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Architectural Monographs: Alexandria, The Great Port that Almost Was

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But for a dramatic 1814 attack, Alexandria, Virginia could have been Baltimore. The Potomac River city that began as a Doeg Indian settlement and grew into a flourishing village funded by the tobacco trade was poised to act as one of early America’s great ports, but it wasn’t to be. British frigates took the town and the officer in charge of the fort that was supposed to offer protection blew up his arsenal, acknowledging the futility of the effort.

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Just over a decade later, a fire swept the town, destroying 53 houses and Alexandria’s remaining hopes for rapid growth. Baltimore picked up where it left off. But as recorded in this issue of the White Pine Series of Historic Monographs, this series of events has led to a sort of frozen record of the architecture of the time.

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“Alexandria’s loss, however, is perhaps the gain of architectural students and antiquarians today, for in the little town the march of progress has not swept aside so much of the simple, lovingly detailed work of the late eighteenth century and the early years of the nineteenth as in other places where the work of these years has so largely been destroyed in the making of what were fondly thought to be improvements.”

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“Most widely known among the buildings that still remain, wholly or in part, are three that have unusual significance, not only architecturally but as settings for historic events in the early days of the republic. These are Christ Church, the Carlysle House and Gadsby’s Tavern.”

Read more at the White Pine Monograph Library.


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