Discovering Alexandria

Back of peoples' heads in the foreground with a large boat in the background.

"More Tons, Less Huns": World War I Shipbuilding in Alexandria

World War I fueled a rapid buildup in industrial production and, in particular, merchant shipbuilding. America needed cargo vessels—fast—and, as luck would have it, Alexandria was prepared. Between 1910 and 1912, the Army Corps of Engineers had infilled a 46-acre bay and wildlife preserve – Battery Cove – near Jones Point Lighthouse. The land’s proximity to the Potomac River and its enormous size made it an ideal site for shipbuilding. Alexandrians rejoiced when the Virginia Shipbuilding Corporation came to their city but the enthusiasm would not last.

Charles Lindbergh, wearing helmet with goggles up, in open cockpit of airplane at Lambert Field, St. Louis, Missouri, 1923. (Source: Library of Congress)

Washington Rolls Out the Red Carpet for Charles Lindbergh

When word came from Paris that Charles Lindbergh had successfully completed the first trans-Atlantic flight on May 21, 1927, the world celebrated. Overnight the young pilot became a household name and hero. Cities around the globe prepared to fete him. But to Lindbergh, one greeting stood out in particular, “Paris was marvelous and London and Brussels as well, and I wouldn’t for the world draw any comparisons, but I will say this, the Washington reception was the best handled of all.”

Police removing sit-in participants from the Alexandria Library (Source: Wiikpedia)

Alexandria Library Sit-In, 1939

In 1939 -- decades before Virginia schools were integrated, and sit-ins emerged as a primary strategy for protesting segregated businesses and public facilities in the South -- Alexandria, Virginia lawyer Samuel Tucker organized a successful sit-in to demonstrate against the Alexandria Library's "whites only" policy. It is believed to be the first sit-in for desegregation in American history.

Historic American Buildings Survey photo of Appich Buildings, 408-414 King Street which were among the buildings demolished during Alexandria's Urban Renewal project. (Source: Library of Congress)

The Making of Old Town

The picturesque Old Town we know today didn’t just happen naturally. It was planned in response to America’s burgeoning historic preservation movement, mid-century urban renewal efforts and a lot of involvement from local citizens.

Tivoli Brewing Factory

Robert Portner and Alexandria's Pre-Prohibition Brewing History

The history of brewing beer in the United States is a rich and storied one. Cities like St. Louis, Missouri and Milwaukee, Wisconsin resonate with most beer drinkers across the country as centers for American brewing. For Virginia residents, you might not realize how close Alexandria, Virginia came to being one of those brewing capitals. From the closing years of the Civil War until prohibition turned Virginia into a dry state, the Robert Portner Brewing Company was the leading brewery and distributor in the southeastern United States. Led by its visionary namesake, the Portner Brewing Company became the largest business in Alexandria and remains a fascinating tale of innovation.

Death of Col. Ellsworth After hauling down the rebel flag, at the taking of Alexandria, Va., May 24th 1861; Creator: Currier & Ives. (Source: Library of Congress)

First Union Officer Killed in Civil War Was a Friend of Lincoln

Possibly the toughest part of being a President is having to send U.S. forces into combat, knowing that some of them will not return alive.  After the Civil War began in 1861, President Abraham Lincoln had to face that terrible reality very quickly. On the morning of May 24, 1861, a personal friend of the President, Col. Elmer Ellsworth, became the first Union officer to be killed in the conflict in nearby Alexandria, Virginia.

 

U.S. Naval Torpedo Station in Alexandria, Virginia circa 1922

The Torpedo Factory Art Center: Alexandria's World War II Landmark

Sitting on the waterfront of the Potomac River, the 85,000 square foot Torpedo Factory Art Center in Alexandria is a landmark of Northern Virginia history. Today, the building houses artist studios, galleries, art workshops, and even an archeology museum. Yet during the tumultuous years of World War II, workers produced something very different in the space — the Mark 14 submarine torpedo used by U.S. Navy personnel in the Pacific theater of the war. Over 70 years after its decommissioning as a munitions depot, the history of the Torpedo Factory is a fascinating tale of politics, faulty weapon engineering, and local spirit.

Origins of the George Washington Memorial Parkway


Thousands of people drive on it everyday, but sometimes we forget that the George Washington Memorial Parkway is not just a commuter highway. It's a national park. And like our other national parks, the Parkway tells a story about our nation's past.

Tomorrow night, Park Ranger David Lassman will be discussing the history of the Parkway at the Arlington Historical Society's monthly public program -- 7pm at Marymount University. In advance of his talk, David was kind enough to give us a preview. Take a look at the video above and then click through for more!