Zebra Misc

Happy Birthday, Alexandria! 275 years. You Don’t Look a Day Over 250.

Mark Port City’s monumental milestone on Saturday, July 13!

Mayor Wilson delivers remarks at the 275th celebration kick-off on April 6 at Waterfront Park. Left to right: 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)

Alexandria, VA – “We’re getting ready to lay out the welcome mat for a lot of folks, so we’re pretty excited about that!” Mayor Justin Wilson

The clock is ticking. The countdown to 275 is getting closer. On July 13, Alexandria will throw its biggest birthday party in 25 years. Get ready for an evening of cupcakes, symphony, and the grand finale, a spectacular fireworks display splashed across the night sky over the Potomac River at Oronoco Bay Park. But this year’s birthday bash will be more elaborate and extravagant than a typical year, as the city commemorates 275 years since its founding. Excitement has been building all year as the city plans multiple events stretching from April to November.

“It’s an exciting big celebration for the city,” beamed Mayor Justin Wilson. Sitting down for a phone interview with Zebra, the mayor elaborated, “It’s one we have spent a great deal of time planning for, and particularly this summer, it’s the culmination of a year of celebration for us. We’re going to throw a big party!”

The mayor is on a farewell tour, having decided not to run for a third term. After 14 years on the city council, Wilson will be succeeded by Councilwoman Alyia Gaskins, the presumptive November winner. But Wilson will preside over the city’s most significant birthday since 1999, when Alexandria hit the 250 mark.

“From the city’s earliest days, from our founding, we have been the location for so much of the work of our founders. We are the location where a lot of these founding fathers hung out. In recent years, we’ve done a better job of ensuring that we tell a broader version of that history. That also means learning more about the role that our residents of color played.”

Founded in 1749, Alexandria is steeped in history, and many of its early buildings still stand today. You can’t walk a block in Old Town without discovering a marker, plaque, or historic house.

Patricia Washington, president and CEO of Visit Alexandria, honored on June 6, before her June 30 retirement. (Photo: Derek Lamar Studios)

Preserving Alexandria History

Gretchen Bulova is the director of the Office of Historic Alexandria. Her staff has drawn up historical events for two years to mark this milestone and has coordinated with other city agencies. Zebra visited Bulova in her office at the historic Lloyd House.

“We have turned Alexandria into a museum without walls,” Bulova observed. “The fantastic thing about Alexandria is that we’re the real thing, right? I mean, you just walk the streets and experience layers of history for the last couple of centuries. We’re trying to tell the broader story. The community supports historic preservation and embraces our history, the good, the bad, the ugly.”

Bulova pointed out that Gadsby’s Tavern, Carlyle House, and other significant sites used enslaved labor. Bulova shines a spotlight on African American history in Alexandria.

“We’ve recently worked with members of our faith community to fully understand our history of lynching. As much as there are amazing things to celebrate, we were first in many civil rights activities, and of course, the 1939 library sit-in was the first sit-in in America. There are always things to learn, re-examining the historical record.”

Bulova’s office acquired the Freedom House Museum a few years ago and is restoring it. “That site was Ground Zero for the domestic slave trade,” Bulova pointed out. She noted how entrenched the system of slavery was.

“Just in a small town like this. The banks, people making shoes, the basics of life. It’s all related to the slave trade, and everybody White benefitted from it. It’s a massive research project.”

Gretchen Bulova, director of Office of Historic Alexandria, in the hallway outside her office at historic Lloyd House in Old Town June 14. (Photo: Judith Fogel/Zebra Press)

Visit Alexandria guides celebrations

Patricia Washington is president and CEO of Visit Alexandria.

“We’re thrilled to celebrate Alexandria’s 275th birthday this year with special programs and events that celebrate Alexandria’s past and diverse culture today,” Washington told Zebra.

“We’re gratified because visitor impact continues to trend upward. This year, we’re on pace for a record $84 million in sales, meals, and lodging tax revenues for the City.” Washington is retiring on June 30.

The Founders walked these streets

Zebra caught up with Allison Silberberg, who preceded Justin Wilson as mayor.

“Our beloved City of Alexandria predates the founding of our country. Our notables were deeply involved in the challenge to King George and the Revolutionary War and the whole creation of the country. That story in and of itself is remarkable. It is always astounding to me when I walk our historic streets of Old Town. I never take for granted that these are the streets that George Washington, George Mason, and other notables walked.”

From Silberberg’s place in a long line of Alexandria mayors, she reflected on the uniqueness of the city she served for three years. “Our city mirrors much of the nation’s history. People come here for different reasons. One of the top reasons is historic preservation. Our beautiful historic streets, the shops, and the architecture. Also the wonderful food, incredible arts, and the beautiful river view.”

Alexandria was founded as a port on the Potomac River. “The city only existed because of the river,” Mayor Wilson noted. “Throughout our history, we have thrived and existed because of what we are close to. The founding of our city was because we were close to the river, the thriving of our city was because we were close to the railroad tracks, and the continued thriving of our city was because we’re close to the federal government, but certainly, it all started with the river.

Allison Silberberg, then Alexandria mayor, at a city birthday celebration at Oronoco Bay Park in July 2017. (Photo: Wayne Hulehan)

“The river was a source of commerce, a source of transportation, and a source of food. And we have worked to revive that role for the river. Over the last several years, we’ve used it much more as an economic engine with our waterfront development and by addressing the health of the river.”

The office of Historic Alexandria is also preparing for another significant milestone, the 250th founding of the United States in 2026. It is a national story with a strong Alexandria flavor.

ICYMI: Alexandria Sheriff Casey Graduates National Leadership Program

Related Articles

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Back to top button