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Curtains will be closing this Friday on a temporary tour of Gadsby’s Tavern Museum inspired by the musical “Hamilton” but an encore may already be in the works.

Tickets for the specialty tour, dubbed “Hamilton’s BFFs and Frenemies,” have already sold out for the summer run, which is ending this week, a city spokeswoman said. The city’s Office of Historic Alexandria is making plans to offer the same tour this fall at the museum, located at 134 N. Royal Street, though dates have not yet been set, she said.

The tour explains how George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and Aaron Burr each intersected with the historical tavern. It weaves in references to the musical — named for its titular character, Alexander Hamilton, and which suggests he was “frenemies” with Burr.

“Overall, whether [for] fans of the musical ‘Hamilton’ or just really into history, this tour dives into the challenges the young nation faced and how that played out at the local level,” says Michele Longo, the director of education and museum operations for the Office of Historic Alexandria. “You might think you know the story, but there is always more to discover.”

The tour plays up themes that are explored in the musical, too.

The people of color who play white Founding Fathers in “Hamilton” prompt viewers to think about the roles enslaved and free Black people had in the founding. Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Burr questions the agency regular Americans had in the Founding when he sings about his jealousy of missing secret dinner table meetings that determined the course of history.

“Alexandria became part of the District of Columbia because of the events that took place in the ‘room where it happened,'” says Longo, borrowing Burr’s famous line from the hit songs, “The Room Where It Happens.”

“Not only did this change the trajectory of the local economy, but it influenced how the free Black community in Alexandria grew,” said Longo. “We dive into all this and more during the tour.”


Fans of the musical may also catch guides quoting Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Jefferson. In a song about the 1800 presidential election, which provides a window into the animosity between him and his opponent, Burr, Jefferson asks, “Can we get back to politics?”

“Thomas Jefferson actually spent the night at Gadsby’s Tavern as part of the events leading up to him becoming president,” Longo said. “A few months later, he raised a glass to ‘unity’ during an inaugural celebration in Gadsby’s famous ballroom, right next to his VP Aaron Burr — can you imagine?”

The climax of the musical is the 1804 duel between Burr and Hamilton, when Burr fatally shot his opponent.

Gadsby’s Tavern Museum is composed of a tavern dating back to around 1785 tavern and the City Tavern and Hotel dating back to 1792. Longo says historians know when Washington, Jefferson, Madison and Burr visited the tavern because period newspaper articles provided a “who’s who” of attendees at notable events held there.

The tavern also knows when Jefferson spent the night there because of his “incredibly detailed account books” and when Washington dined there because of a thank you note in his diary, she said.

That these men orbited around the tavern provides another connection between the city and the nation’s founding, which Longo says touched everyone who lived in colonial Alexandria.

“From enslaved individuals to the wealthiest in town, their lives were impacted by the decisions made in this young nation,” she said.

If and when new tours open up this fall, more people may be able to test the tour’s thesis that Gadsby’s Tavern is — to quote a rapping Burr — “the room where it happened.”

Photo 1 via Flickr/AlanStudt

A few products on display at the Stabler-Leadbeater Apothecary Museum. (Staff photo by James Cullum)

Old Town’s Stabler-Leadbeater Apothecary Museum (105-107 S. Fairfax Street) is a fascinating place, and the Office of Historic Alexandria is looking for volunteers to help show it to visitors.

The museum contains a collection of medicinal herbs, shop furnishings, apothecary pottles and more that are largely original to the 141-year-old family business. The museum tells the story of medicine and business as they evolved in Alexandria. The museum has a collection of journals, letters, diaries and more — including a note from Martha Washington.

The museum also features a variety of special themed tours, detailing everything from the herbs referenced in the Outlander books/show to a tour of poisons.

“The Stabler-Leadbeater Apothecary Museum, part of the Office of Historic Alexandria, is recruiting volunteers to lead guided tours,” the City of Alexandria said in a release. “Training begins August 26 with an in-person workshop, continues with virtual evening classes, and wraps-up with a second in-person workshop on September 30. Participants will end the series ready to complete their tour certification.”

Volunteers are needed for both weekends and weekdays, particularly on Sundays and Mondays. Tour guides are required to host at least one four-hour shift per month.

Applications to become a guide at the museum are available online.

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You might know Brian Hilton better as George Washington, but soon, you’ll also know him as Albert Einstein.

For the last six years, Hilton has been Alexandria’s official portrayer of the first U.S. president at the George Washington Birthday Parade in Old Town and at dozens of annual events around the country. He was most recently invited by the National Park Service to appear as Washington on July 4 at Mount Rushmore.

“I want to speak in front of as many people as possible in order to educate about General Washington,” Hilton told us. “I want them to see just how extraordinary a person he was and why he is considered to be the indispensable man. If anyone was ever truly indispensable, that was George Washington.”

Like Washington, the 55-year-old Hilton stands six-feet-one in his Continental Army uniform, and in a low, hushed voice will rattle off any number of famous quotes. And with the 250th anniversary the signing of the Declaration of Independence a year away, Hilton’s schedule is starting to pile up.

Hilton teaches high school history in Henrico County. Raised in Fairfax County, he got his start in interpretive history by portraying President John F. Kennedy while attending West Springfield High School. He’s portrayed Kennedy more than 70 times since then, and has also done Patrick Henry and Woodrow Wilson.

Twenty years ago, Hilton started his public speaking business Hail To The Chief, which is managed by his wife, Mary Beth. The couple have two young sons.

Hilton, a history graduate of George Mason University, has studied Washington for decades and started portraying him in 2007. He was a guide and researcher at George Washington’s Mount Vernon estate for 10 years and even appears as the founding father for the Washington family’s annual reunions, before members of Congress as well as groups like the Sons and Daughters of the American Revolution.

Hilton’s newest obsession is Albert Einstein, and for the past eight years he’s been studying science, math and German in order to take the scientist on the road, so to speak.

ALXnow: What’s your closet look like?

Hilton: My closet is stocked with quite the 18th-century wardrobe. At the George Washington Birthday Parade, you might see me in my Continental Army uniform, but I’ve also got civilian dress from formal all the way down to farm clothes. I’d say about half of what I’ve got is 18th-century garb.

ALXnow: How did you get started portraying famous figures?

Hilton: For the longest time I portrayed President Kennedy — as early as when I was in high school for my AP U.S. History class. I got the bug right away.

ALXnow: What’s your favorite Washington quote?

Hilton: I really like most of what General Washington conveyed in his Circular Letter to the Governors of the Thirteen States dated June 8, 1783; his Farewell Address of September 19, 1796; and the following from a draft of his first inaugural address that was never used:

(T)he best institutions may be abused by human depravity; and that they may even, in some instances be made subservient to the vilest of purposes. Should, hereafter, those who are entrusted with the management of this government, incited by the lust of power and prompted by the supineness or venality of their constituents, overleap the known barriers of this Constitution and violate the unalienable rights of humanity: it will only serve to show, that no compact among men (however provident in its construction and sacred in its ratification) can be pronounced everlasting and inviolable. And if I may so express myself, that no wall of words, that no mound of parchment can be so formed as to stand against the sweeping torrent of boundless ambition on the one side, aided by the sapping current of corrupted morals on the other.

ALXnow: Do you sometimes feel like you’re channeling Washington and the other historical figures you portray?

Hilton: Yeah, that happens after about five minutes. It’s an exhilarating experience that takes me a little bit to come down from after a performance. I’ve loved the character-building experience of taking what’s generally agreed upon to be best of Washington and taking these deep dives into the lives of him and other individuals has been extremely rewarding.

ALXnow: Do people ask you to participate in partisan events?

Hilton: Definitely. I will not accept doing, in the persona of General Washington, the extremes when it comes to politics or religion. I don’t say anything that Washington didn’t say. I have studied him since before I was at George Mason University.

ALXnow: When can we next see you as George Washington?

Hilton: The exact date hasn’t been set, but I’ll be appearing at the Carlyle House in September.

ALXnow: Then the George Washington Birthday Parade in February…

Hilton: That’s right. You know, for people like me who portray Washington, President’s Day is what Christmas is like for Santa Claus.

ALXnow: Now that you’re prepping for Einstein, how are your math and science skills?

Hilton: I’ve always been fascinated by Albert Einstein. Mainly it’s just just getting ready when it comes to the whole mathematics side. I’m also studying a little Hebrew. I’ll be speaking English but with a German accent. I hope to portray him for colleges and universities, for think tanks and research facilities. So, it’s been a lot of math, the fluidity of spacetime, and getting all that down. I’ve got the general theory of relativity and the special theory and all of his papers from 1905 in particular. I’ve got all the Einstein equations down and I’ve got the quantum mechanics down, as well.

ALXnow: Will you wear your shoes without socks?

Hilton: That’s right. I will not be wearing socks. I go into more of a nerdy mode and, like Einstein, start thinking in pictures. There’s an absent-mindedness when it comes to his general appearance, and when you get the mustache on and the superannuated sheepdog look with the hair. It’s really quite something to see when put together.

Pieces of 18th-Century ships waiting to be scanned (Staff photo by Jay Westcott)

One year after Alexandria re-sunk historic ships into the pond at Ben Brenman Park, City Archeologist Eleanor Breen said studies show the unconventional preservation project is working as intended.

Back in 2018 during work on the Robinson Landing project, a group of somewhat intact hulls were discovered underground. They’d been scuttled beneath the ground, likely as part of the foundation of the new waterline.

Without proper water treatment, the water-logged timbers would grow damaged after being exposed to the surface. If they dry out, the wood will warp, shrink and crack. So while one of the ships was sent to Texas A&M for study, the city opted to send the other three back to Davy Jones’ Locker — specifically in Ben Brenman Pond.

While re-submerging ships to preserve has been done before, Breen said Alexandria’s project was still at a unique scale within the United States.

“It’s definitely an innovative storage solution,” Breen said. “It’s one they do in Europe often but not quite as frequently in the United States. There were similar ones in Maryland and Ohio, but this is far larger… One may be the largest 18th-century merchant ship that’s been excavated.”

Recently, Breen said divers went back to the wrecks in Ben Brenman Pond to see if the preservation methods have been working.

“They unwrapped them and checked on them with archeologists and conservators,” Breen said. “They did that detailed process and found that overall the plan is working as intended. They’re in stable condition… Everything is going as expected and the best news is a blanket of silt has started to accumulate on top of the timbers, replicating the original burial environment.”

Divers are scheduled to go back down for another check on the ships in Ben Brenman Pond in spring 2028.

Meanwhile, Breen said the ship at Texas A&M will likely remain there for another two and a half years undergoing conservation efforts before returning to Alexandria.


If you can sort out your archeology digs from your mystery goosepigs, there’s a trivia event tonight just for you.

The staff at the Carlyle House Historic Park and the Lee-Fendall House Museum have collaborated to create a new bi-weekly trivia event and tonight’s topic is focusing on something ALXnow readers should know well: Alexandria history.

The bi-weekly trivia contest at the Lee-Fendall House Museum & Garden (614 Oronoco Street) usually covers topics ranging from pop culture to general history, but the theme of the event tonight (Friday) is Alexandria history.

“Trivia nights are $10 a person which includes 1 drink ticket,” the event listing said. “Additional drinks can be bought at our cash bar. Teams may have up to 6 members on them. Registration slots are first come, first served, so we recommend paying ahead of time to save your spot. Trivia will take place rain or shine.”

The trivia contest is only open to contestants ages 21 or older.

Image via Facebook


The Office of Historic Alexandria (OHA) is hoping to take a hammer to a dozen later additions to the Freedom House Museum (1315 Duke Street) to take the building back to its mid-19th century look.

The museum was once the Franklin and Armfield Office, a slave trafficking hub that forcibly shipped thousands of Black men, women and children around the country between 1828 and 1861.

In a proposal submitted to the Board of Architectural Review (BAR) for the meeting on Wednesday, July 19, the OHA said the goal is to recreate the look of the building from 1828-1861 based on historic reports and Civil War-era photos.

According to the report, the work includes”

  • Repointing masonry walls
  • Masonry infill of window openings added after the period of significance
  • Removal/replacement or restoration of doors windows and shutters
  • Repaint all previously painted walls
  • Reveal and restore the historic sign
  • Siding replacement
  • Demolition of the south slope of the existing mansard roof and portions of the east and west gable ends

“The overall intent is to repair or restore each massing section of the building to the period of significance of that portion of the building, as defined in the Historic Structure Report,” the report said. “The museum will remain in operation throughout the construction.”

St. Paul’s Episcopal Church during the Civil War (photo via City of Alexandria)

Little fun fact about Alexandria: last week marked the 160th anniversary of Alexandria becoming the capital of Alexandria — kind of.

The Office of Historic Alexandria’s weekly newsletter noted that June 20, 1863, marked the start of Alexandria serving as the capital of “the Restored Government of Virginia.”

Francis Harrison Piermont served as governor, recognizing the abolition of slavery and the creation of West Virginia. The capital had been in Wheeling, but when West Virginia split from Virginia, the capital was moved to Alexandria from 1863-1865 before returning to Richmond after the war’s end.

The full write-up from This Week In Historic Alexandria is below:

On June 20, 1863, Alexandria became the capital of the Restored Government of Virginia with Francis Harrison Pierpont serving as governor.  Under Pierpont, a new Virginia constitution was issued in 1864 recognizing the abolition of slavery and creation of West Virginia. At the start of the Civil War, counties in northwestern Virginia opposed secession.  These counties had advocated for separate statehood long before the war started, but the U.S. Constitution would forbid states from being created with the borders of existing states without approval of that state’s legislature.  However, once the war began, the federal government recognized the City of Wheeling as the capital of the Restored Government, and within two years the new State of West Virginia was approved. At that time the Restored Government of Virginia moved from the new state to a new capital at Alexandria.  When the war ended in 1865, the Virginia state capital moved again to Richmond, which had acted as the capital of the Confederacy during the war years.

Douglass Cemetery has been damaged in recent flooding, photo courtesy Michael Johnson

Alexandria is finally making progress on fixing issues as a historic Black cemetery thanks in part to a city employee who spent years flagging ongoing problems at the site.

Douglass Memorial Cemetery (1421 Wilkes Street) has faced repeated flooding that has already washed away some of the grave markings.

The cemetery has been a burial site for Black Alexandrians since 1827 and was named after Frederick Douglass after the abolitionist leader died in 1895. Records who that around 2,000 people were buried in the cemetery until burials stopped in 1974.

The cemetery languished for years in disrepair until, at the behest of other descendants of those buried in the cemetery, city employee Michael Johnson started rallying the local community around fixing some of these issues and honoring the city’s dead.

At a City Council meeting earlier this year, Council member John Chapman called ongoing restoration efforts a “labor of love.”

“It’s great to see the work that’s going to be done this upcoming weekend, Juneteenth, but also city staff — shoutout to the Office of Historic Alexandria and T&ES — there’s an upcoming community meeting to talk about the next steps for Douglass Cemetary,” Chapman said. “I know that has been a process that’s been a couple of years in the making. It’s good to see that moving and getting the support and energy it needs.”

Johnson said the city started making minor, temporary repairs to the gazebo and walkway at the cemetery this week. Some of the bigger repairs are scheduled to kick off over the next two or three weeks.

“Right now, looking at taking care of the drainage problem, and then we’re going to move toward repairing some of the most damaged headstones that need to be cleaned or repaired,” Johnson said. “We’ve been making a lot of strides with the help of the Office of Historic Alexandria.”

A Juneteenth remembrance event is being held at the cemetery tomorrow (Saturday) from 10-11 a.m.

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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This upcoming Monday is Juneteenth, a federal holiday celebrating the end of slavery in the United States. Around Alexandria, that means some services will be reduced or fully unavailable.

Yesterday, the City of Alexandria released a list of affected local services.

The highlights are that parking enforcement will be suspended across the city for metered spaces, residential permit parking districts, and areas with signed parking limits. However, this suspension of enforcement only applies to legal parking spaces. Parking in areas with no parking signs, like parking in loading zones or parking in spaces for persons with disabilities without the proper permit, will still get a ticket.

Because of the nature of the holiday, Alexandria’s Black History Museum and Freedom House will have extended hours for those looking to become more educated on local Black history.

“On Monday June 19, enjoy special extended hours from 11 a.m.-5 p.m. at Alexandria Black History Museum and Freedom House Museum,” a release from the city said. “At 10 a.m., come to the Black History Museum for a special encore Storytime and craft with Lillian S. Patterson.”

Alexandria’s courts, Animal Welfare League of Alexandria, the DMV and the impound facility will all be closed.

The full release is below:

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