ALEXANDRIA, VA – When members of the Dove family first started bringing their produce and flowers to Alexandria’s Market Square at 301 King Street, the clippity clop of their horses’ hooves provided the soundtrack on the trip to and fro.
In all, 21 family members—aunts, uncles, brothers, sisters, cousins—have sold at the Old Town market. Senior family members today are Mrs. Doris Dove Cassedy and her brother Lenard (Lenny) Dove. Doris and Lenard are helped at market by Doris’s youngest daughter Stacey (Missy) Petitt, and grandsons Robbie and Charlie Petitt. But the first Dove on scene was Doris and Lenny’s great-grandfather, Will Kitson, in the late 1800s.
The family once owned 35 acres on upper Van Dorn Street (then called Oakwood Road) in Franconia. Will Kitson and his daughter Norma (Nanny) Talbert raised vegetables, flowers, and chickens, and made butter and crafts that they took to market by horse and buggy. Later, Nanny and her niece Virginia continued to sell flowers, foods, and crafts. Nanny bought a Ford Model A, although she never had a license, so that Virginia could drive them to market with their goods. Virginia married Vernon Dove in 1932. They had ten children, of whom Doris is second oldest and Lenny the youngest.
Saturday, December 21, 2019 was the end of the era. The Dove Family retired, selling their last boxwood tree and bits of seasonal holly at the Old Town Farmers Market on a sunny morning with temperatures hitting the needle at about 30 degrees. Friends and family gathered as Mayor Justin Wilson’s aide, Mark McHugh, read a City Proclamation honoring the Dove Family’s nearly 200 years of entrepreneurship, which read in part:
“Whereas since the late 1800s to today, Dove family members and their forebears have managed this thriving business adjacent to City Hall’s front doors on Saturday mornings, selling their locally grown blooms, yarrow, zinnias, peonies, Queen Anne’s lace, and sunflowers…the City of Alexandria takes this moment to honor the Dove family and their late grandfather, Will Kitson, whose farm established in the late 19th century supplied flowers to the first iteration of this business.”
Some people have bought the Doves’ flowers for so long that even when Doris and Lenny don’t know their names, they do know what will be ordered. “The customer walks up and these two just look and say, ‘Oh you want your 25 wreaths and your six bunches of this and that,’ and they remember these orders. And I don’t know how they do it,” says Missy. Do they keep a log? “Nope,” says Doris, “we just know it.”
The Old Town Farmers’ Market is the oldest farmers’ market in the country held continuously at the same site. George Washington sent his produce from Mount Vernon to be sold at our Farmers’ Market. Today, the market offers residents of and visitors to Alexandria a way to reconnect to the past while participating in an ongoing local and national tradition. During the peak season, there are more than 70 vendors offering fruits and vegetables, meat, poultry, cheeses, breads, pastries, fresh pasta, pickled vegetables, cut flowers, potted plants, soaps, jewelry, and art.