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PHOTOS: Alexandria Kicks Off 275 Anniversary Milestone at Waterfront Park

City Starts Party Three Months Early With Elaborate Celebration Saturday April 6, 2024


Black man in American colonial costume reads from a scroll.
Alexandria Town Crier Dr. Ben Fiore-Walker, making proclamations for over 12 years. Photo: Lucelle O’Flaherty

Alexandria, VA — The City of Alexandria turns 275 years old this summer and the party started early with day of events along the waterfront Saturday, April 6, to mark the landmark birthday.

“Hear ye, hear ye,” belted Benjamin Fiore-Walker, also known as Alexandria’s Town Crier for over 12 years. Wearing his period-correct stately costume, the Crier rang his bell and launched the occasion at high noon on the brilliant blustery day.

Five or six community leaders at a dais on the Alexandria waterfront
Councilman Canek Aguirre, Town Crier Dr. Ben Fiore-Walker, Mayor Justin Wilson, Councilmembers Alyia Gaskins, R. Kirk McPike, John Taylor Chapman, Sarah Bagley. Photo: Lisa Morton

Hundreds of Alexandrians huddled at Waterfront Park for the major celebration with the wind whipping up sails on the Potomac, and gale force gusts churning the river into a bubbling froth.

The 56-year-old Fiore-Walker, who holds a PhD in neuroscience, and has a regular real job doing very important things, is also a history buff, and has been at the head of hundreds of events since starting his job as the Town Crier over 13 years ago. He is the city’s fourth town crier since 1976, and won the position after competing in a cry-off with other candidates.

City leaders smiling at Alexandria waterfront
City Councilmembers Canek Aguirre, Sarah Bagley, John Taylor Chapman, Mayor Justin Wilson, Majority Leader of Virginia House of Delegates Charniele L. Herring, Vice Mayor Amy Jackson, Councilmembers Alyia Gaskins and R. Kirk McPike. Photo: Lucelle O’Flaherty

“From a highly sought-after location for tourism, residential living and economic opportunity, to bustling streets with restaurants and shops, these are the faces of this thriving community,” he boomed, reading from a scroll. “We have streets named after royalty and in honor of the king, but in Alexandria it is not the only great thing. We are home to presidents, including the first!” Then he rang that familiar bell.

Mayor Justin Wilson and elected officials stood at attention, bracing and shivering against the wind. As the Town Crier concluded his opening declaration, the mayor quipped, “He has been doing this for 275 years and he doesn’t look a day over 250!”

Octagonal steel Sculpture in park
Spectators study the new Waterfront Park public art installation, Interstellar Influencer (Make an Impact). As the day wore on, the winds died down but the clouds rolled in, casting the intricate metal in a coppery sheen.
Photo: Judith Fogel

Alexandria’s actual birthday celebration is in July when the city rolls out its signature outdoor festival. This summer’s extravaganza will be held on July 13, 2024 with the traditional birthday cake, concerts, and the crowning glory, fireworks exploding across the night sky in a blaze of shimmering metallic. But this year’s July commemoration promises to be bigger and better, with the city spending all year gearing up for the landmark anniversary.

Justin Wilson is the 88th mayor since the city’s birth 275 years ago. He heartily welcomed the crowd, calling Waterfront Park “Alexandria’s front yard.”

Audience listening
Audience assembles for 275th anniversary kickoff ceremony. Photo: Lisa Morton

“We’ve had our ups and downs in our history, and we commemorate the good things and we commemorate the bad things. We commemorate that Alexandria was an important part of our nation’s history and the democracy that we celebrate today, and we celebrate those accomplishments.”

The mayor then addressed the downs.

People assembled under banner that reads ALX275
Office of Historic Alexandria staff. Left to right:  Liz Williams, deputy director; Michele Longo, Gretchen Bulova, director; Jim Holloway, Elizabeth Keaney, Julia Walsh, Melissa Thiringer, Olivia Thomas. Photo: courtesy Gretchen Bulova

“We commemorate the parts of our history that we are less proud of. The important role that we played in the trans-Atlantic and domestic slave trade, and we commemorate that history and we will continue to tell that story for generations to come.”

People cutting a red ribbon
Ribbon cutting for “Buried Ships of Robinson Landing” archaeology exhibit. Second from left: Alexandria State Delegate Charniele Herring, Councilmembers Alyia Gaskins, Sarah Bagley, R. Kirk McPike, Vice Mayor Amy Jackson, Mayor Justin Wilson; Jan Abraham, Robinson Landing board president; Councilmen John Taylor Chapman and Canek Aguirre, Captain Treska Lytle, commander representing Sheriff Sean Casey . Next to last on right: City Manager James F. Parajon followed by Eleanor Breen, city archaeologist. Photo: Lucelle O’Flaherty

Wilson called attention to the many countries represented by the city’s strong immigrant presence. He noted that Alexandria was not always a welcoming haven to those who came to our shores from foreign lands. “We are always striving to be better, stronger, more true to our city’s ideals.” The mayor paid homage to the women on stage who serve in elected office, including women of color. “We recognize that throughout our history that was not always the case.”

At every chapter, we have made our city stronger, we have made our city better, and we will continue to do that, so that when we gather for our 300, I will not be mayor, but we will celebrate the incredible accomplishments that we have made.” — Mayor Justin Wilson

Mayor Wilson remembered the late former mayor Kerry J. Donley who presided over the last milestone birthday twenty-five years ago. Gesturing southward, Wilson reminded the audience that Donley helped negotiate the settlement for that “new” Woodrow Wilson Bridge, “sitting right over there.”

Man looks at wooden model of an 18th century ship
Visitors viewing the new “Buried Ships of Robinson Landing” windowfront archaeology exhibit. Background: Alexandria Councilman John Taylor Chapman. Photo: Lucelle O’Flaherty

As the assembled guests rose slowly against the stiff April cold and drifted away to the next event, the wind simmered down, and the park began to fill up with partygoers. People wandered around the square, from booths to food vendors, to ice cream up the street that defied the weather, to the new art installation in Waterfront Park. Antique cars lined the foot of King Street.

Small band set up in the street in ALexandria, VA
Ricky Wise Trio out of Baltimore, entertaining passersby throughout the afternoon on the Robinson Landing walkway to Union Street. Photo: Judith Fogel

Next stop on the day’s kickoff events was a ribbon cutting by the mayor and city officials at Robinson Landing for the new “Buried Ships of Robinson Landing” windowfront archaeology exhibit. The display features scale models of three historic vessels recently discovered on the same block as the exhibit.

“We are excited to present this exhibit to the community,” remarked Eleanor Breen, city archaeologist. “This collaboration with the Robinson Landing Property Owners Association allows us to bring history to life in a tangible and accessible way, fostering a deeper understanding of our shared maritime heritage.”

People gather to watch tree being planted
Tree planting ceremony at Windmill Hill Park, south of Robinson Landing. Fourth from left: City Councilmembers Canek Aguirre, Sarah Bagley, John Taylor Chapman; Alexandria Mayor Justin Wilson, Vice Mayor Amy Jackson, Councilwoman Alyia Gaskins, Councilman Kirk McPike, Alexandria VA delegate Charniele L. Herring, City Manager James F. Parajon. Photo: courtesy Gretchen Bulova, director, Office of Historic Alexandria

Moving south along the riverbank, Windmill Hill Park was next on the kickoff tour. With a nod to upcoming Earth Day April 22, the city dedicated the first of 275 trees to be planted across the city. These native species will provide shade, replenish gaps in the canopy, and refill beds and tree wells. Earlier that day, hearty residents braved the brisk winds and cleaned up the park shoreline.

View of Alexandria's Waterfront Park from above.
Volunteers picking up trash along the Potomac River shoreline in Old Town’s Windmill Hill Park in honor of Earth Month. Photo: Joseph Oliva

Missed the kickoff? Come back July 13 for the big blowout bash. But there’s lots to see and do before and after that uber-festive evening. From now through September, you can take part in immersive historical walks, civic celebrations, educational programming, and plenty of other fun and fascinating events.

MORE: How to Celebrate Earth Day in Alexandria, Virginia

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