Established in 1823, the Virginia Theological Seminary acquired a sizable amount of its current property off Quaker Lane four years later. In 1857, the Episcopal educational institution announced plans to build a new structure on this site and advertised in local papers and the Southern Churchman publication for proposals.
The new building was to be three stories high, with a prayer hall that could hold at least 100 people, a kitchen, pantry, large dining room, and at least 24 rooms for students. The announcement also noted the building would “stand upon an eminence 256 feet above the Potomac River, overlooking the cities of Washington and Alexandria.” This location might explain the additional request that the plan “embrace a tower, cupola, or spire, arranged for a clock, and a place for observation.”
A Vermont-born architect, Norris G. Starkweather, designed the new building, which featured semi-circular arched windows and doors, corner buttresses, rounded arch openings, and a central tower with a domed cupola. It was named Aspinwall Hall in honor of two benefactors who had donated funding for an earlier building.
On October 3, 1859, Bishop William Meade formally dedicated Aspinwall Hall. Just a couple of years later, the Civil War disrupted operations at the seminary. The Union Army took over the Seminary, and Aspinwall Hall, seen in this Civil War period photograph, was used as a hospital. Seminary operations resumed after the war with some professors returning in 1865.
Aspinwall Hall is one of the contributing structures that resulted in the Seminary being added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1980.
Out of the Attic is provided by the Office of Historic Alexandria.