Old Town

Doin’s about town as a sticky summer winds down:

We'll tell you more about this next month, but (if you don't already know), the wonderful Alexandria Forum is set for Old Town on Oct. 1-2. This year's theme will be "Connoisseurship of 18th and Early 19th Century Decorative Arts: A Second Look." Oscar and Toby Fitzgerald and their dedicated supporting cast, as always, can be counted on for an enormously fruitful weekend in our old port city and environs. More later.

Friendship Firehouse - The Friendship Veterans Fire Engine Association held its annual Friendship Firehouse Festival on Aug. 7. This popular family event took place on South Alfred Street between Prince and King streets, which were closed to traffic for the event. Admission was free.

Held at the historic Friendship Firehouse, erected in 1855, this year's festival celebrated the special role firefighters have played

throughout history, especially those of Friendship. The Festival also

featured antique fire apparatus, craft booths, and displays by Alexandria merchants. Children received free fire helmets and balloons and were treated to supervised visits where they became co-passengers inside the City's fire trucks.

The building was originally built as a firehouse in 1855, remodeled in 1871 and restored to its original condition in 1992. The Engine Room on the first floor showcases historic firefighting equipment, including hand-drawn fire engines, leather water buckets, axes, and sections of early rubber hose. The second floor houses exhibits on the Friendship Fire Company, known as “George Washington's Fire Company,” which was Alexandria's first fire company and has been a source of civic pride since its founding in 1774.

Freedmen's Cemetery - Alexandria archaeologists have completed

preliminary test excavations at the site of Freedmen's Cemetery on South Washington Street in Old Town in preparation for the City's acquisition of the land.

Once the land is acquired, a memorial park will be built on the site to honor those 1,800 freed men, women, and children who were buried there between 1864 and 1869. The test excavations were necessary to determine what steps are needed to protect the graves during demolition of the existing structures on the site (a gas station and office building), asphalt removal, and design and construction of the memorial park. The archaeology test excavations met environmental legal requirements, which now allows the acquisition to move forward.

Freedmen's Cemetery Memorial Park is a project the City of Alexandria is undertaking with the Woodrow Wilson Bridge Project. The City's recent excavation occurred on the southern and western perimeters of the core area of the cemetery, which has been developed over the last 50 years as a gas station and office building. These excavations showed that more than 80 graves still survive in the property overlooking the Beltway and under South Washington Street east of the developed part of the site.

Fourteen trenches were opened across the developed part of the site to determine if graves remain and how far underground they are located. The complicated history of the site made it difficult to predict whether graves would be deep and covered by a great deal of fill, lost due to stripping of the soil, or disturbed due to overturning during construction of the buildings. Forty-five grave shafts were discovered, most of them only inches below the asphalt. The excavations confirm that the cemetery was established on this site and that strong protection measures must be taken during demolition, design and park construction. Some trenches, however, show deep fill, indicating the site has had radical changes in its topography from the 1864-69 period.

Before this investigation, the Woodrow Wilson Bridge Project completed a geophysical survey in 1998 of the site and an additional study from 1998-2000, which better defined the boundaries of Freedmen's Cemetery prior to the start of construction on the Washington Street Beltway Overpass, or urban deck, and associated roadways.

These results give opportunities for design of appropriate commemorative sculptures, walkways and landscaping. Additional archaeology will be done in conjunction with demolition and prior to design and construction of the park.

Finally, mark your calendar for 7:30 p.m. on Aug. 19, when the Carlyle House and Gadsby's Tavern Museum will be the venue for a lecture on the electoral process, by one of the country's foremost constitutional scholars. Prof. Jack Rakove of Stanford University will tell you about "The Curious and Mysterious History of the Electoral College." Admission is $12. The American Founding Lecture Series is sponsored by the Maibach Foundation.