their living with them by hauling and other ways. They would turn these horses in the pasture on Saturday evening and leave them there until Sunday evening late, this was during spring, summer and fall."

Hooff’s Run cut across major roads leading out of Alexandria, Duke and King Streets, as well as connectors like Diagonal Road. Mr. Tyler stated that "To cross this run at the slaughter house [Diagonal Road] was a narrow plank bridge, it was about two feet wide, and none too secure." He also discussed King Street where there "was an old wooden bridge for vehicles and pedestrians.

"Just south or at this bridge, there was turn off or a short road from King Street to drive your horses down for water...." Water is a recurrent theme in Mr. Tyler’s descriptions. Hooff’s Run apparently has never stayed put in one place, and has been until the mid part of this century an obstacle to hurtle on your way in and out of Alexandria.

"... Hooff’s run passes it [the old Baggett stadium], was often dammed up and the water ran into Baggett field, so as to form a pond, so the water would freeze and the butchers of Alexandria would cut this ice and fill their ice houses, for to preserve their meat in summer. We boys would have a great time skating on this pond."

Rather than tall office buildings, the area was filled with butchers, the Englehardt brewery, blacksmiths, fields with cattle and horses, Catts hotel the Drovers Rest, hucksters with their teams and wagons, and even a "thirst emporium" selling cakes and candy. Indian cigar trees and locust trees made the Upper King Street area "a beautiful place."

Pamela Cressey is the Alexandria City Archaeologist.