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Alexandrians: Then, Now, And Tomorrow

Alexandria embraces the legacy of its families

Alexandria history became a flesh and blood reality last Friday night.

Nearly 300 individuals, representing families who have lived in Alexandria for five generations or 100 years, gathered at the Old Town Radisson Hotel to share their common heritage at this inaugural event staged by Senior Services of Alexandria.

"Some very good people have left and are leaving some very powerful legacies. Let's not forget them," said City Councilman David Speck, master of ceremonies.

Remembering those legacies and honoring those who created them was the purpose of "An Evening To Remember: Honoring Our Generational Legacies." From the various photographs and histories lining the hallway to those 90 year olds present who lived through most of the last century, remembrances were endless.

As Speck recognized family after family, he reviewed their contributions to the City's evolution. Included in that process are his own ancestors. His great, great grandfather, Emil Rosenthal was a founding member of Beth El Hebrew Congregation in 1859.

David's father, Dr. George Speck, who sat in the audience, practiced medicine in Alexandria for more than 50 years. His mother, Doris DeFord, was one of the first members of Alexandria's League of Women Voters.

ONE OF THE LARGEST family contingents in attendance was the Fannon Family. They occupied two tables of 10 each.

T.J. Fannon, the son of an Irish immigrant, was born in the family home on Queen Street in 1860, according to Frank Fannon IV. "He started the coal business at Duke and Henry streets in 1888 when he was 25," said Frank Fannon. "He brought the coal in from West Virginia and sold it throughout Alexandria."

The expanse of the Fannon family can also be attributed to T.J. Fannon. Between 1886 and 1903 he and his wife had 11 children, Frank Fannon said. He expanded his horizon in the 1920's when he became a builder and turned the coal business over to his sons, Frank and Chester.

He built two houses next to the Masonic Memorial where he lived until his death in 1945.

"Each house had 12 rooms and to make his point that a house could be heated by coal alone neither house had any fireplaces," said Frank.

BORN IN ALEXANDRIA in 1908, Delilah Elizabeth Spencer married John Earl Darling in 1927 and for the next 50 years they resided at 1210 Russell Road. Delilah Darling now lives on Kenmore Avenue with her daughter Joan.

Having survived triple by-pass surgery at age 91, she and her daughter were representing their Alexandria heritage. Five generations of her family have been part of City's history.

Lillian Patterson and her sister, Valeria Henderson, laid claim to seven generations of Alexandrians. Known in the City as The Stanton Family, the founding family names are Brannon and Curry. Caroline Brannon had at least four sons that were enslaved.

Her daughter Annie, who appeared on the labor contracts from the contraband barracks at Prince Street, married Randolph Curry and their only child, Lillian, was born in Alexandria in 1878. Lillian's granddaughter, Esther, married the Reverend N. Howard Stanton. They are attributed with "creating the lion's share of this family."

His seven children — Patterson and Henderson are two — had seven children who had 26 more children, according to the family chronology. "Our grandfather was the first black mortician in Alexandria," Patterson said.

SHORTLY AFTER THE CIVIL WAR, The Wood Family acquired land in the 1000 block of Quaker Lane. At the time of that conflict, Susan and William Wood lived with their eight children on a plantation in Fauquier County owned by the Rixey family.

William Wood escaped from the plantation and joined the Confederate Army. His wife was taken to Georgia by her mistress. William became ill and was hospitalized in Alexandria. Arminta Wood, another fifth generation survivor, still resides on the family land.

Alexandria also has some Yankee heritage in its generational legacies. One of the most prominent is the Hooff Family. Known for their banking and real estate, the Hooff's came to Alexandria from Lancaster County Pa., home of the famous Conestoga Wagon, used by the pioneers to open the American west. Hooff brought that talent for wagon and carriage building here in the mid 1700's.

In 1787, Lawrence Hooff built his first house at 521 Duke St. which is still in good condition today. "He was an honorary pallbearer at George Washington's funeral," Elizabeth Hooff said. Over the years, the Hooff family built and occupied a series of homes in Alexandria. Seven remain intact today.

TWO OTHER FAMILIES represented which interact on a daily basis with today's Alexandrians were the Beckers and the Dwyers. Even those with no interest in local history can observe Becker Electric and Dwyer Plumbing, Heating and Air Conditioning trucks moving throughout the city serving its residents.

Both families go back to Alexandria's roots and are intertwined with its history and growth. They are also intertwined with each other. Francis Marion Becker, Jr., married Mary Jean Dwyer and their daughter, Mary Catherine, married Richard J. Dwyer V.

A total of 63 families were represented encompassing virtually every segment of Alexandria history. Each table personified a living testament to the will of a city to be defined by its people and their dedication to common goals.

In his closing remarks, Speck quoted Will Durant that, "Americans are best with the history of the last 24 hours not the last 60 centuries."

Speck then reminded his audience that although, "Alexandria goes back only two and one half centuries, you and your families are our history."