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Fort Ward Museum staff shows models with Union uniforms to guests (photo courtesy Fort Ward Museum)

Renovations are doing what the Confederacy couldn’t: temporarily shutting down Fort Ward (4301 W Braddock Road).

While the park itself will remain open, the central Fort Ward Museum is closed for the next month. A release from the City of Alexandria said the museum is scheduled to reopen on July 6.

Plans have been in the works for years to update some of the exhibits inside the museum to include more information not only on the fort’s Civil War history but on the sizable Black community that called the fort home after the war.

The museum also went through some renovations back in 2021 that briefly shut the museum down.

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Once a Civil War fort, then a bastion for Black Alexandrians before they were pushed out by city officials, Fort Ward (4301 W Braddock Road) has been at the center of an ongoing mission to reexamine the fort’s past and build a better future for the site.

A new interagency report for FY 2022 highlights the progress made by the Recreation, Parks and Cultural Activities (RPCA), Office of Historic Alexandria (OHA), Department of General Services (DGS) and Transportation and Environmental Services (TES).

The report said RPCA was involved in three improvement projects at Fort Ward this year:

  • Picnic Shelter Accessibility Improvements: This spring, progress started on new permeable pavement and overall resurfacing. The goal is to make the picnic area more accessible from the parking lot, improving ADA accessibility. The picnic area is expected to re-open to the public this fall, the report said.
  • Playground Accessibility Project: After a delay to consider concerns that the new playground could impact sites associated with the post-war community, the city has identified alternate locations for the playground. Follow up meetings for more public input are scheduled this fall.
  • Natural Resources Management projects: Over the summer, the Natural Lands Management staff implemented several clean-up projects on the eastern side of the park, including removing invasive and dead vegetation. The landscape restoration is scheduled to continue this fall.

The report said the OHA has also been involved with some of the projects around Fort Ward, playing a guiding role in the picnic shelter and playground relocation project.

“Archaeologists provided guidance to RPCA and contractors on the picnic shelter site project, and monitored the work that is in progress,” the report said. “Archaeology prepared a background report on the Peters/Lewis family site (southwest corner of the Park, where the original playground relocation was proposed). Although the relocation of the playground to this area is unlikely to be located within the properties owned by the Peters or Lewis families, a background study is being compiled for those properties, and will be available online in the future.”

The Fort Ward Museum reopened last October, with activities like Civil War reenactments returning throughout the last year. The museum also received a few upgrades over the last year, like new exhibit lighting and tree trimming.

Meanwhile, the report said the OHA is working on new signage for the park.

“Work continued on interpretive projects, such as compiling content for the revision and production of new historic fort markers, and two Park orientation stations,” the report said. “Content for the replacement of historic fort signage is planned to be submitted for fabrication in September 2022, with a production and installation goal for some in November.”

Additionally, the museum staff began work this year on a new permanent exhibit that will focus on the fort’s history and the post-war community.

“Content for the Museum exhibit will be developed for production in 2023,” the report said.

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A local working group has been making its way through plans to update and improve Fort Ward Park, and last week the project got a timeline for when the public could see some of those changes.

Following the Civil War, the fort was home to a sizable Black community that was later pushed out by the City of Alexandria in the name of obtaining park space and historical preservation of the Civil War-era fort.

Susan Cumbey, director for the Fort Ward Museum and Historic Site, said two of the changes coming to the park’s historical side are new exhibit panels and a new exhibit in the museum that tells the story of both the fort and the community that called it home in the years after the war.

There will be two new park exhibit panels that Cumbey said will help introduce visitors to the fort’s Civil War history and post-Civil War community. One will be located at the east side of the park near the museum and another will be on the west side.

“We’re planning on submitting draft details to the community sometime in the spring so fabrication and installation can take place in late summer and the fall,” Cumbey said.

Cumbey said the museum will also get a new exhibit and short film about the site’s history during and after the Civil War. The city is currently working through a grant process to try and secure additional funding for the exhibit.

“It will be more detailed than the exhibit panels in the park,” Cumbey said. “We will use the thematic framework of ‘bastions of freedom.’ The exhibit will be an important step toward equity.”

Cumbey said work will begin on the exhibit this year with installation targeted for late 2023 or early 2024.

A larger, more complex project, Cumbey said, is a planned interpretive trail that will run through the park.

“[The trail] will include sites of homesteads, schoolhouse chapel site, burial areas,” Cumbey said. “A budget request [will be] be submitted for the fiscal year 2023 to get the ball rolling on that larger project.”

In addition to funding, Cumbey said the trail project will require additional public outreach.

In addition to changes to the historical presentation of the site, the park will be undergoing changes to bring it into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). A city report noted that key locations in violation of ADA provisions include:

  • Vehicular parking areas
  • Picnic shelter
  • Playground

Part of the trail improvements will also include changes to the park layout that aim to make it more accessible, though additional archeological work will need to be done to ensure some planned changes like a playground relocation don’t end up damaging burial sites.

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The City of Alexandria is planning to host a public meeting next month to discuss plans to overhaul Fort Ward Park.

The site was a fort constructed during the Civil War as part of a ring of defenses protecting Washington D.C. The site currently has a museum and frequently hosts reenactments of daily life during the Civil War.

The city is looking to revitalize the park, though, with more historic resources that tell a broader range of the park’s history beyond the Civil War. During and after the war, freed Black Americans called contrabands lived within the fortification and set up a community there — a community that includes descendants who live in the area but were forced out when the city converted the land into a park.

“The goal of the Fort Ward Interpretive Plan is to expand interpretation in Fort Ward Park to include the full range of its history, especially including the African American experience and the post-Civil War Fort community,” the city said in a press release. “Fort Ward’s Civil War history will remain a core theme, but new elements will explore the legacy of that pivotal era.”

The city has been working through the design process for potential memorials and working to identify graves at the site.

The virtual meeting is scheduled for Monday, Jan. 24, from 7-9 p.m.

“The meeting will provide an opportunity to learn about and provide input on recommendations in the Fort Ward Park and Museum Area Management Plan and the Fort Ward Interpretative Plan,” the city said. “The virtual meeting will include a presentation about historic resources, upcoming projects and related archaeology. Projects to be discussed include an accessible route to the picnic shelter, accessible parking areas, playground relocation, and the protection and commemoration of cemeteries and interpretive elements.”

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A reenactor dressed as a Civil War-era depiction of Santa, photo courtesy Fort Ward Museum

A celebration this weekend will look at how Christmas was commemorated during the Civil War at Fort Ward, a Civil War fort turned museum in Alexandria.

The family-friendly event is scheduled for Saturday, Dec. 11, from noon to 4 p.m.

“This popular family-oriented event features a patriotic Civil War Santa Claus, reenactors in winter camp settings, period decorations, fort tours, and kids activities,” the Fort Ward Museum said in an email. “The program features a Civil War-era Union Santa Claus, based on an 1863 cover of Harper’s Weekly by artist Thomas Nast, who will interact with the public, welcome children to the reconstructed Officers’ Hut, and visit soldiers in camp.”

The email said reenactors will interpret army life in the winter camps decorated as they would have been during the holiday season. Reenactors will open “boxes from home” and sing period-accurate carols around the campfire. The museum itself will undergo a visual overhaul with some festive greenery and a Victorian parlor tree.

The suggested donation is $2 per person and $5 for families. Masks are required inside the museum and officers’ hut, and are recommended around the camps. Civil War books and stocking stuffers are available in the museum as well, if the younger generation in your family is into that sort of thing.

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The Fort Ward Museum is planning to reopen next weekend with a live cannon fire demonstration to kick things off.

While many of Alexandria’s museums and historic have reopened over the last few months, Fort Ward remained closed for renovations to the museum.

An email from the Office of Historic Alexandria noted that the museum will officially reopen on Friday, Oct. 1.

“Fort Ward Museum will resume open hours to visitors in October,” the city said. “The Museum will be open weekly beginning Oct. 1.”

The museum will be open Fridays from 11 a.m.-4 p.m. and on Saturdays from 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Admission is free, but donations are welcome.

“Visitors are required to wear masks indoors to comply with City of Alexandria public safety regulations and the number of visitors at one time will be limited to ensure social distancing protocols,” the city said. “The preserved and partially restored Union fort and the Fort Ward Park grounds are open to the public daily and can be visited when the Museum is not open to the public.”

The following day, Fort Ward is scheduled to host a Civil War Artillery Day. Masks and social distancing are encouraged.

“Learn about the role and equipment of Civil War artillerymen in the Defenses of Washington on Saturday, October 2, when Fort Ward Museum presents Civil War Artillery Day,” the city said in an email. “This free living history program is from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., and will appeal to Civil War enthusiasts of all ages… The program features reenactors from the 1st Connecticut Heavy Artillery, a Union regiment that was stationed at Fort Ward during the Civil War. The unit will interpret the duties and soldier life of typical artillerymen assigned to forts in the Washington area. Activities will include cannon firing demonstrations in the restored Northwest bastion of the fort at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m., artillery equipment displays, interpretive talks, and camp life scenarios.”

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Morning Notes

Carlyle Community Survey is open until July 15 — “Do you live, work or occupy a building in Carlyle? Then make sure to take the 2021 Carlyle Commuter survey! Your feedback helps improve our Transportation Management Program, and how we as a community get to and from Carlyle. Survey closes on 7/15. ” [Twitter]

Old Town blood drive on July 26 — “On July 26, Inova Blood Donor Services will be hosting an Old Town Blood Drive at Market Square, 301 King St. As a thank you, donors will receive an exclusive Olympic themed t-shirt. The need for blood is constant and blood banks are anticipating an increase in the need for blood due to the resumption of elective surgeries.” [City of Alexandria]

Recognition of burial grounds at Fort Ward Park to be discussed — “Those attending the July 31 meeting should meet city staff in the parking lot behind Fort Ward Museum. Attendees will walk to the four major burial sites.” [Patch]

Today’s weather — “Partial cloudiness early, with scattered showers and thunderstorms in the afternoon. Storms may contain strong gusty winds. High 92F. Winds SW at 5 to 10 mph. Chance of rain 30%… Clear to partly cloudy. Low 72F. Winds WSW at 5 to 10 mph.” [Weather.com]

New job: Temporary enrichment and fitness instructor — “In pursuit of service excellence the Enrichment and Fitness Instructor provides youth, adult, and senior leisure classes at various recreation centers through the City of Alexandria. In this role, you will have the opportunity to ensure that the goals are met to provide a safe, fun, structured and engaging atmosphere for all our customers. Enthusiasm, flexibility and excellent communication skills are needed to be successful in this position.” [Indeed]

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Alexandria is looking for community feedback on the recognition and demarcation of Black cemetery areas and burial sites at Fort Ward Park.

The park at 4301 West Braddock Road, was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1982, became an African American community after the Civil War. For more than a decade, the city has worked on identifying graves that were part of “The Fort” neighborhood, and made ground-penetrating Radar Surveys in 2009.

Researchers found gravestones just south of the Oakland Baptist Cemetery, “which is a known grave yard surrounded on three sides by Fort Ward Park,” according to a city study. The property was converted from a Black neighborhood to a park in the 1960s, and includes a number of other scattered graves.

“The presence of a few gravestones, as well as documentary evidence and accounts from oral history interviews, have indicated that there are a number of known and potential grave locations in the park that were part of ‘The Fort’ neighborhood,” the City noted in a study. “However, the exact locations of the burials (some of which are located in a former maintenance yard for the City of Alexandria’s Department of Recreation, Parks and Cultural Activities), and the limits of cemeteries on the property have never been determined.”

In 2014, the Alexandria Contrabands & Freedmen Cemetery opened to the public. It is the burial place for about 1,800 Black residents who fled slavery, and was eventually turned into a gas station in the 1950s.

On July 31, staff with the Office of Historic Alexandria will discuss issues and ideas for the possible fencing options for some sites and additional approaches for memorializing sites. The meeting will be held at the museum from 10 to 11:30 a.m. on Saturday, July 31.

Courtesy Visit Alexandria

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Morning Notes

Inova Alexandria Hospital rezoned to allow Landmark project to move forward — “Inova’s Alexandria hospital campus is now zoned to allow for future residential development, after city council voted 7-0 to allow the rezoning to make it easier for Inova to sell the Seminary Hill hospital land to a developer.” [Alexandria Living]

New Harris Teeter grand opening set in Alexandria — “A new Harris Teeter grocery store in Alexandria is holding a grand opening on Wednesday, June 23 beginning at 8 a.m. at 4550 King St., in the West Alex development at the corner of King and Beauregard streets.” [Alexandria Living]

Little Theatre of Alexandria presents ‘Will Rogers’ USA’ at Fort Ward Park on July 3 — “Covid-19 is not keeping the Little Theatre of Alexandria down! LTA is coming back in 2021 even stronger than ever, and to prove it, they are presenting a delightful (and free!) evening of Will Rogers’ USA, in the Fort Ward Park Amphitheater off West Braddock Road, Alexandria, 7 pm, July 3.” [Zebra]

Today’s weather — “Mainly sunny (during the day). High 77F. Winds NE at 5 to 10 mph… Clear skies (in the evening). Low 57F. Winds light and variable.” [Weather.com]

New job: Server at Cafe 44 — “Café 44 is a stylish American eatery situated along the Waterfront in Old Town Alexandria. We cater to a local crowd, attracting those who appreciate a spectacular view, quality food, great wine and craft cocktails. Whether you are a regular or a first-time guest, you are received with warmth and enthusiasm. Known as a hidden gem, we’re the ideal place to gather with family and friends.” [Indeed]

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After months of being closed during the holidays, a number of museums in Alexandria will be open to the public starting this Thursday, March 25.

The Alexandria Archaeology MuseumAlexandria History Museum at the LyceumFriendship Firehouse Museum and Gadsby’s Tavern Museum will open with modified hours, capacities, and advance ticket requirements, according to the city.

This follows a closure over the holidays during a surge, which ended up closing a number of museums.

“For the safety of museum staff, volunteers and guests, visitors are expected to follow the requirements of Executive Order 72 and the City mask ordinance,” the city advised. “Everyone ages 5 and older is required to wear masks that fit snugly over their nose and mouth at all times; to keep 6 feet of physical distance between households; and to wash hands or use hand sanitizer with at least 60% ethyl alcohol frequently.”

The following museums are still closed:

  • Alexandria Black History Museum (closed for renovation)
  • Archives and Records Center
  • Fort Ward Museum and Historic Site (closed for renovation)
  • Freedom House Museum (closed for renovation)
  • Stabler-Leadbeater Apothecary Museum

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