Out of the Attic: Iron mill ornamented the White House, Masonic temple before becoming Safeway

Out of the Attic: Iron mill ornamented the White House, Masonic temple before becoming Safeway

As early as the mid-19th century, a foundry existed at South Royal and Wilkes streets. In the 1850s, Thomas S. Jamieson advertised himself as a general machinist and iron founder working there. In 1858, he was granted a patent for an improved mode of operating valves in steam engines, and just before the Civil War broke out in the spring of 1861, he announced he was able to produce stationary steam engines, boilers, mill gearing, pulleys and hangers, drill presses, wrought and case iron railing, pipes and machinery of every description.

Thomas died the following year and in the late 1860s his brother was operating the foundry. G.W. Jamieson and C.H. Collins advertised as iron and brass founders and later used the name Alexandria Iron Works. In 1880 they reported employing up to 27 people, and in 1883 they promoted the business as having the largest collection of patterns this side of Philadelphia.

In 1890, the firm of Curtin&Butts purchased the Jamieson & Collins foundry, and in 1902 incorporated the business in Virginia as Alexandria Iron Works. The factory expanded in 1903, when fire destroyed a sash factory that had occupied a lot to the north. 

This photograph, taken around 1960, shows the building constructed on that corner, close to the entrance of the Wilkes Street railroad tunnel.

During the early 20th century, Alexandria Iron Works contributed to projects that supported the war efforts and to noteworthy pursuits locally. Alexandria Iron Works produced ornamental grillwork for apartment buildings and stylish homes built by Morris Cafritz in Washington, as well as for the White House and George Washington Masonic Memorial.

After the iron mill shut down, the buildings were demolished in 1961 and a Safeway supermarket was built on the site.

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