Columns Opinion — 01 May 2014
A dyed-in-the-woll Alexandria

(Photo/Library of Congress)

William Gregory III, the eldest son of a respected wool factory owner of Kilmarnock, Scotland, was born in that city in March 1789.

He came to Alexandria in 1807 to work as a clerk in the King Street dry goods store of merchant Robert McCrea, a fellow Scot and local importer of carpets and woolen goods from the Gregory family’s Kilmarnock factory.

During the War of 1812, the young Gregory enlisted in the Alexandria Blues and participated in the 1814 Battle of the White House on the Potomac, which played out below Mount Vernon. By that time, Gregory was a partner in McCrea’s company. In 1827, he succeeded the elder Scot in the dry goods business.

By February 1829, Gregory had acquired a three-quarter-ownership interest in the lot at 400-406 King St., then owned by Presley Jacobs, on the southwest corner of South Royal Street. At the time, Gregory’s portion of the lot comprised 400-402 King St. while Jacobs retained ownership of 404-406 King St. as well as an adjacent property at 113 S. Royal St.

Gregory immediately built a three-story, four-bay commercial building — complete with fine Federal-style details — with three apartments in the rear. Two were for his use with the other for Jacobs. After the large building was completed in 1830, two of Gregory’s brothers joined him in Alexandria. Each died shortly after their arrival.

Despite these setbacks, the family business continued to thrive in Virginia. In 1841, Gregory finally acquired Jacobs’ lot to the west. There he constructed a second structure, designed to look like an extension of its eastern counterpart.

Gregory later assumed control of his father’s factory in Scotland. But he finally retired from life as a merchant and factory owner on two continents in 1847. He remained in the commonwealth and was elected president of the local branch of the Farmer’s Bank of Virginia that same year. He held that title until 1866.

During his lifetime he was married to two women: Margaret Bartleman, daughter of a local merchant, and Mary Long, daughter of a Nantucket sea captain. He had five children with each of his wives and died in Alexandria in 1875 at the age of 87.

This photograph of the two Gregory buildings shows them just before their demolition in 1968 as part of the Gadsby’s urban renewal project. Although the first floors of both buildings had been marred by inappropriate alteration and neon signs, the upper stories still retained the prominent features that proclaimed Gregory’s confidence and commitment to Alexandria.

Out of the Attic is provided by the 
Office of Historic Alexandria.

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