Nautical Archaeology Discoveries at 220 S. Union Street

Page updated on Apr 7, 2016 at 4:05 PM


For Immediate Release: January 4, 2016

220 Union St. Ship ArchaelogyArchaeologists have uncovered the remains of the hull of a fifty-foot vessel on the Indigo Hotel construction site at 220 S. Union Street.  The public may view this find on Tuesday, January 5, 2016, from 10 a.m. until noon.  The meeting place for viewing is on the sidewalk beside Mystique Jewelers at 211 The Strand, Alexandria.

Scuttled sometime in the late eighteenth century, the ship served as the framework for part of the landfill process that extended the waterfront out to the deep channel of the Potomac River, helping to make the early town a thriving international port.  The find was not unexpected; prior research by City archaeologists suggested that we could find the remains of ships used in the filling process at various points along the waterfront, and the Archaeological Commission had reiterated that possibility in the Waterfront History Plan.

The discovery resulted from the implementation of the city’s Archaeological Protection Code. Thunderbird Archaeology, a division of Wetland Studies, conducted the investigation for the developer, Carr properties.  About a third of the hull of the vessel is present.  It  is sturdily built and well preserved, enough that it may offer archaeologists a great deal of information,  Further study of the ship has the potential to provide insight into ship-building practices of this early era of our history, and it may represent a vessel type that has not yet been documented through archaeological research.

This week, city archaeologists, working with Thunderbird and other professionals in both maritime history and conservation, will dismantle the ship after it has been documented with 3-D laser scanning, photographs and measurements/drawings on site. The wood will then be maintained in a wet environment to allow for further study and possible conservation.