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Alexandria City


Alexandria City Hall is located at 301 King Street, Alexandria, VA 22314; phone: 703-746-4500.

Elmhurst, ca. 1871, 2010 Fall Hill Avenue, Fredericksburg, VA, National Register

Photo: Elmhurst, ca. 1871, 2010 Fall Hill Avenue, Fredericksburg, VA. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2008. Photographed by User:Ser Amantio di Nicolao (own work), 2012, [cc-by-3.0 (creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons, accessed January, 2014.

Alexandria is an Independent City bordering Fairfax County.

Beginnings [1]

Alexandria was a thriving port until 1861, dealing primarily in the export of tobacco and grain. Tobacco was the currency with which John Alexander in 1669 purchased the site of the future town. It was also tobacco that brought Scotch merchants to the site in 1732, where they soon erected river front warehouses. The rapid growth of the area spurred Virginia's General Assembly to authorize the laying out of a town in 1748. Its original trustees named the town "Alexandria" in honor of John Alexander. The survey of the town was made by the Fairfax County Surveyor and his 17-year old assistant, George Washington. The formal incorporation of the town, plus its designation as a Port of Entry, occurred in 1779. Soon, grain from western counties became a more valuable export than tobacco. Only the Civil War ended its usefulness as a port.

In part due to its excellent rail connections to both north and south, Alexandria became an important industrial and commercial center in Northern Virginia. In fact, the Potomac yards were the largest classification railway yards in the country at the turn of the century. As a result of this transportation system, Alexandria developed a large industrial center along its waterfront adjacent to the railway. The list of industrial enterprises in Alexandria during the early 20th century is rather lengthy, including large lumber yards, leather and shoe factories, coal wharves, ice factories, a brewery, glass works, a tile manufacturer, and a gas works. This combination of industrial vitality and excellent transportation facilities led Henry Ford to build a plant along the Alexandria waterfront. Designed by Albert Kahn and completed in 1932, the structure incorporates a saw-tooth roof, and Art Deco facade with a remarkable degree of structural clarity, making it stand today as the most important example of early modern architecture in Alexandria.

As the industrial area developed, so too did the commercial base rise to support the needs of the residents who were drawn to Alexandria by the availability of jobs and adequate housing. During the first two decades of this century, a central business district developed along King and Washington streets. The Post Office and Courthouse designed by the Office of the Supervising Architect is an excellent example of a late Colonial Revival structure; the Marine recruiting center, with its stripped Classical details and Art Deco-style ironwork, is the finest example of that style in the district.

The aforementioned combination of industrial development along with Alexandria's proximity to Washington D. C. caused an explosion of residential development in the first third of the 20th century. With its reasonable rents, relatively pure drinking water, fine educational system, and availability of loans through various cash-rich building associations, small scale residential developments, designed in several styles, sprang up throughout the city. While the units are architecturally significant and cohesive by themselves, these residences are also stylistically sympathetic to the fabric of the 19th-century city. The early 20th-century Empire and Foursquare structures at 520-528 North Washington Street, for example, share a commonality of scale and material with the cotton mill across the street. 709-711 Oronoco Street performs the same function in relation to the neighboring 19th-century buildings.

  1. National Register of Historic Places, Alexandria Historic District, Alexandria, Virginia, 1966, National Historic Landmark nomination document, National Park Service, Washington, D.C.
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