Alexandria, VA

A month before she died, Martha Washington was experiencing some intestinal discomfort. On April 22, 1802, she sent away for a quart bottle of the “best castor oil” that Edward Stabler had at his apothecary.

A copy of the note that Washington wrote is currently on display at the Stabler-Leadbeater Apothecary Museum at 105-107 S. Fairfax Street. It’s just one of many historical treasures from the country’s very first family in the apothecary’s storied history, which also includes ledgers with orders from George Washington’s doctors while he was president, orders from Martha Washington’s daughter Nelly Custis.

The simple note reads: “Mrs. Washington desires Mr. Stabler will send by the bearer, a quart bottle of his best castor oil, and the bill for it. – Mount Vernon, April 22, 1822.”

The museum, which has reopened, also has records showing that Robert E. Lee paid off his account in 1861, after he was refused the command of the Union army, resigned his commission and joined the Confederacy.

The apothecary was more than just a pharmacy. It was more like a CVS or Walgreens, and sold a variety of items, including paint, perfumes, cleaning products, pesticides and more. The company eventually owned more than 10 locations in Alexandria.

“The apothecary was the dealer in all things chemical,” Lauren Gleason, program coordinator and museum gift shop manager for the Office of Historic Alexandria, told ALXnow. “That’s why photography processing chemicals were sold originally at apothecaries. And we just continued with the practice of having our film developed at the pharmacy well through the 20th century.”

Edward Stabler founded the business in 1792, and it lasted for four generations, until his great grandson declared bankruptcy and closed shop in 1933. The original apothecary opened a few doors down, and moved into its present location in 1805.

The museum still has all of the original ingredients that were in the pharmacy when it closed in 1933, including cannabis, opium, Dragon’s Blood, Mandrake Root and Wolf’s Bane. Understandably, the list of items lines up well with the museum’s sold-out Harry Potter program.

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With photos, signs, artwork and letters, the City of Alexandria is documenting Alexandria’s response to the death of George Floyd.

The Office of Historic Alexandria (OHA) and the Alexandria Black History Museum have been collecting artifacts for months and are asking for photos from the public.

“George Floyd’s life mattered,” wrote Audrey Davis, director of the Alexandria Black History Museum. “His life story matters. His murder matters. He became part of a horrible trinity on May 25th when his killing came shortly after the murders of Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery. This trinity is just the most recent example of America’s horrible legacy of racial terror deaths.”

Floyd was killed by police in Minneapolis on May 25, and the event sparked outrage throughout the country, including in Alexandria. Portions of the city were shut down during the summer for protests and vigils, and the event even turned the spotlight on the Alexandria Police Department.

Due to the pandemic, donated objects will not be accepted until city museums reopen, according to OHA.

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The Freedom House Museum is planning for a spring opening, according to the Office of Historic Alexandria.

City Council will receive the news in its legislative meeting on Tuesday. The Office of Historic Alexandria will be unveiling its 2020-2025 strategic plan to Council, and the museum is being planned to open this spring.

According to a staff presentation, there will be temporary exhibits and the museum will begin a public engagement process over restoration plans and the interpretation of the site.

Alexandria completed the purchase of the former slave trading headquarters at 1315 Duke Street in March, but the pandemic forced museums across the city to close.

The building was the headquarters for five successive slave dealing firms between 1828 and 1861, including Franklin and Armfield, which was one of the largest domestic slave trading firms in the country.

“Freedom House is vital to telling Alexandria’s story,” Mayor Justin Wilson said in March. “What happened at 1315 Duke St. had a terrible and lasting impact on America. Freedom House encourages us to speak truth to power and delve deeper to confront the hard, honest truths about race, class and equity in this country.”

The only museums currently open are the Alexandria Archaeology MuseumAlexandria’s History Museum at The Lyceum and Gadsby’s Tavern Museum.

These museums are still closed:

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Nearly 70 years after taking the court as the first Black man to play in the NBA, Alexandria basketball legend Earl Lloyd was honored with a street in his name by the City Council on Saturday.

Council unanimously approved naming the 1000 block of Montgomery Street in Old Town “Earl F. Lloyd Way” in honor of the first Black man to ever play in the National Basketball Association. The street is located in the Parker-Gray neighborhood in the 1000 block of Montgomery Street between N. Patrick Street and N. Henry Street.

“We’re honoring a son of Alexandria, someone who made some very very significant contributions to our nation, and, and we’re proud to do so,” Mayor Justin Wilson said at a public hearing on Saturday (October 17).

Lloyd, who graduated from Parker-Gray High School, was an All-American athlete at West Virginia State University, and on October 31, 1950, at the age of 21 was the first Black player to play in an NBA game as a member of the Washington Capitols. He won an NBA championship five years later with the Syracuse Nationals, played in the league for a decade and later scouted and coached for the Detroit Pistons. Lloyd passed away in 2015.

Earl F. Lloyd Way will be added to signage, but won’t change the mailing addresses along the block, which is a practice that Wilson says will help in honoring more people down the road with more street naming.

“We are a very old city, and so we have a lot of history we have to recognize,” Wilson said. “We’ve actually run out of things to name, and so this actually opens up a lot of opportunities for us.”

The city’s African American Hall of Fame led the effort for the name change, and is working to unveil a statue of Lloyd at the at Charles Houston Recreation Center at the end of the month in honor of his first official NBA game.

Photo via City of Alexandria

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Alexandria’s Black residents have lived and worked along the Alexandria waterfront years before the city was founded in 1749, and a new African American Waterfront Heritage Trail helps to tell their stories.

The self-guided tour of the trail, which is a community initiative supported by the the city’s African American Heritage Trail Committee and the Office of Historic Alexandria, should take folks about 45 minutes to complete at a leisurely pace.

“In the 1820s, Alexandria became home to the largest domestic slave trading firm, which specialized in the sale and trafficking of enslaved African Americans from the Chesapeake to the Deep South,” according to the African American Waterfront Heritage Trail website. “The Civil War revolutionized social and economic relations, and newly freed African Americans found new job opportunities as a result of the waterfront’s industrialization. The Potomac River played an important role in leisure activities too, including picnicking, boating, and fishing, much as it does for Alexandrians and visitors today.”

The trail takes visitors to the waterfront at the foot of King Street and then to the corner of North Royal and Montgomery Streets.

“An amazing committee of community historians have put this amazing history trail together!” wrote City Councilman John Taylor Chapman on Facebook. “Who’s going to check out on the next sunny day?”

Participants can check out the 11 stops with a StoryMap.

An amazing committee of community historians have put this amazing history trail together!!! Who’s going to check out on the next sunny day?

Posted by John T. Chapman on Monday, October 5, 2020

Image via African American Waterfront Heritage Trail

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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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