Alexandria Letter: Renaming City Streets

Alexandria Letter: Renaming City Streets

Letter to the Editor

To the Editor:

In the late1950s the city’s Civil War Centennial Committee was tasked with a way to “commemorate” the approaching event. The committee proposed the restoration of Fort Ward — one of the Union forts that had surrounded the city from 1861-1865.

And, to pay homage to both sides, the committee proposed that in the area west of Quaker Lane (just annexed from Fairfax County), the north-south streets be named for Confederate generals. City Council accepted this proposal with the condition that the officers were from Virginia and, that only the last name would be used with no military rank attached. Only where the last name did not match the city street alphabet grid required by the Planning Department, were non-Virginia names used. Therefore, with these exceptions and later added streets, most north-south streets south of Seminary Road from Quaker Lane to the city’s western border were named for Confederate generals. This practice was in effect until the 1970s.

The committee’s balanced effort in paying homage to both sides, resulted in Alexandria receiving its first All American City Award as well as, a Letter of Commendation from the National Civil War Centennial Commission that was appointed by Congress: only six cities received such accolades.

This is not a simple change-street-signs issue. The population of Alexandria is now 150,000. If only one-half of these residents (75,000) live west of Quaker Lane and, if only one-half of those 75,000 live on these north-south streets, minimally some 37,000 residents will be affected. They will have to change their address on driver’s permits, vehicle registrations, bank accounts as well as other legal documents. Furthermore, consider the impact on the delivery of mail, 911 emergency/police/fire responses, DMV, IRS, GPS, existing maps, and the city tax office to change the addresses of all of these affected residents. Additionally, consider the impact it would have on hundreds of businesses on South Pickett, Van Dorn, Walker, as well as, Beauregard Street and Wheeler Avenue.

There are many other streets throughout Alexandria named for Confederates such as Mosby, Morgan and Herbert Streets, Arthur Herbert, one of the founders of Burke & Herbert Bank, was a Confederate officer. Then, Maury Lane and Maury School, named for Matthew Fontaine Maury, a world-renown oceanographer known as the “Pathfinder of the Seas.” Maury was the first to chart the Gulf Stream and other ocean currents, modernizing navigation of the oceans. He was also an officer in the Confederate Navy.

History always has its good, bad, ugly and painful sides — this can be found in any conflict. The men for whom these streets were named were veterans who just happened to be on the side that lost a war fought 150 years ago.

I have always been proud of Alexandria for preserving, all facets of its history – both the pleasant and unpleasant. Examples are:

  • The restoration of Fort Ward, one of the forts that surrounded the longest Union-occupied City of Alexandria. Commander James Harmon Ward was a Union Naval Officer

  • The Appomattox Statue, erected in memory of the men from Alexandria who died in the Civil War, and

  • The restoration of Freedman’s Cemetery, where sadly not only civilians, but African-American soldiers (U.S.C.T.) who fought for the Union, were interred until Congress finally changed the law allowing these men to be re-interred in the Alexandria National Cemetery in 1864.

This is all part of our city’s history and it should all be acknowledged. We can’t change the facts by trying to move a statue or renaming streets — using the tax money of affected residents and businesses to pay for it. The costs could be astronomical to say nothing of the burden placed upon the residents and businesses.

I find it sad that after the passing of 150 years, we are focusing our time and financial resources on trying to change things connected to a tragic war fought in the 19th century — before anyone living today was even born. There are always rights and wrongs on both sides of any war — that is why it is called history. These funds could be better spent on the badly needed work at City Hall and other historic buildings.

Wanda Dowell