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506 N. Overlook Drive (image via North Ridge Citizens’ Association)

A new report from the Office of Historic Alexandria outlined the fascinating and tumultuous lives of the Black residents who carved out a life for themselves in the city after the Civil War — and whose home (506 N. Overlook Drive) could soon be faced with demolition and redevelopment.

There were a lot of unanswered questions and urban legends about the Hampshire Fractious house in North Ridge when redevelopment of the property started working through city bureaucracy, starting with approval of a plan to subdivide the property. Walt Whitman, for instance, was rumored to have worked at the house, but there’s no evidence to support this claim.

The true story pieced together by Garrett Fesler and the Office of Historic Alexandria weaves the story of Hampshire Fractious and other residents of the house with the city’s involvement in the slave trade and the lives of contrabands in the city after the war — though some of this is based on reading between the lives on census data and historical context clues.

The first documentation of Hampshire Fractious, who would go on to own the property, is in 1865.

According to documents, his mother Page Fractious arrived in Alexandria in 1864 at the age of 90 years old from Winchester, Virginia,” the report said. “Freedmen’s Bureau records indicate that Hampshire was caring for his elderly and infirm mother a year later in 1865. Fractious may well have accompanied his mother to Alexandria in 1864, possibly as contrabands. If so, then his absence in federal censuses and other primary documents may be because he was born into slavery.”

Records indicate that in 1870, Fractious lived on Cameron Street near the intersection with N. West Street with Cyrus Fractions. It’s possible that this could be the same Sy Fractins that appears in records from Alexandria slave traders Franklin and Armfield in 1834 before he was shipped to New Orleans.

“Rather remarkably, a Black man named S. Fraction is listed as living in Halifax, Nova Scotia in 1838,” the report said. “If this is the same man who was taken to New Orleans in 1834, he may have somehow escaped enslavement and made his way to Nova Scotia, a well-known enclave for escaped slaves. Some 35 years later, according to an 1870 Alexandria city directory, a Cyrus Fractions resided with Hampshire Fractions at a property on Cameron Street near its intersection with N. West Street, an indication that the two men were related, possibly as brothers, and further suggesting that Hampshire may have been enslaved as a younger man like his possible brother Cyrus/Sy.”

This possibility is complicated, though, by records of a Sirus Fractious in Baltimore and a Cyrus Fractions in Illinois on the 1880 federal census, so it isn’t guaranteed that the Cyrus Fractions was the same S. Fractins who was taken from Alexandria to New Orleans as a slave in 1834.

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What a week in Alexandria. Here are some of the highlights.

The Alexandria City Council on Wednesday approved its Fiscal Year 2022 $770.7 million budget on Wednesday, and it includes a 2 cent real estate tax reduction. It’s the first time that’s happened in 15 years, and the budget also fully funds Alexandria City Public Schools’ request and includes a 1% raise for city and state employees.

But perhaps the biggest news of the week came with City Councilman Mo Seifeldein’s proposal to eliminate School Resource Officer funding from the budget. The effort was supported along by Vice Mayor Elizabeth Bennett-Parker, Councilman Canek Aguirre and Councilman John Taylor Chapman, who voted along with the group after failing to save the program in a last-minute effort.

Crime stories dominated many headlines, and Police Chief Michael Brown spoke with us this week about his department’s efforts to reduce destructive elements throughout the city. More from that interview will be published next week.

In this week’s poll, we asked about the importance of political endorsements for local candidates. Out of 222 responses, 48% (107 votes) don’t consider endorsements while voting; 39% (86 votes) said endorsements influence their decision; and 14% (29 votes) feel that endorsements hold a lot of sway.

Election stories

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  1. Parking issues plague Potomac Yard, city looks to create residential parking district
  2. Knife pulled on woman who chases would-be thieves in Old Town
  3. D.C. man arrested after 130 mph chase leads to crash on Interstate 495
  4. Police: Armed robberies occur minutes apart in Del Ray and Arlandria
  5. Two injured in hit-and-run in Old Town, driver leaves car and flees on foot
  6. Too noisy? City Council is considering revising Alexandria’s noise ordinance
  7. Alexandria City Council to end School Resource Officer program at Alexandria City Public Schools
  8. Alexandria man arrested for firing gun at 7-Eleven door near Braddock Road Metro station
  9. Here’s the order that City Council candidates will appear on the ballot for the June 8 democratic primary
  10. JUST IN: Power outages across Alexandria as strong winds hit the city
  11. What’s next for GenOn and the rest of Old Town North?

Have a safe weekend!

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506 N. Overlook Drive (image via North Ridge Citizens’ Association)

(Updated 2:30 p.m.) A fight to save a 19th century home in the North Ridge neighborhood is about to head to the City Council after nearby residents appealed an earlier Planning Commission decision.

The owner of the house at 506 N. Overlook Drive is seeking a permit to adjust the property lines for two parcels on the site, the first steps toward what will eventually involve tearing down the house on the property.

The home was built in 1878 by Hampshire Fractious, a freed Black man who lived in the city sometime in the late 19th century.

Nearby residents fought throughout the city process to try and save the house, but the Planning Commission approved the subdivision, although with a requirement that staff be able to access the house and study it to see if there is any remaining historic value.

According to a news release from the City of Alexandria, the City council will review the public appeal at the Saturday, May 15, meeting:

Public Hearing and Consideration of an appeal of the Planning Commission’s April 8, 2021 decision to approve a Preliminary Plat of a Subdivision (SUB #2020-00009) at 506 North Overlook Drive to re-subdivide two existing lots.

Image via North Ridge Citizens’ Association

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A subdivision that could lead to the demolition of a 19th century Alexandria home got its recommendation of approval from the Planning Commission Thursday night, but included a Death Star exhaust port-type hole that could blow up the process down the road.

The owner of the house at 506 N. Overlook Drive is seeking a permit to adjust the property lines for two parcels on the site, the first steps toward what will eventually involve tearing down the house on the property.

The home was built in 1878 by Hampshire Fractious, a freed Black man who lived in the city sometime in the late 19th century. Not a lot is known about Fractious, and much of the historical legends that came up about the home over the last few months have little basis in reality (Walt Whitman has no known connection to the house, for instance).

The house is not listed on the city’s register of properties over 100 years old, but staff said that was in large part due to a timing issue several years ago when one of the pervious owners had attempted to go through the paperwork to have that designation applied, but it was never finalized.

The applicant noted in the meeting that much of the interior of the house had been gutted and overhauled within the last ten years.

“The interior been completely gutted and redone about 10 years ago,” said Zachary Williams, an attorney for the applicant. “There’s nothing original inside the house. If there was any historical significance it was erased long prior to our owning the property.”

But neighbors said all they’re asking is to see whether or not the house is as historic as is claimed before plans for demolition move forward.

“This house may be one of the only post-Bellum residents built by Black residents still standing,” said Charles Kent, past President of the North Ridge Citizens’ Association. “We’re asking for city staff to access before irreversible changes are made.”

The discussion at the Planning Commission meeting for the subdivision last night showed a division between the more strict-interpretation, by-the-book interpretation of the city’s authority from staff and a city attorney and the more leeway Planning Commission members found in interpreting some of the city’s conditions for approval.

While staff argued that the historical aspect of the house couldn’t be considered as part of the subdivision request, Planning Commission member Dave Brown led the ultimately successful push to include a requirement in approval that historical analysis experts in city staff be given access to the property to make an assessment and determine the historic value.

Brown’s core argument was that subdivision requests can be denied if there’s potential to harm neighbors, and approving a subdivision without knowing more about the historic value of the house could be a detriment to the neighborhood.

“At this point, in the absence of a historical analysis, we don’t have adequate information to make a judgement about one of the fundamental criteria we have to make a judgement about to vote on the subdivision,” Stephen Koenig summarized. “I think I follow that and have a sympathy for that.”

Brown included access to the house as condition for approval, saying that if the analysis by staff found that there was little left to preserve then there weren’t any grounds for deny the subdivision request when it reached City Council. But if the analysis came back saying there was historical value, then it was an issue the City Council could address with more awareness and understanding of what was being discussed.

Brown’s motion, and the recommendation of approval with his condition added, were both unanimously approved by the Planning Commission.

Image via North Ridge Citizens’ Association

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The North Ridge Citizens’ Association has launched a Change.org petition to save a 100-year old home in the neighborhood from development.

The home tucked away behind some trees at 506 N. Overlook Drive was built sometime in the late 19th century, although exactly when is a matter of some disagreement. The home was owned by Hampshire Fractious (page 12), a freed Black man who lived in the city sometime in the late 19th century.

It sold for $1.2 million late last year, according to real estate website Redfin. The new owner, JS Investment LLC, plans to subdivide the property and build two new homes.

The petition currently has 624 signatures with a goal of 1000.

“North Ridge is about to lose one of its most cherished and symbolic structures,” the North Ridge Citizens’ Association said in the petition. “The new owner of 506 N. Overlook Drive is proposing to demolish this historic Civil War era house, subdivide the property, and build 2 new houses in its place. This house was built in 1850, owned by a free African American man named Hampshire Fractious in the years immediately after the Civil War, and is said to have been used as a hospital during the war. It is listed as a Documented Historic Site in the 1992 Alexandria Master Plan for Historic Preservation.”

A Washington Post article from 1992 similarly cites the home as being pre-Civil War and repeats the story that it was used as a field hospital. The Alexandria Master Plan for Historic Preservation lists the house (PDF page 69) as having been built in 1878 — over a decade after the Civil War ended. In a report on the subdivision reapplication, staff recommended approval.

“In summary, proposed Lots 500 and 501 would adhere to all subdivision and R-8 zone requirements,” staff said. “The lots are substantially similar in character as other similarly situated lots within the original subdivision.”

Staff said in the report that the building is not on the city’s list of buildings over 100 years old, despite the building being at the top of the list on the Master Plan for Historic Preservation’s list of buildings constructed before 1900.

The item is scheduled for review at the Planning Commission meeting on Tuesday, March 2.

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The Lindsay Cadillac dealership (1511 N. Quaker Lane) straddling Kenwood Avenue near North Ridge could soon be demolished and rebuilt as a new Volvo and Lexus dealership — with a few additional public improvements.

In an application headed to the Planning Commission on Tuesday, Jan. 5, the Lindsay Company is proposing to replace the existing lot and buildings with three new buildings along with surface, underground, and rooftop parking decks. The buildings will replace a dealership built in 1949 and an office building built in 1967.

“The Lindsay Family has been operating car dealerships in the community since the 1960s,” the company said in the application. “The existing dealerships have created millions of dollars in tax revenue for the City of Alexandria, and the Lindsay’s have been outstanding corporate citizens through their relationship with the surrounding neighborhood and through their participation in and contribution charitable endeavors throughout the City and beyond.”

As part of the application, the company is offering several improvements to the area, including:

  • A $20,000 contribution for maintenance and operation of the existing bike share facility on Radford Street.
  • A voluntary contribution of $309,697 to the Affordable Housing Trust Fund;
  • Public art elements in form of a contribution to the public arts fund or to be incorporated on-site consistent with the City’s Public Art Policy equivalent to a value of at least $83,999, or $0.30 per gross square foot of development;
  • Increased landscaping and an increase to the 25% crown cover requirement;
  • Streetscape and pedestrian improvements, including new street trees and tree wells along each of the street frontages and a mid-block crosswalk across Kenwood Avenue; and,
  • Construction of modernized architecture in compliance with the Green Building Policy.

The lot will also include publicly accessible electric vehicle charging.

Images via City of Alexandria

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(Updated 10:50 p.m.) When the City of Alexandria builds new schools, a new ordinance change (Item 9) could mean they’re a little larger than they used to be.

A new ordinance proposed for the Tuesday (September 1) Planning Commission meeting would “streamline and modernize the zoning regulations,” according to a staff report.

“School enrollment has been growing significantly over the last couple of years and is expected to continue to grow in the foreseeable future,” staff said in the report. “Since 2007, ACPS has faced rapid increases in enrollment and projects continued growth in its student population through FY 2029 — reaching over 18,000 students by that time.”

The update coincides with ACPS’ modernization plan to address capacity issues and aging facilities, including potential rebuilds like the Douglas MacArthur Elementary redevelopment up for review at the same meeting. The proposed MacArthur redevelopment is planned for 0.6 Floor Area Ratio (FAR). The new ordinance allows that level of density by-right — meaning no special permits are required — and an increase above 0.6 FAR with a special use permit (SUP). Building height remains unchanged, however, at a 60 foot limit. Read More

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Opponents of the Alexandria Presbyterian Church’s expansion went into Saturday’s public hearing knowing it was an uphill fight, and ultimately the City Council unanimously struck down the appeal.

The City Council voted unanimously to uphold the Planning Commission’s ruling in November that Alexandria Presbyterian Church could expand by-right from a 3,400 square foot building that can’t hold its congregation to a 22,794 square foot gothic-inspired church.

Neighbors, who rallied around a petition to appeal the Planning Commission’s ruling, came out to the public hearing in force to share a wide range of concerns about the project like increased traffic, parking in front of neighbor’s homes, and increased stormwater runoff.

Richard Weiblinger, one of the appellants, showed photographs of backups on Scroggins Road, a road the church would be built along that’s frequently used as a traffic cut-through. Weiblinger said residents were concerned that they wouldn’t be able to get in or out of their driveways with the added traffic, noting that driving on Scroggins is already “a game of chicken.”

A letter published by the Alexandria Gazette Packet and written by Cara Weiblinger said the area is already “overwhelmed” by traffic, expressing concerns about “incredible pain and a diminished quality of life for neighbors” and “bad blood between a church and the neighborhood in which it plants itself.”

The argument that the new church would add dangerous levels of traffic to the nearby roads didn’t garner any more sympathy from the City Council than it did from the Planning Commission, with councilmembers repeating the Planning Commission response. Councilwoman Redella “Del” Pepper said current hours of peak traffic were different from the hours of peak usage for the church — namely Sunday ,orning.

“They’re not going to be there on Monday mornings,” Pepper said.

One area where the City Council did recognize the plight of nearby residents was on the stormwater issue. Several neighbors noted that the area already has stormwater drainage problems. One said that her basement is regularly flooded during storms and she was concerned that more impervious space across the street would only make that situation worse.

“If you can’t mitigate stormwater adequately, I’m the one that pays for that,” the resident said. “If they don’t manage the stormwater, it’s going to put us under, and I don’t just mean literally underwater… Please don’t be lazy and just say ‘it’s going to be fine.'”

Cathy Puskar, an attorney for the church, argued that the church would not have a negative impact on the neighborhood, pointing to a handful of stormwater management initiatives at the site that she noted could improve the local flooding issues. Many on the City Council seemed unconvinced, though ultimately not enough to change their vote on the project.

“If we’re serious about looking at water runoff, we need to push our applicants to do more progressive things,” Councilman John Chapman said.

Mayor Justin Wilson said the stormwater issues being raised by neighbors were existing conditions, but the city would have to look at ways to work on the runoff situation in that area in the upcoming budget season.

Despite these concerns, staff noted that the project met all zoning requirements, which Puskar argued left the city with no choice but to approve it, which the City Council ultimately did.

“What many of the neighbors are telling us is that it’s counterintuitive that you can have a church double its size and not double some of the problems,” Pepper said. “We’re really in a tight spot. There’s no wiggle room. We have to follow the law.”

Photo via City of Alexandria

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It’s been a long time coming, but Fire Station 203 (2801 Cameron Mills Road) in North Ridge is finally coming down.

The 71-year-old station is being replaced by a modern, 15,000 square-foot, two-story station. The new station is planned to have two and a half operational bays to house a fire engine and medical units, according to the city’s website.

The firefighters of Station 203 are currently operating out of a temporary facility at the intersection of Pierpoint and Monticello Blvd.

Construction on the new building is scheduled to start this month, with the fire station scheduled to move in sometime in spring 2021, followed by the demolition of the temporary fire station.

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(Updated at 3:10 p.m.) Firefighters from Alexandria and Arlington battled a house fire in the North Ridge neighborhood this afternoon.

Dark smoke was seen coming from a home on the 2900 block of Mayer Place around 1:45 p.m. Arriving firefighters reported finding an active fire on the first floor of the split level home, prompting additional units to be dispatched to the scene.

As of 2 p.m. the fire was reported to be under control and firefighters were working to ventilate smoke from the structure.

Initial reports suggest a dog was found deceased inside the home. The family later arrived at the house and could be seen grieving over the dog, which was placed in a stretcher by firefighters.

Editor’s note: Readers may find some photos within the gallery mildly disturbing.

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