is located on the west bank of the Potomac River, six miles below Washington,
D.C. and nine miles north of Mount Vernon.
Much of present-day
Alexandria was included in a 6,000-acre land grant from Sir William
Berkeley, Governor of Virginia, which was awarded to Robert Howsing,
an English ship captain, on October 21, 1669. This land overlapped a
700-acre patent that had previously been issued to Dame Margaret Brent
in 1654. The Howsing tract extended along the Potomac River from Hunting
Creek on the south to the Little Falls on the north. The grant was made
by authority of King Charles II in recognition of Captain Howsing's
bringing 120 people to live in Virginia. Less than a month later, Howsing
sold the land for 6,000 pounds of tobacco to John Alexander.
By 1732, Hugh West
had established tobacco warehouses two miles south of Hunting Creek.
The adjacent land has been cleared and farmed as early as the 1720s
by John Summers and Gabriel Adams. To facilitate shipping, Scottish
and English merchants who owned real estate at Cameron, a small hamlet
four miles west, petitioned the Virginia General Assembly in the fall
of 1748 to establish a town at West's Hunting Creek Warehouse. In the
spring of 1749, this site was selected and the new town was named Alexandria
in honor of its original owner, Scotsman John Alexander, who in 1669,
purchased the land that included the future site of Alexandria for "Six
thousand pounds of Tobacco and Cask". John West, Fairfax County surveyor,
laid off 60 acres (by tradition, assisted by 17-year-old George Washington),
and lots were auctioned off July 13 and 14, 1749.
1779, Alexandria became a port of entry for foreign vessels and a major
export center for flour and hemp. Its bustling harbor teemed with brigs,
schooners, and ships of the line, which traversed the high seas and
engaged in international and coastwide trade. The streets were lined
with substantial brick houses and the "sound of the hammer and trowel
were at work everywhere." In 1796, a visitor, the Duc de La Rochfoucauld
Liancourt, commented that: "Alexandria is beyond all comparison the
handsomest town in Virginia--indeed is among the finest in the United
States." (Quotes by Fairfax Harrison: See Page 417 of Landmarks of Old
Prince William County, 1964, Chesapeake Book Company, Berryville, Virginia)
Water (now Lee),
Fairfax, and Royal Streets were laid out in a north/south orientation.
Fairfax was named for Thomas, sixth Lord Fairfax and Baron of Cameron,
proprietor of the Northern Neck of Virginia. Duke, Prince, King, Cameron
(also named for Lord Fairfax), Queen, Princess, and Oronoco Streets
run east and west. Oronoco, a variety of tobacco, was transported to
the area's first warehouses at the foot of this street, giving it its
name. Pitt Street was named for a British prime minister, and St. Asaph
for a Welsh bishop who sympathized with the colonies. Wolfe Street was
named for the general who captured Quebec, Wilkes Street for an Englishman
who worked for liberty, and Gibbon Street for a writer of history. Columbus*
and Alfred* were named after members of the Alexander family. Patrick
and Henry Streets honor the Virginia patriot who said, "Give me liberty
or give me death." Fayette was named for General Lafayette. Washington
and Lee streets were named later to honor these famous Virginians.
In 1789, Alexandria
and a portion of Fairfax County were ceded by the State of Virginia
to become a part of the newly created 10-mile-square District of Columbia.
Formally accepted by Congress in 1801, Alexandria remained under the
aegis of the new federal government until it was retroceded to Virginia
in 1847. In 1852, it acquired city status and gained a new charter.
At the time of
the Revolution, Alexandria was one of the principal colonial trading
centers and ports. Alexandria's political, social, and commercial interests
were of great importance to many local residents, especially to neighboring
George Washington in Mount Vernon. Washington maintained a town house
here and served as a Trustee of Alexandria. Washington also purchased
a pew in Christ Church, and served as Worshipful Master of Alexandria
Masonic Lodge No. 22.** Records reveal that Washington had numerous
social and business connections to the town.
From their earliest
days, Alexandrians have known war. George Washington drilled militia
troops at Market Square in 1754, and the town served as a supply and
hospital center during the Revolutionary conflict. English General Braddock
made his headquarters in Alexandria and occupied the Carlyle House while
planning his campaign against the French in 1755. Captured and held
for ransom by the British during the War of 1812, Alexandria's warehouses
were plundered by the enemy.
"Light Horse Harry"
Lee, a Revolutionary War general, and the father of Robert E. Lee, brought
his family to Alexandria in 1810. Robert lived here until his departure
for West Point in June. 1825. In the years prior to the Civil War, industry
grew and flourished and shipping through the Alexandria Canal was prosperous.
During the Civil
War, the City was immediately occupied by the Union military forces
on May 24, 1861, and became a logistical supply center for the federal
army. Troops and supplies were transported to Alexandria via the port
and the railroad and then dispersed where needed at the front. Wounded
soldiers, brought back on the trains, crowded the available hospitals
and temporary medical facilities in and around the town. It was during
this era that several forts were constructed in Alexandria as a part
of the defenses of the City of Washington. Fort
Ward Park contains one of these restored forts. From 1863 to 1865,
the City was the capital of the Restored Government of Virginia, which
represented the seven Virginia counties remaining under federal control
during the Civil War.
was a slave sale and trading location prior to the Civil War, it also
had a history of several free Black
communities. African-American life flourished with the establishment
of churches, social and fraternal organizations, and businesses. Many
early Alexandria African-Americans were skilled artisans.
is almost 50 years older than the City of Washington, is one of America's
most historic communities. It has many authentic eighteenth-century
buildings, and the charm of the "Old and Historic District" is carefully
preserved by strict architectural and demolition control. Alexandria
began its historic preservation and urban renewal projects in the 1960s,
achieved through the cooperation of citizen activists and local government.
The Civil War centennial restoration of the northwest bastion of Fort
Ward was the beginning of Alexandria's official protection of historic
sites and landmarks.
Factory was built during World War I and was again used in World
War II as a United States munitions factory. Before its renovation in
the late 1970s and early 1980s, its ten heavy industrial buildings dominated
Alexandria's waterfront. Today, it is an award winning example of adaptive
reuse and the centerpiece of a lively waterfront with a marina, shops,
public parks and walkways, restaurants, residences, and offices.
Since 1988, Alexandria
has experienced unprecedented commercial development. Today the Old
Town historic district is known for its array of museums, architecture,
special events, fine restaurants and hotels, and other attractions that
draw more than 1.5 million international and domestic visitors to it
each year. More than two million square feet of new office complexes
have been constructed. With this development, the City has become a
mecca for divisional, regional, national, and multinational headquarters
for operations ranging from research and development to high technology,
associations, and professional services.
A cross section
of headquarters operations that have expanded or relocated to Alexandria
includes the Public Broadcasting Service, the American Diabetes Association,
TRW, AT&T, Technology Applications, Capitol Publications, Fokker Aircraft
USA, Softec, and the American Society for Training and Development.
and "Alfred," may be names in the Alexander family, but the only ones
that appear in Alexandria's history are: "John," "Phillip," "Charles,"
"Gerrard," "William Thornton," and "Robert. "
was elected to be a vestryman for Christ Church, but before he could
serve, the Virginia Assembly re-drew the parish boundaries and Washington's
Mount Vernon was back in Truro Parish (Pohick Church).