An alley runs through it


Connecting all the streets around Old Town is a series of alleys with a history of their own.

When the original street map was created, the alleys were included as pedestrian thoroughfares, loading zones and social gathering places for the slaves and workers.

Some of the more noted alleys include Printers Alley, Wales Alley, Ramsay Alley, and Sharps Alley. Printers Alley, which is also called Swifts Alley, was home to the newspaper offices of the Virginia Journal and the Alexandria Advertiser, which was published first in 1784. The predecessor to The Times, The Alexandria Times & Advertiser, was published here in colonial times on a single-sheet press from 1797 to 1802 by Sir Thomas Westcott, a local printer.

Ramsay Alley, which goes from Fairfax Street to Union Street, was named after William Ramsay, one of the founders of Alexandria and the citys first mayor.

Sharps Alley was also called Shinbone Alley because of the coin shards that were found in the alley, as the story goes. The alley ran to Market Square and legend has it, the revolutionary coins were sometimes cut into pieces with sharp edges that cut through pockets and ended up in the alley. That alley was known as Love Alley at one time too, after a love affair carried on in the alley.

A cow roamed in Ramsay Alley back in the 1700s, named Old Judy, after a resident in the area that walked like a cow. That alley was also called Fayette Alley after French General Lafayette.

One alley that no longer exists was called Spite Alley after a property owner at 520 Queen Street was tired of people cutting through the alley so they built a house in the middle of the alley to spite the cut-throughs. The house still stands.

But not all the tales of the Old Town alleys have to do with cobblestones and patriots. In the 1990s, the Cromley Alley off North Fayette Street had very colorful, past said Bill Cromley, part owner of the alley.

The alley was home to an old abandoned van that appeared to be a piece of junk until one ventured inside. A local man named Freddy, was running a brothel out of the van. As recently as ten years ago there was a spot of prostitution in that boxy, white van, said Cromley. In addition to the activities in the van, there was drug activity as well.

One resident looked into the alley on a summer’s night, and “the crack pipes were thought to be fireflies, Cromley added. In addition, a nasty divorce ensued between a couple that lived in one of the houses near the alley ended in a suicide in the alley.

Cromley Alley now contains a house that Cromley built, and is no longer a source of gossip around the neighborhood.