This Week in Historic Alexandria
City Museums and
Historic Sites
Other Historic Sites and Resources
This Week in
Alexandria History
1930's Haircuts
On August 24, 1933, at the height of the Great Depression, the price of a haircut in Alexandria increased from 35 to 50 cents! Although local men grumbled at the whopping increase, at the time haircuts were considered essential to good grooming, and almost as important as a daily starched collar and cuffs. Some men vowed to let their wives cut their hair, but others looking for work or lucky enough to be employed, could not take such a chance with their appearance and ultimately paid the higher price.
Witness to War and Reunion
After being rebuffed by Secretary of War John Armstrong in March 1812, Alexandrians later convened with President Madison and General William Winder and apprized them that unless funds were expended for Alexandria's defense, the town would be at the mercy of a British force sailing up the Potomac. The Common Council secured loans from three banks totaling $50,000 for the purpose of mounting defenses against the river approach, and Alexandria banks also advanced the national government $35,000 for the purpose of reinforcing Fort Washington and for buying arms. In February 1814, citizens sent the Common Council a petition requesting that five cannon be mounted along the waterfront. Still, when General Winder inspected Alexandria on July 25, 1814, he declared the town was inadequately defended.

On August 6, 1814, a British fleet consisting of nearly fifty vessels sailed into the Chesapeake. Commanded by Rear Admiral George Cockburn, the Brits planned a two pronged attack; troops would land at Benedict, Maryland on the Patuxent River, while the naval force, including 1,000 men under the command of Captain James Gordon, would continue up the Potomac to Washington. Alexandrians recognized the increasing peril as the British juggernaut inched its way northward, up the Potomac. Twelve days later, the commercial banks of Georgetown, Washington and Alexandria agreed to loan the government $200,000 for the purpose of providing a defense for the district. The Alexandria town and county militia were called out en masse on August 19, 1814 and were ordered to cross the Potomac to take up a post between Piscataway and Fort Washington. They took with them nearly all the arms and artillery belonging to the town, leaving Alexandria defenseless. Thus, when the militia retreated to the Virginia countryside and Captain Dyson, commander of Ft. Washington, blew up the fortress, Alexandria's fate was sealed.

» Contrabands and Freedmen Cemetery MemorialOn Saturday, September 6, at 10 a.m., the formal dedication ceremony of the Contrabands and Freedmen Cemetery Memorial will be held along Church Street, just west of the intersection with South Washington Street. The City has created a new webpage for the event on the homepage of the Office of Historic Alexandria, accessed at, which will be preceded in the days ahead by a variety of special event activities including walking tours of Civil War-era Alexandria sites significant to the Contraband refugees who sought protection here. These include lectures and illustrated presentations, a special Civil War musical presentation created by Arena Stage, and a banquet organized for over 130 descendants of those buried at the Freedmen's Cemetery. All listed activities are now open to the public for registration, based on availability, and are free except for the Thursday. September 4 banquet, which is priced at $75 per person. The banquet is planned as a “welcome home” of sorts for the hundreds of descendants identified through the research and cemetery restoration project. Alexandria residents are encouraged to attend and support the descendant families who have waited nearly 150 years for a dignified act of closure recognizing the lives and sacrifices of their ancestors that died soon after their long struggle for freedom.
EVENTS * click the picture to see a larger photo
» Saturday, August 23 - Lee Family Homes Walking Tour
Lee-Fendall House and Gardens, 614 Oronoco Street
The Lee-Fendall House will offer a special guided walking tour of Lee family homes in historic Old Town. Members of the Lee family lived in almost two dozen homes over the years, including a cluster of buildings at the intersection of Washington and Oronoco streets - an area once known as “Lee Corner.” Although family members moved into and out of the city over the years, Alexandria remained their hometown and lifelong friendships were forged with neighbors and business associates in the city. The tour will last 90 minutes, and will include stops outside the boyhood home of Robert E. Lee, the Lee-Fendall House, and the home of “founding father” Arthur Lee. Tickets are priced at $12 for adults and $8 for students. Tour space is limited, so the purchase of tickets in advance is highly recommended. The tour will begin at 10 a.m. and leave from the Lee-Fendall House. Participants are encouraged to wear comfortable shoes. For further information, please visit or call 703.548.1789.
» Saturday, August 23 - Book Talk: A History Lover's Guide to Washington, DC
The Athenaeum, 201 Prince Street
This tour of the nation's capital goes beyond the traditional guidebook to offer a historical journey through the federal district. From George Washington's Mount Vernon to the Kennedy Center, trek through each era of Washington, DC, for a tour of America's most beloved sites. Join author and Washington insider Alison Fortier as she carefully curates an expedition to our shining city on a hill. Free! 2 p.m. For further information, please visit or call 703.548.0035.
A History Lover's Guide to Washington, DC
» Saturday, August 23 - Exhibition Opening: “Their Fates Intertwined: The Lees of Alexandria in the War of 1812”
Lee-Fendall House and Gardens, 614 Oronoco Street
A new exhibit on the experiences of the Lee family in Alexandria during the War of 1812 will open at the Lee-Fendall House on August 23, with an elegant reception that evening. “Their Fates Intertwined: The Lees of Alexandria in the War of 1812” will examine the contributions of Alexandria's citizens during the conflict that led to the writing of our national anthem through the lives of this iconic Virginia family. Tickets to the exhibit opening are priced at $15 per person. 5 to 7 p.m. For further information, please visit or call 703.548.1789.
Exhibit Opening
» Sunday, August 24 - Civil War Sunday
Alexandria Archaeology Museum, 105 North Union Street, #327
Explore the Civil War in Alexandria with Civil War Sundays. See an original May 26, 1861, edition of The New-York Tribune detailing Colonel Elmer Ellsworth's death in Alexandria, a Peeps diorama illustrating Ellsworth's death, a TimeTravelers Passport exhibit featuring the Civil War drummer boy, a diorama of a heating system constructed in Alexandria to warm Civil War hospital tents during the winter of 1861, a cocked and loaded Wickham musket discarded in a privy during the 1860s, and an exhibit on a Lee Street archaeological site during the Civil War. Free!  1 to 5 p.m. For more information, please visit or call 703.746.4399.
» Sunday, August 24 - Family Day - Science Behind the Ice Well
Gadsby's Tavern Museum, 134 North Royal Street
All families are invited to tour the historic tavern as Junior Docents, volunteers from grades 4 through 7, share their enthusiasm for history. Let your kids be inspired by their peers as they tour the tavern where George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and others made history. Tour features the tavern's ice well and making a period dessert - ice cream. No reservations necessary. $5 for adults and $3 for children (ages 5 -12). 1 to 4 p.m. For more information, please visit or call 703.746.4242.
Ice Block
» Sunday, August 24 - Summer Chamber Series at the Lyceum (WMPA)
The Lyceum, 201 South Washington Street
The Washington Metropolitan Philharmonic Association presents its Summer Chamber Series at the Lyceum. This week's program features Bassoonist Aaron Goler and pianist Stephen Bertino. Music by Henri Dutilliux, Thomas Dunhill and François Devienne. Free! 3 to 5 p.m. For more information, please visit or call 703.746.4994.
» Open Through August 2014 - Sit Down and Take a Stand: Samuel W. Tucker and the 1939 Alexandria Library Sit-In Exhibition
Alexandria Black History Museum, 902 Wythe Street
On August 21, 1939, five African American men walked into the whites-only Alexandria Library and requested library cards. When refused because they were black, the young men quietly took books off the shelves and sat down to read. Library authorities quickly had them arrested, making this act of civil disobedience one of the earliest of its kind in the modern civil rights movement. This new exhibition highlights the sit-in and its behind-the-scenes mastermind, Samuel Wilbert Tucker, a 27-year-old attorney and a native of Alexandria. The exhibition also includes the previously unheralded role of Robert Strange, the little known sixth participant of the sit-in. Only 15 years old, Strange acted as a runner between the Alexandria Library and Tucker's office, keeping the young lawyer abreast of sit-in developments. Free! Tuesdays through Saturdays, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. For more information, please call 703.746.4356.
» Open Through September 21, 2014- Influence and Inspiration in Alexandria Exhibition
The Athenaeum, 201 Prince Street
Influence and Inspiration in Alexandria: Highlights from Art League's Finest Teaching Faculty Over Sixty Years. Many of the region's most notable artists have taught at The Art League over the years. This show highlights their superb talent and digs into the fundamentals of influence and inspiration found throughout the city. Free! Thursday, Friday and Sunday from 12 to 4 p.m. and Saturdays from 1 to 4 p.m. For further information, please visit or call 703.548.0035.
Influence and Inspiration
» Open Through 2014 - Fifty Years of Collecting: An Anniversary Exhibit of Objects from the Fort Ward Collection Exhibition Opening
Fort Ward Museum, 4301 West Braddock Road
In recognition of the 50th anniversary of the opening of Fort Ward Museum & Historic Park, this new exhibition offers a glimpse into the growth and holdings of the Museum's fine Civil War collection.The exhibit features some rare items related to the Defenses of Washington, such as an 1862 panoramic drawing of Fort Albany by the soldier-artist William Lydston, a folding camp chair that belonged to an officer in the 1st Connecticut Heavy Artillery, and a Lambley's portable copying machine used by an officer from the 57th Massachusetts Infantry. Objects that interpret the Union occupation of Alexandria, such as a proclamation declaring martial law in the city, are also featured. Examples of newly acquired objects are a field desk with personal belongings owned by a captain in the 107th New York Infantry, and a John Rogers statuary group, “Uncle Ned's School,” which aimed to portray the efforts of newly freed African Americans to better their lives through education in the post-war years.

Fort Ward is the best preserved of the extensive network of Union forts and batteries known as the Civil War Defenses of Washington. Free! Tuesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Sundays from noon to 5 p.m. For more information, please call 703.746.4848, or visit

  Now through Labor Day, September 1, 2014, Gadsby's Tavern Museum, the Stabler-Leadbeater Apothecary Museum and Lee-Fendall House and Gardens are proud to be designated as Blue Star Museums, commemorating the service of active military families! All active duty military service members, and their immediate family, receive FREE admission to these and other museums throughout the country. Please note that you must present an active military ID in order to receive free admission. Free admission is limited to nuclear family members only (to include spouses and children).
  On Thursday, September 4, hear Andrew Lambert, Laughton Professor of Naval History at King's College University of London and expert on British trade and naval history, lecture on the War of 1812 from the British perspective. Public tickets can be purchased here at $5 per person, but are free for Alexandria Historical Society members only at The one-hour lecture will be held at The Lyceum at 7:30 p.m.