Newsletter

This week saw possibly the most contentious meeting between the City Council and School Board in years for a debate over School Resources Officers that ultimately culminated in the Council voting to temporarily restore the program. The reversal has been advocated by school officials and some parents, but was lamented by advocacy group Tenants and Workers United that saw it as a step-backward for racial justice.

The following day, ACPS was also hit with lockdowns at Alexandria City High School’s King Street and Minnie Howard campuses and Hammond Middle School, though police later said initial calls about a school shooting were unfounded. At the same time, a gas leak near Potomac Yard led to two homes being evacuated and the temporary closure of Richmond Highway.

Here are this week’s most-read stories.

Top Stories

  1. Man injured and juvenile arrested after fight at the McDonald’s in Bradlee Shopping Center
  2. In dramatic reversal, City Council brings back school resource officers to Alexandria City Public Schools
  3. Planned bus rapid transit route from Alexandria to Tysons rolls ahead
  4. Alexandria City High School on lockdown after anonymous threat
  5. Police: Call about shooting at Hammond Middle School unfounded
  6. City rethinks waterfront flood mitigation plans after seeing the price tag
  7. Tenants and Workers United upset by City Council restoration of school resource officer program
  8. City Council to consider swapping parking for ‘parklets’
  9. Man attempts to steal $1,850 in merchandise from Restaurant Depot with discarded receipt
  10. Project crowdsourcing Alexandria history aims to go nationwide next year
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Postcard for the Beachcomber restaurant in Alexandria (photo via Ken Lopez/OurHistoryMuseum)

A photo of a horse dead on the street, missives between sweethearts during the Civil War, a 1909 postcard for a local drugstore: OurHistoryMuseum is a digital gallery of local oddities from private collectors around town. It’s a love letter to the kinds of small local history that don’t make it into physical museums but might go unknown to the public as they gather dust on a local shelf.

Now, OurHistoryMuseum founder Ken Lopez is hoping to take his local project nationwide.

The project started last year after a stroke forced Lopez to reevaluate his priorities. Until March 2020, Lopez had been running a litigation consultant company. Lopez had a small museum set up in his office devoted to all-things-Alexandria, and most of what’s on the site today are items pulled from his own private collection.

“I’ve been in Alexandria my whole life and I’ve been collecting my whole life,” Lopez said.

But in March, right as things started to shut down from the pandemic, he suffered a stroke. It was a perilous moment, but Lopez has tried to stay upbeat about it.

“It was kind of the perfect time to have a stroke,” Lopez said. “I would have been so worried in a week anyway. I kind of got to skip the first few months of that… I ran another company for 25 years, and then I had a stroke. This started from a hospital bed. It’s something I thought about for a long time. I had a prototype ten years ago but the technology wasn’t ready yet, but I’d been thinking about it for a long time.”

Lopez says the project’s goal is to “save history.” His hope is for the site to be a protection for artifacts in homes that might be dumped when the owner dies and the collection passes to someone who doesn’t have the same vested interest in that history. The idea is that people will be able to upload pictures or scans of items, documents, and other assorted relics of the past and tap into a network of local history buffs who can help identify, explain, or catalog what the item is.

There have already been some results to this end on the site. Lopez had a difficult time deciphering a letter between merchants in Alexandria and Philadelphia, and Lopez said contributors helped fill out the nine words he couldn’t parse out. That crowdsourcing led to the letter being decoded and completing an understanding of what the letter was about.

“I’ve been going to people’s houses in Old Town my whole life,” Lopez said. “One of the things I’ve noted is everybody seems to have one or two items related to Alexandria history, whether that’s a newspaper clipping or an old letter or photo. Those things are at risk. I look at them and I see those things at risk. I have a collection that almost got scattered to the wind because I would have died and potentially no one would have had an interest in the 500 items in my collection.”

The idea, Lopez said, is that even items that can’t be saved will at least have some type of preservation.

“Saving a photo of a photo is not so bad, or a photo of an old letter,” Lopez said. “It’s not ideal, but if it’s going to get thrown away, I’d rather have a record.”

OurHistoryMuseum is filled with pages and pages of small relics like an Alexandria arrest warrant for assault and battery from 1794 and a list of patients at L’Ouverture Hospital, a local hospital for Black soldiers during the mid-19th century. Lopez said his favorite item in the collection is a Civil War photo of a local hospital. He suspects is from renowned photographer Matthew Brady, but he can’t say for sure.

“It’s a serious adrenaline hit as you’re finding some of this stuff out, that you’re finding these things out for the first time,” Lopez said. “I find that to be incredible. It’s that feeling that drove me to start this company. I want to give other people a chance to have that feeling.”

The most popular post on the site has been an article posted last month about the history of 1315 Duke Street, a former epicenter of America’s slave trade that’s in the process of being overhauled into a new museum dedicated to telling the stories of those trafficked through the site. Lopez said the topic is particularly important to Alexandria’s history, both to recognize the prominence of slavery and the suffering of Black Alexandrians in the city’s past and as recognition of the struggle to end slavery.

Lopez has put together an app he’s currently tinkering with, but he’s planning to release it to the public early next year. On release, the app will be free. His goal is for towns like Alexandria across the country to have their own little communities of local historians helping to catalog pieces of their history.

“I think there are a lot of cities and towns just like this one,” Lopez said. “Then, when you look at the whole world, there’s an awful lot of cities and towns. My hope is to start getting people to snap a photo of what they have, upload it to an app, and thus: save a piece of history.”

When he got started with developing the app, Lopez said he worried a lot about the business side of it and how it could be monetized, but in recent months Lopez says he’s learned to let go of those concerns and just let the app out into the world to try and do some good and worry about the rest later.

“Over my 30 years in business, I’ve made a lot of healthy, smart business contacts,” Lopez said. “In six months, switched from ‘here’s all the ways we’re going to make money off of this’ to “let’s figure it out later.’ I think that’s the right idea, to put something out there for free and see what we can do, see what people are interested in. It’s much easier to raise interest from investors than it is to recover from a bad start with the public. That’s kind of the direction I’m going with it.”

Photo via Ken Lopez/OurHistoryMuseum

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St. Elmo neighborhood (photo via Stonebridge Associates Inc.)

As plans to redevelop the Oakville Triangle move forward, part of that revitalization could involve the resurrection of an older neighborhood name: St. Elmo.

There are remnants of the St. Elmo name, like the coffee shops in Del Ray and North Old Town, but by and large, it’s one that’s fallen by the wayside. According to an application, developer Stonebridge Associates is hoping to turn a road through the Oakville Triangle into St. Elmo Way as a tie to the old neighborhood.

“The Oakville Triangle Property is bounded on the north by the Historic Subdivision of St. Elmo that is one of the subdivisions that is part of the larger Del Ray Community,” the application said. “Prior to the establishment and dedication of Calvert Street and Swan Avenue in the 1920’s there existed [a] private access road connecting the interior parcels of what is now Oakville Triangle to Raymond Avenue that formed an important connection between Oakville Triangle and St. Elmo Subdivision… Stonebridge Associates, Inc. choose the name St. Elmo Way for the street referred to in the approval of a CDD Concept Plan as “New Road A” to reference the historic connection between Oakville Triangle and St. Elmo subdivision and the Del Ray Community.”

The St. Elmo neighborhood was separated from Del Ray by a racetrack. City documents note that Del Ray and St. Elmo were some of the earliest commuter suburbs, owing to the advent of accessible transit between Alexandria and D.C. at the end of the 19th century.

“Del Ray and St. Elmo are early examples of commuter suburbs, since one of the first inter urban electric railways in the country provided a rapid means of travel for workers going between Washington and Alexandria,” a city sign noted.

In 1908, Del Ray and St. Elmo merged into the Town of Potomac. The town was formed to bring street lighting and street repair into the area, the Alexandria Gazette reported, and despite touting itself as a progressive community, Black Alexandrians were forbidden from owning property in Potomac. The town was annexed by Alexandria in 1930 and the neighborhood, St. Elmo included, was turned into Del Ray.

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Alexandria brewery Port City Brewing is bringing back an ale next week at an event that marks the anniversary of one of the city’s most famous urban legends: the Female Stranger.

The event is scheduled for next Thursday, Oct. 14, from 3-9 p.m. at Port City Brewing (3950 Wheeler Avenue). For every 16 oz pour, the brewery said $1 will be donated to the Gadsby’s Tavern Museum (134 N Royal Street).

Long Black Veil, which first debuted in 2014, makes its annual return at the event to coincide with the anniversary of the Female Stranger’s death in 1816.

Long story short: a woman arrived sick on a ship in 1816 and her husband swore the local doctor to secrecy about their identity — only inscribing “Female Stranger” on her gravestone after she died in Gadsby’s Tavern on October 14, 1816. Today, visitors still leave flowers at her grave and it’s rumored that she haunts Gadsby’s Tavern. There’s endless speculation about who the Female Stranger was, including suggestions that she may have been Theodosia Burr.

The ale, at least in past years, has been described as piney with citrusy hops that mingle with notes of coffee and dark chocolate, according to the kind of people who describe beers like that. The event is also planned to include a Rocklands Barbeque food truck.

“So toast to the Female Stranger, Alexandria’s most famous urban legend, at Port City Brewing Co, Alexandria’s most famous brewery!” the brewery said in a press release. “Staff of the Museum will be there to tell the tale… and perhaps the famous lady will make an appearance at some point in the evening.”

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Morning Notes

On Wednesday (September 29), 757 Alexandria City High School seniors in government classes participated in a mock election, and voted for governor, lieutenant governor, the House of Delegates seat in the 46th District, Commonwealth’s attorney and Sheriff. The results were not made public, as the unofficial voting was just an exercise. (Via Claire Going/ACPS)

Aslin Beer Co. opens new scratch kitchen in Alexandria — “For the past two years, Chef Taylor Gates has been learning about pizza and dough — and now the taproom at Aslin Beer Co. in Alexandria’s West End is ready to serve it up. Aslin is opening a new scratch kitchen concept this week called Knead.” [Alexandria Living]

City Council approves additional eviction prevention resources — “City Council’s decision funds $457,000 for two service navigator and two housing relocator positions; storage assistance for household belongings; and additional legal services provided by the Legal Aid Justice Center to assist people at risk for eviction due to the COVID-19 pandemic.” [City of Alexandria]

Inova Alexandria Hospital brings peer recovery to the emergency room — “Patients visiting the E.R. for a substance-related crisis can speak with a specialist once they are medically stable. The idea is to help them take that first step toward recovery.” [Zebra]

Today’s weather — “Plentiful sunshine. High 74F. Winds NNW at 5 to 10 mph… A mostly clear sky (in the evening). Low 51F. Winds light and variable.” [Weather.com]

New job: Employee Rotation Program with the Office of Historic Alexandria — “Work involves writing, editing and planning layout of brochures and flyers, newspaper articles, press releases, and/or planning and implementing publicity and fundraising campaigns. Work requires the exercise of creativity, independent judgment, and a familiarity with Alexandria’s African American history. The work is performed under general supervision of the Director of the Alexandria Black History Museum in consultation with the Director of OHA.” [Governmentjobs.com]

Via Claire Going/ACPS

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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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What a hot week in Alexandria. Here is the rundown.

Our top story this week was on the five men arrested after shots were fired in Old Town last month. There were quite a few crime incidents to report on, in fact, including a man who was arrested in the Landmark area after shooting his cat and a man arrested for selling marijuana and illegally possessing a gun.

Weather-wise, temperatures were in the high 90s this week, as the city once again offered cooling centers for residents needing shelter from the elements.

On Friday, HUD Secretary Marcia L. Fudge visited The Spire affordable housing complex in the West End. Fudge briefly met Mayor Justin Wilson and Congressman Don Beyer (D-8th) for a tour of the facility, as she later touted the Biden Administration’s Built Back Better agenda.

Have you been getting mite bites? You’re not alone. According to our weekly poll, a vast majority of the 600+ respondents reported getting bitten.

Important stories

Top stories

  1. Five arrested after shots fired in Old Town North
  2. Alexandria updates COVID-19 guidance as cases increase
  3. Alexandria Police say drug debt was behind West End murder
  4. Child neglect suspect arrested after evading Alexandria police for six months
  5. Alexandria opens up on details for new guaranteed basic income program
  6. Amy DuVall quit her career as an environmental lawyer in D.C. to bake Italian cookies in Alexandria
  7. Former ACPS administrator Tammy Ignacio says experience matters in School Board bid
  8. Poll: Have you gotten the infamous mite bite in Alexandria?
  9. Development on West End lot could signal the start of Mark Center overhaul
  10. Parker-Gray development asks for more density and less parking
  11. ACPS is not requiring staff to get vaccinated before school starts systemwide August 24

Have a safe weekend!

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COVID US Honor Quilt project sponsored by Del Ray Artisans, courtesy Office of Historic Alexandria, donated by Amy Gareis

The Office of Historic Alexandria (OHA) is working through a new project that will help educate on a period of the city’s history rife with confusion and upheaval: last year.

In an office where items considered artifacts are usually arrowheads or ship timbers, City Historian Daniel Lee said his office has started a different kind of collection.

“We’ve started a collection of artifacts from the pandemic, like masks and signs,” Lee said. “It’s to chronicle, to a large extent, messages about how quickly things changed; whether that’s wearing masks or social distancing and washing hands. It’s at times difficult to remember where we’ve come from and how the pandemic has changed how we do our daily lives.”

The scope of that preservation work extends beyond the pandemic. Lee said the OHA has also been collecting items and stories from the Black Lives Matter protests.

“Obviously, pandemic isn’t the only thing that’s happened in the last year-and-a-half,” he said. “The fight for racial justice, especially since the murder of George Floyd, that initially caused us to collect artifacts related to the protests of George Floyd, but it’s become a larger project called the Black Lives Remembered project with a focus on racial justice in the larger context.”

Lee said the work on preservation has a two-fold goal: for those who lived through 2020 to look back on the last year, and to help future generations understand what life was like.

“The experiences we’re going through are historic,” Lee said. “That’s worthy of collecting and worthy of remembering, and hopefully that things change.”

Recognition of historic times as they’re being lived through can be sort of a mixed bag, Lee said. There are plenty of relics from the founding of the Lyceum in 1838 or the launch of Alexandria’s library network. Lee said those were thought of, even at the time, as history-making.

“As time has gone on; we have a tendency to not think in terms of how future generations will remember us, that’s not our chief concern,” Lee said. “We have an oral history project, which has existed since the 1980s. A lot of times what surprises me is that people who have done a lot in the city don’t think their experience as history. Schools desegregated during their lifetimes, isn’t that a big deal? It’s hard when you’re living through it to think about the future.”

Another example is the 1918 Spanish Flu epidemic, which Lee said had an impact in Alexandria, but there wasn’t much local recorded or saved from when it happened. Read More

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Morning Notes

Residents divided over plan to rename Lee Street — “For some residents, the news came as a welcome surprise and a step toward removing Confederate namesakes from the city’s streets and honoring figures or ideas they deem more worthy. For others, the petition represented an attempt to erase the city’s connection to commander of the Confederate Army Robert E. Lee, who grew up in Alexandria and has long been a focal point of the city’s history tourism.” [Alex Times]

Basic income pilot starts this fall in Alexandria — “Bolstered by nearly $60 million in federal pandemic relief money, the independent jurisdiction in Northern Virginia plans to begin sending $500 debit cards to 150 families each month for two years, starting sometime this fall… Alexandria is funding its new basic income initiative with $3 million in American Rescue Plan money.” (dcist)

Grocery delivery store Foxtrot under construction in Old Town — “According to a report by Supermarket News, Foxtrot’s expansion to Virginia is part of a larger effort to open 50 new stores within the next two years. Foxtrot’s new Alexandria location will be situated prominently at the intersection of King Street and Washington Street.” [Alexandria Living]

‘Holy Cow’ names burger after Noah Lyles — “Congrats to Alexandrian Noah Lyles for bringing home the Bronze!!! Holy Cow Del Ray is celebrating with a BOTM in his honor. #visitdelray #titanpride #olympics2020″ [Facebook]

Today’s weather — “Mostly sunny skies. High 91F. Winds S at 10 to 15 mph… Mostly cloudy. A stray shower or thunderstorm is possible. Low 68F. Winds S at 10 to 15 mph.” [Weather.com]

New job: Alexandria police latent print examiner — “WE’RE HIRING! Come join our team here at the Alexandria Police Department. We have a job opening for a Latent Print Examiner. Click the link for details about the job and how to apply: bit.ly/3lwxXty” [Twitter]

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Brandon Byrd can actually cook.

In recognition of Juneteenth, last month the owner of Goodies Frozen Custard & Treats in Old Town partnered with Rachel Tracey of D.C.-based Historic America tours for their first Soul Food Saturday. So far, meals have included shrimp and grits and Jamaican jerk chicken.

“Growing up and watching my mom and my grandmother cook brings a lot of the inspiration to the food,” Byrd said. “It’s what I grew up with.”

In Tracey’s ‘Lunch & Learn’ food tour series, she guides groups to historic sites in a multi-sensory walking tour. Customers use interactive tablets as they stop by Market Square, Christ Church, the Carlyle House, Alfred Street Baptist Church and Freedom House. They smell tobacco — one of Alexandria’s cash crops of the 17th and 18th centuries — and then wrap up the experience with a home-cooked soul food lunch at Goodies, usually followed by frozen custard.

“It’s important for us to tell a full and inclusive narrative,” Tracey said. “We talk about the Trans-Atlantic Migration, where people were brought over to Colonial America. There’s also the trans-Atlantic food migration. There are foods that we can directly trace back to Africa, and so we share those connections on the tour.”

One of Tracey’s favorite stories is about Hercules Posey, the personal chef to George Washington. While walking along the grounds of Christ Church, Tracey will talk about Posey’s escape from slavery, and well as Washington’s recovery attempts before being granted freedom after the founding president’s death in 1799.

“Washington loved his cooking and took Hercules with him when he was operating the government out of Philadelphia,” Tracey said. “There was a rule in Philadelphia at that time that if any slaves were in the city for six months to the day that they were automatically set free. So, Washington would make sure that (his slaves)… would go home to Mount Vernon for a bit before they hit that six month mark and come back.”

Tickets for the experience cost $95 per person, and Byrd isn’t yet sure what’s on the menu for the next meal, which will be on Saturday, August 21.

“I haven’t exactly figured it out yet,” Byrd said. “I’m thinking about something with black-eyed peas and fried okra for next month.”

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