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An Alexandria Monument

Highly visible, mostly forgotten.

Ninety-nine years ago, almost to the day, a ladies’ patriotic organization made a gift to the City of Alexandria with the permission of the City Council. Its centerpiece is a cannon abandoned by Major General Edward Braddock at the start of his march against the French and their Native American allies in 1755. Braddock’s aide-de-camp was a colonial officer named George Washington. The artillery piece sits upon a pedestal of cobble stones taken from the streets of Old Town. Drivers rushing through the busy intersection of Russell and Braddock roads hardly notice the structure. For pedestrians, access to the small plot can be a challenge.

With its centennial May 26 of next year, several inquiries were made to uncover any plans for commemorative activities. The common reaction was surprise. Those contacted knew of the monument, but had forgotten its age. With a moment of reflection, surprise turned to enthusiasm captured in the phrase “We really should do something.”

Diane Ruggiero, director of Alexandria’s Office of the Arts, was familiar with the memorial because it is under active attention for the two purposes within the authority of her office: Preservation and conservation. An article in this newspaper 50 years ago hinted at the scope of those responsibilities. “In spite of the abuse it has received at the hands of persons who have no respect for themselves or for the city, the old cannon, repainted many times, still remains intact.” Ruggiero said any required work under the auspices of her office would be completed prior to the memorial’s centennial next year. However, she said any commemorative events would be the responsibility of others in the city government.

J. Lance Mallamo, director of the Office of Historic Alexandria, agreed that such events would fall to his agency. Further, reflection should not be limited to the 100-year-old monument, but should be expanded to the French and Indian War and its role in opening the western colonial frontier. Mallamo opined that both had not enjoyed enough deserved attention, and plans to celebrate and educate certainly would be considered in the coming months.

One unit of city government stands out as knowledgeable, and caring, of the marker.

For more than 15 years, the city’s Horticulture and Natural Resources Division has maintained the site as a “low-maintenance, educational exhibit of a coastal plain garden,” according to Rod Simmons, natural resource specialist. “It is a showcase of drought-tolerant plants of Alexandria ... never watered, require no care and are free of pests and diseases that typically affect ornamental plantings.” As added interest, locally collected samples of “bog iron” are used in lieu of mulch.

The donor of the monument was (and is) The Colonial Dames of America. Founded in 1890, members trace direct ancestry to leaders in the 13 colonies. Today’s confederation of 44 corporate societies grants scholarships and literary awards and undertakes local historical and educational projects. Braddock’s cannon was a project of The Colonial Dames of America in Virginia.

Neither Keith D. MacKay, executive director of The Colonial Dames of America in Virginia, nor S. Scott Scholz, deputy director of The Colonial Dames of America’s national headquarters in Washington, D.C., could provide details of the monument and its dedication ceremonies in 1915.

This task was left to newspapers of the day:

A large gathering clustered about the intersection of unpaved roads at 3 o’clock in the afternoon. Mrs. James Lyons of Richmond, great grand-daughter of Patrick Henry, acted for the president of The Colonial Dames of America in Virginia in accepting title to the cannon from the Mount Vernon Chapter of the DAR and presenting the memorial to Mayor Thomas A. Fisher. The principal address was given by Samuel J. Graham, assistant attorney general of the U.S. The Rev. William J. Morton, rector of Christ Church, delivered the Invocation and the Rev. Dr. S. A. Wallis, Episcopal Theological Seminary of Virginia, gave the benediction. Also attending were Mrs. Joseph Lamar, national president of The Colonial Dames of America, and a squad from the Alexandria Light Infantry who fired a volley.