Alexandria has a distributed park system with approximately 950 acres spread across 70 major parks and 30 recreation centers. Most of my favorite parks are in Old Town, but there are a few spread around the rest of the town that I occasionally visit. My favorite parks are the disconnected pockets of parkland along the river that are separated by warehouses and parking lots. From the north these parks are Tide Lock Park, Rivergate City Park, Oronoco Park, Founders Park, Torpedo Plaza and Marina Park, Waterfront Park, Point Lumley, Roberdeau Park, Shipyard Park, Pomander Park, Ford's Landing, and Jones Point Park. As old warehouses come down and new development goes in, waterfront access is improved and the parks are interconnected along the water, but it is a slow process!
Tide Lock Park is located at the site of the old seven mile canal that connected Alexandria to the much more famous and successful C&O Canal in Georgetown. This canal was built in 1843 and remained in operation until 1886. Just to the north is a privately owned, but publicly accessible area called Promenade Classique with unusual art such as an obelisk and fake ruins.
Rivergate City Park is located at the dead end of Madison Street north of Oronoco Park.
Oronoco Bay Park is just north of Founders Park, both separated by an old warehouse. The park occupies 4.5 acres of what used to be the Standard Oil Company grounds. The area was purchased by the city in the 1980s and converted to waterfront parkland. Oronoco Bay Park is the home of the annual Alexandria Waterfront Festival, the largest American Red Cross fund raising event in the country!
Founders Park was originally a shipping port called West Point, and it actually predates the establishment of the city of Alexandria. The warehouse that was constructed here in 1732 was the first permanent building on the Alexandria waterfront. Through the years this area was often used as a key slavery and tobacco port, as well as an important military shipping area during the Civil War. In the 1970s the industry left, but soon plans for huge 18-story apartment buildings sprung up; luckily these were rejected in favor of the park you see today. Founders Park is on Union Street between Oronoco and Queen Streets.
Torpedo Plaza and Marina Park is behind the Torpedo Factory Art Center. This is one of the city's most visited parks, as it has restaurants, a marina, benches, and trails connecting to the neighboring parks.
Waterfront Park is a small 1.5 acre square located at the base of Prince Street. This park has an open grassy lawn, a statue of a ship builder, old anchors, and a monument to fallen policemen.
Point Lumley is another of the string of disconnected riverfront parks in Old Town. This park lies at the base of Duke Street, and has just .2 acres of land with some flowering vegetation, a few benches, and a tiny river overlook. On either side of this park are warehouses and parking lots... too bad the city can't buy up the rest of the riverfront lots and
expand these parks!
Roberdeau Park is a tiny park at the end of Wolfe Street on the Potomac.
Shipyard Park is on Wilkes Street next to Pomander Park on the river.
Pomander Park and Windmill Hill Park are separated by Union Street. Together these parks are comprised of about five acres and they have basketball courts, playgrounds, a few trails, dog areas, and great views of the Potomac.
Ford's Landing is the site of the old Ford Motors plant on the waterfront.
Jones Point Park is one of my favorite parks, as it has a variety of historic elements such as the Jones Point Light House, the first Washington DC boundary stone, the foundations of old ship building factories, and even Native American sites.
These are some of my favorite parks that are not along the river:
Simpson Park is in the Del Rey Neighborhood, just a mile or less from Old Town. This park is bordered by our local YMCA, and it has baseball fields, a fitness path, and more.
King Street Gardens Park is located near King Street Metro Station at the big intersection of King Street, Diagonal Road, and Daingerfield Street. This park was dedicated in 1997 and features a small wetlands, a large vine-covered trellis, summertime concerts, and a farmers market.
Fort Ward Park is a huge park that was created to preserve Civil War-era Fort Ward. Though this fort was never involved in a battle, this is the best preserved of the ring of forts surrounding the nation's capitol.
African American Heritage Memorial Park is located just west of Alexandria National Cemetery next to the Carlyle neighborhood.
NOVA, or the Northern Virginia Community College, is a two-year community college, founded in 1965, with locations in Arlington, Annandale, Alexandria, Springfield, Manassas, Woodbridge, Loudoun, and Reston. In 2003-2004, the college enrolled 63,000 students in credit courses and some 250,000 more in non-credit offerings.
The Annandale Campus is the largest in the NOVA system. The campus is about a mile outside the Capital Beltway at exit 52 in Annandale, VA.
The fortunes of James W. Jackson, a southerner from Alexandria, and Elmer E. Ellsworth, a Union Army Colonel clashed in Alexandria on 24 May 1861. On this day, the Union Army invaded northern Virginia, shortly after the state voted to secede from the Union. Northern troops from New York, including Col Ellsworth entered Alexandria, and quickly occupied the town. In the center of town at the Marshall House (where the Hotel Monaco stands today) a brave James Jackson was flying the Confederate flag. Ellsworth entered the Marshall House and removed the flag, only to be confronted and shot by Jackson, the inn's owner. Ellsworth died at the scene and Jackson was executed a short time later. Col Ellsworth was the first Union officer killed in the war, and his name became a rallying cry for the northern military. Jackson too became a martyr for the southern cause, as he represented a man trying to defend his home from Northern invaders.
Today there is a plaque at Union Station in Alexandria that describes the Ellsworth and Jackson's role in this incident. There is also a plaque honoring Jackson at the Hotel Monaco; the hotel also has a restaurant called Jackson 20 that is supposedly named after the president, but the coincidence is interesting. Fort Ellsworth, which stood on Shuter's Hill at the present site of the George Washington National Masonic Monument, was named after Ellsworth.
The plaque at the Monaco hotel is dedicated to Jackson, and it celebrates his defense of the South. It reads: "The Marshall House stood upon this site, and within the building on the early morning of May 24, 1861 James W. Jackson was killed by Federal Soldiers while defending his property and personal rights, as stated in the verdict of coroners jury. He was the first Martyr to the cause of Southern Independence. The Justice of History does not allow his name to be forgotten. Not in the excitement of battle, but coolly, and for a great principle, he laid down his life, an example to all, in defence [sic] of his home and the sacred soil of his native state Virgina."
Another plaque in Alexandria presents Ellsworth as the hero. The "Alexandria in the Civil War" plaque at Alexandria's Union Stations reads: "'Alexandria is ours,' declared Col. Orlando Wilcox of the 1st Michigan Vol. Inf. as his regiment captured the city on the morning of May 24, 1861. When Virginia's vote of secession became effective, Union forces immediately crossed the Potomac River and occupied the Virginia shore. Due to its strategic location on the Potomac River just south of Washington, D.C., Alexandria became a prime Union occupation target.
During the capture of Alexandria, James W. Jackson, an ardent secessionist and the proprietor of Marshall House, fatally shot Union Col. Elmer E. Ellsworth as he removed a Confederate flag from the top of the hotel. In retaliation, a member of Ellsworth's 11th New York Zouave regiment killed Jackson. Both men became martyrs for their respective causes.
Alexandria's transformation from small southern town to military district took its toll on the city. Two-thirds of the population fled. Large private homes, churches and other public buildings were 'requisitioned' to support the military occupation. The city became headquarters for the U.S. Military Railroad and one of the largest Union army hospital centers in the East. One of the first national cemeteries, established by an order of President Abraham Lincoln in February 1862, is located on Wilkes Street.
Alexandria would remain under Union control through late 1865, distinguishing it as the longest occupied territory of the Civil War. Today, many of the buildings that survived the four-year military occupation remain standing."
Alexandria has numerous interesting statues from the historic Confederate soldier statue in he center of an intersection to the sculpture of a colonial tri-cornered hat that is part of a water fountain. Here are some of the statues I have discovered:
Confederate Soldier - Officially named the Appomattox Memorial, this statue of an unarmed Confederate soldier stands in the center of the intersection of Prince and Washington Streets in Old town. The statue was placed in 1889 at the spot where the soldiers from Alexandria had left for the war in 1861. The statue was designed after a painting of a Confederate soldier observing the battlefields after Lee's surrender at Appomattox.
The Pharmacist - This statue was based on a Norman Rockwell painting of the same name, that portrys a pharmacist mixing drugs while a young boy watches and chews on his scarf. It is on Daingerfield Road near King Street Metro at the entrance to the National Community Pharmacists Association building.
The Tri-Cornered Hat - The odd little statue is integrated into a water fountain. There is a tri-cornered hat resting on the top near the bowl of the fountain, and there are children's hands cupped together to form a bowl for pets.
The Shipbuilder - This statue in small Waterfront Park is of a shipbuilder holding a hammer. It is a reminder of Alexandria's nautical past.
When I came up for the inauguration, I stayed with my good friend Tim in a residential neighbourhood in Alexandria. I orginally met Tim during my Excellent Embassy Adventure in Washington 3 years before when I went after my Brazilian tourist visa. See, hotels were either full up or they engaged in some tall price gouging. A hotel my boss and I stayed in a few years before for $45 was charging $189!
I met Tim that evening at 6:15 at the Huntington metro station. From there, we went to the Safeway to get us some fixins for lasagne. At his house, I met his brother and sister. We watched a little TV after supper and went to bed earlier than usual because we had to get up with the chickens the following morning. See, Tim volunteered to be one of the leaders at the inauguration. That worked well for me too because that gave me time to have a leisurely breakfast and tour a neighbourhood in Washington before it was time to go through security and attend the inaugural ceremony. We had planned on me spending a second night there, but I was so tired from all that walking both inauguration eve and inauguration day that I couldn't do what was needed to get a good day in for the day after. Once I fell into bed that night, there would have been no getting me up the following morning. So, I went home Thursday night rather tha Friday. Thank you, Tim.
Favorite thing: My favourite thing about Alexandria's old town is the contrast between old and new. In some of the colonial buildings that have the half-storey (used as a loophole to get around paying higher tax during colonial times), there are multi-national chains such as McDonald's, Dunkin' Donuts, etc. I snapped a tanning salon in one of these older buildings on King Street.
Alexandria has a Visitor's Center located in Old Town in the Ramsey House at the corner of King and North Fairfax Streets.
It is open daily from 9:00am to 5:00pm with the exception of Thanksgiving, Christmas Day, and New Years Day.
Fondest memory: Address: 221 King Street
Telephones: 703 838 4200
703 838 6494
Favorite thing: Look for the half-stories in the Revolutionary War era houses in Old Town. This way, the residents didn't have to pay tax on the extra floor. There are also some half houses. This is a typical landmark house in Alexandria. Note the cobblestones.
Favorite thing: Here are some really old houses. Take a good look at the street. The center of the street was originally a trough. This was where the slop buckets were emptied. The slops then trickled down to the river.
Favorite thing: The west end of Alexandria offers no parking problems whatsoever-- a fact which had a good deal to do with our moving here. After all, we do come from NYC. Here is Irwin standing in front of our building. You can see a portion of the vast parking area in the background.
Favorite thing: On December 21st, 2001, the Olympic Torch passed through on its way to Salt Lake City, Utah. There were lots of people gathered at Market Square to see it--here it is as it went by my vantage point on a wall.
Favorite thing: Like any really old town, Alexandria has many a mews. This used to be the stable area of a large home. Nowadays the paddocks have become individual shops and/or homes.
Favorite thing: Enjoy the Alexandria waterfront. Just don't come after a heavy rain. We are prone to flooding, and the sandbags don't always do the trick. Here are several waterfront views.