Alexandria, VA

Twice a year, an engineer checks the clock mechanism at the Alexandria City Hall clock tower to make sure everything is running on time. Above the machine sits is a relic of a bygone age — a cast iron bell that has been silent for decades.

The clock tower is accessible via a small door next to City Council Chambers.

According to a report from the National Park Service, the bell first rang on New Year’s Eve – Jan 1, 1873. An old bell hammer sits in one of the corners of the clock tower.

“I think these days the bell ringing can be done electronically,” said Bill Miner, the city’s division chief for capital improvement projects, who led ALXnow on a tour of the bell tower.

Inside the tower there is 50-year-old graffiti from construction workers who put in steel reinforcement beams in the 1960s.

The inscription on the bell reads, “Steeple, clock and bell presented to the City of his nativity by an esteemed citizen. Alexandria, VA, A.D. 1872.”

The bell was made by the Meneely Bell Foundry in 1871, according to the Office of Historic Alexandria. The New York-based foundry made bells from 1826 until 1952.

Photos via Office of Historic Alexandria and ALXnow

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Ann Samuels never thought in her wildest dreams that she’d make it to 100. The Alexandrian has lived in the same house for more than 70 years, and on September 15, she celebrated the important milestone with her closest family members.

“I take each day one day at a time and enjoy each of them, because it very well could be my last day,” Samuels told ALXnow. “That’s the way I feel about life. And that’s the way I think like you should enjoy everything that God lets you see here.”

Samuels was born on September 15, 1920 in Charleston, South Carolina. The country was still feeling the aftereffects of World War I, Woodrow Wilson was finishing his last term in office and the 18th Amendment outlawing alcohol went into effect. She was raised in a family of 12 children, four of whom are still living.

“Today, which marks the occasion of this century celebration, is a special event for all of us,” Alexandria Mayor Justin Wilson wrote Samuels.

The celebration was small, but included her nieces and some neighbors.

“She’s a gentle general,” said Samuels’ niece Juanita Hampton. “But she gets respect for being the oldest sister.”

Samuels worked for Marriott for 45 years, and never had children. She never got into drinking or smoking, even though she attempted to fit in by trying smoking one time. She was married to Robert Samuels for more than 50 years until he passed away in 2006.

“Smoking was the popular thing to do, and I tried it once, but it didn’t work for me,” she said. “I never in my wildest dreams, but somewhere along the way I figured I did something right.”

Samuels has a simple philosophy, to enjoy every day like it’s her last.

“You choose what you want to do with your life,” she said. “You can be unhappy about anything, but then you can be happy about anything. And I made myself a happier person. No matter what every day is a blessed day.”

Courtesy photos

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Even as the city sorts out how to handle issues of diversity and institutionalized racism in the school system, Alexandria is commemorating the 100th anniversary of a local school for Black students built in part by local supporters and parents.

In September 1920, the Parker-Gray School opened on Wythe Street where the Charles Houston Recreation Center is today. The school started as an elementary program, but added a high school in 1932. The school operated as the city’s lone Black high school.

With insufficient funding, many in the nearby community donated funding to buy supplies for the school.

“Under the direction of Henry T. White, the school operated with only the barest essentials and depended on the community for additional equipment and support,” according to the city.

In 1950, the high school component moved into a new building at 1207 Madison Street. The Parker-Gray School remained in operation until 1965.

According to a newsletter sent out by the City of Alexandria:

In September 1920, the Parker-Gray School opened for African American students grades 1 – 8. Located on Wythe Street, the school was named for the two principals of the previous segregated elementary schools in Alexandria – Principal John Parker of the Snowden School for boys and Principal Sarah Gray of the Hallowell School for girls.  Henry T. White was its teacher-principal with a staff of nine additional teachers.  Parker-Gray was the only elementary school in Alexandria with an auditorium because of Mr. White’s insistence that one be placed in the architectural plans. The boosters and parents had to buy chairs for the auditorium, a stage curtain, wastebaskets, desk clocks, coat racks for teachers, $1000 worth of equipment for the Home Economics room, reference books, roller maps and globes, a typewriter, a Victrola and records, a lantern slide with 600 slides as well as cover half of the cost of window shades for the building.

Photo via City of Alexandria

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Morning Notes

Beyer Calls for Investigation Into Alleged Hatch Act Violations at Republican National Convention — “For those asking about next steps, Hatch Act violations are investigated and enforced by the Office of Special Counsel. @CongressmanRaja and I just requested such an investigation into potential violations at the Republican National Convention.” [Twitter]

King Street Development Projects Set to Break Ground — “The King Street Project, by Galena Capital Partners, is teed up for approval by the Alexandria City Council. The King Street Project includes plans for two developments in Old Town that would replace current parking lots.” [Alexandria Living]

Faith Pilgrimage Marching Through Alexandria Today — “A group or 30 religious leaders will be walking through Alexandria this week as part of a days-long walk from Charlottesville to the District.” [Alexandria Living]

National Archives Loans Alexandria Library Pieces for Women’s Suffrage Exhibit — “The celebration of the 19th Amendment continues at Alexandria Library’s Barrett Branch. On display through September 23 is an exhibit called ‘Rightfully Hers,’ on loan from the National Archives.” [Zebra]

Blood Drive Today at Lost Boy Cider — “The Inova bloodmobile will be at Lost Boys Cider (next to our headquarters at 317 Hooffs Run Drive) from 11-4!” [Facebook]

Sheriff’s Department Reads ‘I Feel Silly’ to Kids Online — “Feeling silly, excited or mad? Each day can bring different feelings. Join Deputy Alexis Turner as she reads “Today I Feel Silly: And Other Moods That Make My Day” and then share how you’re feeling in the comments.” [Facebook]

Today’s Weather — “During the day, mostly cloudy with a high of 93F. At night, some clouds. Low 74F. Winds SW at 5 to 10 mph.” [Weather.com]

New Job: Front House Manager — “Supervises the dining room staff in proper service of residents during all meal periods. Assigns and coordinates duties of servers and hosts/hostess’. Maintains cleanliness of dining room and directs staff in the overall effective and efficient operation of the dining room.” [Indeed]

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The ambitious Encyclopedia Virginia, a project that aims to catalog and document the state’s history in a way that’s accessible to the general public, has featured four local sites on its catalog of historic spots with virtual tours.

Each of the locations have interior views with 360 degree views and the ability to move around as one would on Google Maps.

The locations are:

The Carlyle House recently resumed its tours, though group sizes are still limited to five guests, with face masks required. The Athenaeum is also open with limited capacity.

According to the project’s website:

Encyclopedia Virginia anthologizes the best and most current scholarship that exists on a given topic. In particular, our sections on Virginia Indians and the African American experience in Virginia are of a depth and breadth that is unavailable elsewhere on the web.

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Alexandria commemorated the 100 year anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment on Tuesday with a socially distant ceremony outside the Kate Waller Barrett Library.

Mayor Justin Wilson read a city proclamation that recounted the dozens of suffragists who were imprisoned, tortured and ultimately released from the Occoquan Workhouse after their case was thrown out in the federal courthouse in Alexandria.

“For a lot of the women who live in the city of Alexandria, it took several more decades until we provided universal suffrage and universal franchise for everyone,” Wilson said. “We certainly commemorate that history, that this was the beginning of what was a longer struggle for a lot of women and that work continues on today.”

Women’s suffrage came to a head in 1917 when more than 70 women were jailed, beaten and force-fed at the Occoquan Workhouse. Reports of their severe treatment largely influenced the passage of the Amendment, including the story of Lucy Burns, who was force fed through her nose and spent a “night of terror” with her hands cuffed above her head.

Councilwoman Amy Jackson said that it’s important to pay it forward.

“Days like this fill me with personal pride,” she said. “We got here on the shoulders of others, like Del Pepper. She’s been on council 35 years, and some times she was the only woman on council.”

Pepper said that there was a time when the city was run by women, with Mayor Patsy Ticer and City Manager Vola Lawson.

“I thought I’d died and gone to heaven,” Pepper said. “The ladies that I’m talking about offered a vision for a meaningful path forward.”

Gretchen Bulova, director of the Office of Historic Alexandria, is working with Alexandria Living Legend Pat Miller to install a marker in the next couple of months outside the courthouse in Carlyle.

“It’s the women’s community who have helped to preserve and save this community and build the experience you see here today,” Bulova said. “Alexandria has a really strong record of doing that. And it’s because people are willing to put themselves out there.”

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An unnamed alleyway through a Braddock neighborhood could soon be named after recently-retired Alexandria Judge Nolan Dawkins, the first Black judge in the city’s history.

The alley runs between the 400 blocks of N. West and N. Peyton streets, where Dawkins grew up. Kimberly Dawkins, Judge Nolan Dawkins’ daughter, said the renaming was originally intended to be a surprise (sorry) celebration for the retired judge.

“Our neighbor said it would be nice to honor dad, because he’s been in this house all his adult life,” Kimberly Dawkins said. “It would be a nice way to commemorate that the Dawkins have lived on this street, and were the second black family to live on this street in the 60s.”

“Judge Dawkins was born in Alexandria, grew up in this Peyton Street home, attended Parker-Gray High School in 1963, and was among the first African Americans to integrate George Washington High School graduating in 1965,” the application said. “In 1989, following his mother’s death, he moved back into his Peyton Street boyhood home.”

The application to rename the street is scheduled to go to the Planning Commission in October.

After working as an assistant city attorney, in 1994 Dawkins became the first African American judge in Alexandria when he was appointed to the Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court. In 2008 he was appointed to the 18th Judicial Circuit Court and became Alexandria’s first Black Circuit Court judge.

“The retirement of The Honorable Nolan B. Dawkins, former presiding Circuit Court Judge for the City of Alexandria, on June 26, 2020, represents the culmination of a lifetime of dedicated service, professionalism, and judicial excellence,” the application said. “He is a true son of the city and has devoted his entire legal career to justice and to the community of Alexandria, Virginia. It would be a fitting honor and tribute to have his name represented on this alley.”

Kimberly Dawkins said the City of Alexandria has been a welcoming home for the Dawkins family and has been a part of their lives for generations.

“Alexandria is a great city,” Kimberly Dawkins said. “My sisters and I grew up here and went through ACPS. It’s a wonderful place to raise a family. The diversity and opportunities are endless.”

Top photo via Google Maps, map via City of Alexandria

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Old Town historical site Gadsby’s Tavern (134 N. Royal Street) is the latest local institution scheduled to reopen, with tours starting again this Friday.

According to the city website, the museum will be open on Fridays and Saturdays from 11 a.m.-4 p.m. and Sundays from 1-4 p.m.

“In an effort to keep volunteers and visitors safe during the COVID-19 pandemic, City museums will initially reopen operating at 25% capacity, with reserved, timed tickets required to be purchased from The Alexandria Shop,” the city said in a news release. “Visitors will be able to tour the museum at their own pace and immerse themselves in the spaces and stories of the tavern.”

Tours of the facility are free for Alexandria residents and Gadsby’s Tavern Museum Society members, and $5 for non-residents.

Visitors are required to wear a mask inside the facility.

Other recent historical tour reopenings include:

Photo via Gadsby’s Tavern/Facebook

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Ever wonder what it feels like to sail around the Potomac River in a sloop of war? The Tall Ship Providence, which is a replica of the first naval warship commissioned by the Continental Congress in 1775, is open to the public for tours and cruises.

Tall Ship officially opened to the public over the July 4 weekend, and it was a fitting opening date for the 110-foot, 12 gun sloop of war. The replica, which was unveiled in time for the 1976 Bicentennial, is almost exactly like the original Providence, with the exception of an engine, electricity and some air conditioning in the Captain’s quarters.

Once on the ship, visitors will meet commanding officer Captain John Paul Jones (actor Jeremy Lawrence, who never breaks character), who will provide them with a tour of the ship and talk about how cramped life could be on such a small vessel with more than 70 other sailors. The sleeping arrangements, for instance, are uncomfortably close, as the galley was completely filled with hammocks.

“Indeed, that is a lot of men for a ship this size,” Jones said in a Scottish brogue. “But we must carry that many men so we can carry prize crews. Whenever we take a ship, we have to send sailors over to sail her into the nearest friendly port.”

The original Providence was destroyed to keep it from falling into the hands of the British in 1779, but throughout its tenure broke through a British naval blockade at Newport, captured 16 enemy ships and disrupted the fishing industry in Nova Scotia, which was a British food source.

The ship, which is sailed by a professional crew of five, has graced the Alexandria waterfront since arriving last summer. It took a little under a year to get U.S. Coast Guard and other inspections finished to ensure that the vessel was shipshape and ready to receive visitors.

Two hour-and-a-half-long cruises are currently available on Fridays and Saturdays from 4:30 to 6 p.m. and then from 6 to 7:30 p.m. The latter cruise includes beer and wine and light snacks.

“If all those sell out, we will then open up on Sunday and Thursday for cruises,” Clair Sassin, executive director of the Tall Ship Providence Foundation, told ALXnow. “In terms of charters, we’re open any day for a charter.”

The Tall Ship Providence Foundation also operates a visitor center and gift shop at One Cameron Street — underneath the Chart House Restaurant. The ship is ALX Promise certified, and the crew disinfects it after each voyage.

History lovers also can tune in every Tuesday with #TallShipTuesdays, which include stories from Jones and historical interpreters.

Staff photo by James Cullum

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Morning Notes

COVID-19 Cases increase by 10 — “Positive tests up 10 to 2,759 in the City 7-day Positivity Rate down to 5.6% 0 new hospitalizations Still safer at home, wash hands, wear masks and support our essential workers.” [Twitter]

Beyer Votes for Republican Colleague by Proxy — “Beyer is a popular proxy choice for House Democrats, since he represents a Northern Virginia district that is just across the Potomac River from Washington, D.C.” [Roll Call]

Volunteer Alexandria Hosting Emergency Disaster Response Class — “This class will teach you how to recognize violent activities, respond safely, provide immediate rescue tactics to the injured, and report them to 9-1-1 efficiently. The skills you will learn are transferable to countless situations involving traumatic injury, which include car accidents, household injuries, or an active shooter.” [Volunteer Alexandria]

WMATA Virtual Job Fair at 2 p.m. — “Attendees will meet the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMTA) team and learn more about immediate employment opportunities, including Metrobus Operator, Elevator/Escalator Apprentice, Special Police Officer and General Transit Mechanic. Apply after the event. Learn more about the event and register at the link below.” [City of Alexandria]

Delegate Herring and Councilman Chapman Hosting Chat on Policing at 6:30 p.m. — “Please join Councilman John Taylor Chapman for a Special Zoom Meeting With Delegate Charniele Herring, will give an update on the General Assembly Special Session in August about Criminal Justice Reform and Police.”  [Facebook]

Office of Historic Alexandria Harry Potter Trivia Night Canceled Over Racial Concerns — “While OHA intended to leverage a popular annual museum program to share elements of Alexandria’s African American history, residents have raised concerns about the event being perceived as disrespectful. Disrespect was never our intent and we have canceled the event. OHA strives to create historical programs that are uplifting and done through a lens of equity. Unfortunately, we failed to do so with this event. We are very proud of our African American history and always want to improve the visitor experience. We appreciate those community members letting us know their concerns.” [City of Alexandria]

Today’s Weather — It will be partly cloudy most of the day, there will be a high temperature of 94 degrees and a 50% chance of thunderstorms at 10 p.m. [Weather.com]

New Job: Ice Cream Ambassador — “At Jeni’s, we’re devoted to making better ice creams and bringing people together.” [Indeed]

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After months closed during the pandemic, the Lee-Fendall House and Garden (614 Oronoco Street) in Alexandria has reopened with new tours planned to focus on women and minorities throughout the home’s history.

The house, built in 1785, is a museum dedicated to covering the history of the families that owned the home and the slaves and servants that worked there over the years. In recent years, that has meant a renewed focus on learning more about the slaves that were forced to work at the house for the Lee family.

“As we work to reopen, we are re-dedicated to telling a fuller story,” Martha Withers, Executive Director of the Lee-Fendall House said in a newsletter. “The violent deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and the ensuing protests are reminders of how our nation struggles with racism and injustice born in the past and harbored in the present. We have an obligation not to ignore the racism experienced every day by African Americans and other Americans of color. We must use our knowledge of the past to shed light on these ongoing problems.”

Tours at the facility are limited to ten people or less, with all participants required to wear face masks.

“[The museum] will sanitize high-touch surfaces between each group of visitors and maintain social distancing of six feet during tours,” the museum staff said in the newsletter. “Volunteers, staff, and visitors wear masks in accordance with state regulations.”

The next tour for the house is Under the Same Roof: Enslaved and Free Servants at Lee-Fendall scheduled for Saturday, July 25. Tickets for the program are $10 and must be purchased in advance.

“As we work to broaden this story, we want to become a place where people can engage in historical understanding relevant to current issues,” Withers said. “To that end, we will continue to expand programs and exhibits that examine the lives of enslaved and free African Americans connected to our site, telling a more diverse story from the days of the early Republic through the upheavals of the 1960s.”

Photo via Lee-Fendall House

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If quarantine has you pining for the days of attending history lectures in Old Town, or if the new filmed version of Hamilton has put you in a revolutionary war mood, the recently reopened Lyceum (201 S. Washington Street) has a digital alternative planned tomorrow.

From  7-8:30 p.m. tomorrow (Thursday), the Alexandria History Museum at the Lyceum is planning to history lecture with local author John Maass about the Battle of Guilford Court House. The lecture will be hosted on Zoom. Tickets are $6 with a code to the chat sent on purchase.

The battle was a Pyrrhic victory for British Lieutenant-General Charles Cornwallis, who suffered significant losses and was forced to abandon his campaign to maintain British control of the Carolinas.

“Please join us on Zoom as Dr. Maass recounts the bloody Battle of Guilford Courthouse and the grueling campaign in the South that led up to it,” The Lyceum said in the event listing, “a crucial event on the road to American independence.”

For those wishing to visit The Lyceum in person, the museum is currently requiring visitors to purchase advance $3 tickets for a time slot. Visitors are required to wash their hands on entering and wear a face mask. Tickets are valid for groups of no larger than 10 people.

Photo via The Lyceum/Facebook

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