Alexandria History: A Timeline
Some events from Alexandria's history.
Page updated on April 27, 2023 at 9:41 AM
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Archaeology and Alexandria's First People
- 11,000 BC to 7,500 BC The Paleo-Indian Period. The earliest evidence of human occupation here is a broken spear point, known as a Clovis Point. It was manufactured about 13,200 years ago (around 11,000 B.C.)
- 7,500 BC - 1,000 BC The Archaic Period. By about 4,000 years ago, Native Americans began to visit the area on a more regular basis.
- 1,000 BC to 1600 AD The Woodland Period. During this period, Native Americans began to gather in more permanent settlements, and began agriculture and the manufacture of pottery. Post-holes from 1,000 year old oval houses were found at Jones Point.
- 1608 John Smith explores the Potomac River as far as Great Falls, noting Indian settlements called “Assaomec” and “Namassingakents” near present-day Alexandria.
- 1654 Margaret Brent , first female lawyer in America and adviser to the governor of Maryland, receives a grant of land from the Virginia governor that includes the future site of Alexandria.
- 1669 Scottish merchant John Alexander purchases some of the former Brent land from a Welsh ship captain for “six thousand pounds of Tobacco and Cask.”
- 1732 An official tobacco inspection warehouse is established on the property of Hugh West , approximately where the present Oronoco Street meets the river.
- 1749 Prominent landowners and business men, led by Scottish immigrants John Carlyle and William Ramsay, petition the Virginia House of Burgesses to establish a town called Alexandria, named in honor of the Alexander family.
- 1755 At the beginning of the French and Indian War, British General Edward Braddock and several thousand soldiers camp in and around Alexandria. Five of America’s royal governors meet at John Carlyle’s house to discuss war strategy. The Carlyle House is open to the public.
- 1773 Christ Church is built, so far outside of the tiny town that it is called “the church in the woods.” Christ Church is open to the public, as a house of worship.
- 1774 Upset over British taxation policies, Alexandrians approve George Mason 's “ Fairfax Resolves ,” which call for an end to trade with England.
- 1774 Friendship Fire Company founded. The Company's 1851 building is now the Friendship Firehouse Museum, open to the public.
- 1777 Alexandria is the chief smallpox inoculation center in Virginia for the American army. A quarantine station was located at Jones Point.
- 1785 A meeting is called in Alexandria to discuss Virginia's and Maryland’s rights to trade along the Potomac River, raising issues which result in the Constitutional Convention two years later.
- 1785 John Wise, local tavernkeeper and entrepreneur, constructs what will be known as Gadsby’s Tavern, with the largest function room in Alexandria. Gadsby's Tavern Museum is open to the public.
- 1785 The Alexandria Academy, the town’s first public school, opens.
- 1785 Philip Richard Fendall builds house on Oronoco Street on lot purchased from his cousin, Revolutionary War hero Henry “Light Horse Harry” Lee. The Lee-Fendall House is open to the public
- 1789 George Washington becomes first president of the United States of America and leaves Alexandria for New York. Before his presidency, he maintained a town house on Cameron Street, had a family pew at Christ Church, and dined, danced and conducted business at many of Alexandria's taverns.
- 1791 First and southernmost cornerstone for new Federal capital set at Alexandria’s Jones Point; the town officially becomes part of the District of Columbia in 1801.
- 1792 Edward Stabler opens an apothecary business, one of several successful commercial ventures by Quakers in Alexandria. The Stabler-Leadbeater Apothecary Museum is open to the public.
- 1792 The new “City Hotel” opens on Royal Street and becomes famous when managed by John Gadsby four years later. Gadsby's Tavern Museum is open to the public; the 1792 building also houses a restaurant.
- 1810 Robert E. Lee, young son of Revolutionary War hero Henry “Light Horse Harry” Lee, moves to Alexandria with his family.
- 1814 During the War of 1812, Alexandria surrenders to an attacking British naval force. To spare the town, a ransom of tobacco, flour, cotton and sugar is paid.
- 1824 The Marquis de Lafayette, hero of the American Revolution, visits Alexandria for a Grand Reception and Celebration held in his honor. Lafayette was invited by President James Monroe to be "The Nation's Guest," attending parades, ceremonies and receptions in every state. Lafayette souvenirs marked the occasion.
- 1827 A devastating fire begins in the workshop of cabinetmaker James Green, destroying 53 dwellings and businesses.
- 1831 Construction begins on the Alexandria Canal.
- 1838 Robert Mills, creator or the Washington Monument and Architect of Public Buildings, designed the District Courthouse for Alexandria, D.C.
- 1845 Alexandria Canal is completed, connecting with the C&O Canal.
- 1846 Congress votes to permit Alexandria and Alexandria County to retrocede to Virginia upon referendum.
- 1847 Virginia formally accepted Alexandria back into the Commonwealth on March 13, and Alexandrians celebrated the occasion with a huge parade on the 19th.
- 1848 Sisters Emily and Mary Edmonson are held at an Alexandria slave jail after an escape attempt on schooner The Pearl. The girls’ case captures the attention of abolitionist Harriet Beecher Stowe, and they ultimately gain their freedom. See an Alexandria Heritage Trail Sign placed in their honor.
- 1851 First locomotive on the Orange & Alexandria Railroad reaches Alexandria.
- 1858 Alexandria Custom House and Post Office built on the southwest corner of Prince and St. Asaph Street.
- 1861 On May 23, townsmen voted for secession (958 in favor, 106 against). The next day Alexandria was occupied by Federal troops. Read more about Alexandria during the Civil War.
- 1862 Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on September 22.
- 1865 Robert E. Lee surrendered at Appomattox Court House on April 9, ending the Civil War.
- 1870 Federal military rule in Alexandria came to an end on January 26.
- 1871 Alexandria City Hall and Market House catch fire.
- 1872 Daingerfield's and Cazenove's large grain and fertilizer warehouse on the east side of the 100 block of N. Union Street destroyed by fire.
- 1873 Alexandria City Hall rebuilt.
- 1880 Buffalo Bill Cody's Wild West Show comes to Alexandria.
- 1881 Telephones are introduced to Alexandria.
- 1887 Mail delivery begins, and the street numbering system is changed to the present system
- 1887 Alexandria Canal fails and is abandoned after a long history of financial troubles.
- 1889 Electricity comes to Alexandria.
- 1893 Virginia Glass Company opens.
- 1894 Robert Portner Brewing Company builds a large new warehouse.
- 1898 Alexandria Light Infantry and a company of black soldiers left to fight in the Spanish-American War.
- 1899 Alexandria celebrated its sesquicentennial with a lavish parade.
- 1906 Alexandria’s Union Station opens
- 1907 Potomac Yard opens, and becomes one of the busiest rail yards on the Eastern seaboard
- 1908 The Town of Potomac is founded, comprised of the street-car suburbs of Del Ray and St. Elmo
- 1909 Orville Wright demonstrates his flying machine for the U. S. Army by flying from Fort Meyer in Arlington to Shuter’s Hill and back.
- 1915 Annexation of the Braddock and Rosemont sections of Alexandria.
- 1919 The Naval Torpedo Station (now the Torpedo Factory Art Center) opens on the Alexandria waterfront to build and repair this new type of weapon.
- 1920 Parker-Gray School, named for Alexandria educators, opens to serve Alexandria’s African American students.
- 1929 American Legion Post #24 purchases historic Gadsby’s Tavern and preserves it from demolition.
- 1930 Annexation of the Town of Potomac, now the Del Ray neighborhood.
- 1932 George Washington Masonic Memorial is dedicated atop Shuter’s Hill.
- 1932 George Washington Memorial Parkway opens, connecting Washington D.C. with Mount Vernon and using Washington Street as its course through Alexandria.
- 1939 The sit-down strike at the segregated Barrett Library on Queen Street is one of the first organized acts of civil disobedience in what became the Civil Rights movement.
- 1939 John L. Lewis, president of the United Mine Workers of America purchases Lee-Fendall House.
- 1940 Robert Robinson Library (now the Alexandria Black History Museum) built for the city’s African American residents.
- 1940 Naval Torpedo Station reopens to produce munitions throughout World War II.
- 1941 Under the Lend-Lease Act, surplus torpedoes from Alexandria are sent to Great Britain.
- 1942-1945 New housing built for workers in the war effort includes Parkfairfax, where future presidents Richard M. Nixon and Gerald R. Ford would later live as junior members of congress.
- 1946 Old Town becomes the nation's third Historic District, after New Orleans and Charleston.
- 1949 Alexandria celebrates its 200th anniversary. A commemorative 6-cent airmail stamp is issued to mark the event.
- 1952 Annexation of areas that were formerly part of Fairfax County, giving Alexandria its current shape. Areas south of the Interstate remain in Fairfax County, despite their Alexandria post-office addresses.
- 1955 Construction begins on the Capital Beltway and the Woodrow Wilson Bridge, crossing the Potomac River, is dedicated in 1961.
1959 Nine African American students enter formerly all-white public schools for the first time.
- 1961 Future rock star Jim Morrison of the band The Doors graduates from George Washington High School in Alexandria.
- 1961 Fort Ward, one of the largest Union forts in the Defenses of Washington, is restored by the City of Alexandria for the Civil War Centennial.
- 1966 Old Town Alexandria designated a National Historic Landmark.
- 1971 After desegregation, T.C. Williams High School (now Alexandria City High School) wins state football championship and captures national fame in 2000 in the film, "Remember the Titans."
- 1974 Gerald Ford becomes U.S. President and serves his first 10 days while still living in his Alexandria home on Crown View Drive.
- 1974 The old Alexandria Naval Torpedo Stations reopens as the Torpedo Factory Art Center.
- 1975 Alexandria establishes the country’s first archaeological commission, leading to the development of the Alexandria Archaeology Museum.
- 1976 As part of the City’s bicentennial celebration, the City restores and opens Gadsby’s Tavern Museum and The Lyceum.
- 1983 King Street Metro station opens.
- 1983 Robert Robinson Library re-opens as the Alexandria Black History Research Center.
- 1984 Parker-Gray Historic District is established in an historically black neighborhood.
- 1987 Office of Historic Alexandria takes over operation of Alexandria Black History Museum.
- 1995 Watson Reading Room opens adjacent to Alexandria Black History Museum.
- 1995 African American Heritage Park opens.
- 1999 Alexandria celebrates its 250th Anniversary.
- 2001 Alexandria emergency service personnel respond to terrorist attacks of September 11th at the nearby Pentagon.
- 2007 Archaeologists recover a 13,000-year old Clovis spear point discarded by a Native American hunter. The stone tool is the earliest evidence of human presence in present-day Alexandria.
- 2011-2015 Alexandria commemorates the Civil War sesquicentennial.
- 2012-2015 Alexandria commemorates the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812.
- 2014 Dedication of the Contrabands & Freedmen Cemetery Memorial at 1001 S. Washington Street.
- 2016 Alexandria commemorates the 75th anniversary of American entry in World War II.
- 2017 City of Alexandria acquires the Murray-Dick-Fawcett House at 517 Prince Street.
- 2017-2018 Alexandria commemorates the 100th anniversary of World War I.
- 2020 City of Alexandria acquires Freedom House Museum at 1315 Duke Street.
- 2020-2021 The City of Alexandria, the nation and the world endure the Covid-19 pandemic.
Alexandria History: Online Resources
A Brief History
- The History of Alexandria, Virginia: An Introduction and Resources
- The History of Alexandria: Discovering the Decades
- Historic Alexandria Quarterly
- Out of the Attic Archive
- This Day in History
Early Alexandria: The Colonial and Federal Periods
- Alexandria During The Civil War: Online Resources
- Alexandria During The Civil War: First Person Accounts
Alexandria in the 20th Century and Beyond
- Alexandria Legacies: The Alexandria Oral History Program
Alexandria's African American Community