Home For the Holidays!
Old Town Alexandria
For those of you who read us regularly, you know that each month I take you with me on a road trip to a different destination. Each December I always stay home and write about our hometown, Old Town Alexandria. The last few years have seen a lot of activity along the waterfront as old warehouses have been torn down and new development has begun. The Carr Companies are in the home stretch for their new hotel at 200 South Union Street…The Indigo. The Old Dominion Boat Club has been deeded to the City for a payout of 5 million dollars and new construction has begun for the new boat club along The Strand and the Potomac River. The old Robinson Terminal between Wolfe, Union and Duke Streets has been completely removed save a few old buildings, which look like they will be incorporated into the new retail, town homes and condos being developed there. The views from these new buildings are not only of the Potomac River but also National Harbor and the new MGM hotel and casino, which opens this month. Much has happened in the last two years on both sides of the river.
While we can’t stop the new development, let me take you back 320 years. The first settlement along the Potomac was established in 1695 a half mile down river at the mouth of Hunting Creek, which today is flood plain. The location was not well suited as a harbor as the shoreline was very shallow so the settlement, which was to become Alexandria, was re-established at its present site where the channel comes close to shore. Oronoco and Duke streets extended into deep water, but between the two lay an arc of swampy flatland backed by bluffs. Beginning in 1759 the filling in of this marsh and flatland began and a wharf was eventually constructed. This was the beginning of Alexandria’s future as one of America’s leading seaports.
Soon warehouses were built to store all of the commerce that was coming to, and leaving, Alexandria. Today, these warehouses are home to the many shops and restaurants that make up Old Town. By the end of the 18th century Alexandria was among the ten busiest ports in America and had been designated an official port of entry.
The town derives its Scottish Heritage from Scottish merchants John Alexander, William Ramsay and John Carlyle. The celebration of that heritage continues today with the 46th annual Scottish Christmas Walk Weekend and parade, which is held the first Saturday every December. This year the Scottish Weekend is December 2-3 and is consistently ranked by the Southeast Tourism Society as one of the top 20 events and regularly draws 30,000 visitors. For a complete accounting of the weekend, refer to the Calendar of Events in this issue.
The Christmas Walk Parade will begin at 11am and originates at Wilkes and South St. Asaph streets and ends at Market Square with massed bagpipes, something you don’t want to miss! The Walk has more than 100 Scottish clans, pipe and drum bands, Scottish dancers, reenactment groups, service bands and of course…Santa. This is a great day in Alexandria, but dress for the weather…it can be cold.
The evening of the 3rd will feature the 17th Annual Alexandria Holiday Boat Parade. Dozens of brightly lit boats from both Virginia and D.C. will stretch along the Potomac River during the colorful parade at Alexandria’s historic harbor. The parade is usually led by fireboats Vigilant and John Glenn. The boats are decked out to impress a panel of judges who will award prizes in a dozen categories including Best of show. Dockside festivities begin at 3pm with the parade passing in review at 5:30. This is a fun event…I know this for a fact because my sailboat won a prize a number of years ago.
All of these events are on the 2nd and 3rd, but don’t forget the rest of the month. From the “Waterfront to the Metro”, Old Town has unique retail shops, antique shops, furniture stores and restaurants sure to satisfy any taste. Unlike a mall, this is a place to find a one-of-a-kind outfit, piece of jewelry, gift, a unique treasure or a work of art at the internationally known Torpedo Art Center.
Let’s not forget about the dining options we have here in Old Town! Just take a look at the Dining Guide in the restaurant section. There is everything from BBQ to Sushi available within walking distance of the metro and the waterfront.
Speaking of the waterfront and metro, a free trolley runs every 15 minutes between the waterfront to the King Street Metro stopping several times along the route to enable you to get on and off at your leisure. Even though King Street is the main drag in Old Town, there are a lot of other shops and restaurants on adjacent streets throughout town. The addition of the sandwich boards at the corners of the intersections let you know what awaits on the side streets.
I encourage you all to consider the advertisers in this publication your first stops for dining and shopping. They are the people that make printing this column every month possible!
Please take some time this month and come discover the magic of Old Town Alexandria. Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to you all!