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.
Two hundred years ago, an unknown woman breathed her last in room 8 of Gadsby’s Tavern in Old Town Alexandria. Her husband prepared her body for death in secret and sealed her coffin personally. After seeing that she was placed in a local graveyard, he vanished. It’s the sort of story that would condemn a person to be lost to history, but the circumstances surrounding this woman’s death and interment sparked centuries of questions and outlandish theories. Even now, no one alive knows her name. She remains the Female Stranger of Alexandria.
We have the states of Maryland and Virginia to thank for the land that created Washington, D.C. It was through their cession of territory — 69 square miles from Maryland and 31 square miles from Virginia — that Congress was able to establish a permanent home for a federal government on the banks of the Potomac River in 1801. However, almost from day one, Virginia was looking for a way to get its land back. Four decades later, it finally did.
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.
After Union forces were routed in the first Battle of Bull Run in July 1861, they rushed back northward in a panic, realizing Washington was vulnerable to a Confederate counterattack that — fortunately for the Union — the enemy chose not to mount.
A few days afterward, when Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan was appointed military governor of the capital, he made a sobering assessment of its poor defenses. As a result, the Union launched a crash campaign to protect Washington with a ring of outer defenses, which by the war's end would include 68 forts, 93 artillery batteries, and 20 miles of rifle trenches, as well as picket stations, blockhouse, and bridgeheads.
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.
During the Union army's occupation of Alexandria from 1861 to1865, young Confederate ladies would have had no one around to drop a handkerchief for other than Union soldiers. Well, that wasn’t going to work, not when "the slight difference of color [between gray and blue] symbolized all the difference between heaven and hell." So what's the next resort? Obviously, forming a local branch of the secret society known as the Knights of the Golden Circle.
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.
December 7th, 1941. Pearl Harbor smoldered following intense, coordinated attacks by air forces from the Empire of Japan. Within days, Americans were embroiled in the conflict that was the Second World War, while the American military scrambled to establish a competent intelligence gathering operation on the East Coast. Carved from a portion of George Washington’s Mount Vernon estate, Alexandria’s Fort Hunt began its life as a coastal fortification during the Spanish-American War. With its close proximity to Washington, Fort Hunt became an ideal location for one of the most secretive group of programs in American history. Codenamed after its post office box in Alexandria, 1142, Fort Hunt became a secret interrogation center for high value German POWs. The layers of secrecy did not stop there. Unbeknownst even to interrogators stationed there, Fort Hunt also held a program whose mission was to communicate and aid in the escape of Allied POWs trapped in several German camps throughout Europe.
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.