Your Views: Alexandria needs a maritime museum

Your Views: Alexandria needs a maritime museum
Archeologists excavate a ship at the Robinson Landing site in 2018. (Photo/Office of Historic Alexandria)

To the editor:

Katie Cannady was spot on in her letter in the May 19 Alexandria Times, “Put the fourth ship in a museum” on the need for a ship, and shipping, museum in Alexandria.

A world-recognized maritime archaeologist calls the Alexandria finds “epic.”

Beyond the ships are other finds, such as intact hardtack, a hard biscuit baked at a waterfront bakery for consumption at sea in the 1700 and 1800s.

Alexandria’s rich history begs such a museum. The genesis of the city was a 1600s tobacco wharf at the foot of Oronoco Street, which became a tobacco inspection station for products going to England.

Gen. Edward Braddock arrived there in 1755 with 23 ships and kicked the French and Indian War into high gear. That war planted the seeds for the American Revolution. Gunboat galleys were built in Alexandria and used in that war. An unconfirmed report is that a couple of Alexandria-built gun galleys that engaged the Royal Navy in 1776 are at Mallows Bay Marine Sanctuary.

In 1814, the Royal Navy seized Alexandria and threatened to level the town to ashes. The same ships sailed on and attacked Fort McHenry, giving us The Star Spangled Banner. In Windmill Hill Park, there was a rail spur of the United States Military Railroad, headquartered in Alexandria, which shipped railcars downriver on barges to supply the Army of the Potomac.

A historian told me that arguably that’s the first case of intermodal shipping. Battery Rodgers, abutting that park, was built in part to protect against Confederate ironclads attacking Washington. U.S. Navy ships positioned here for the same purpose. By the way, D.C. was sited where it is in part because of the Port of Alexandria and the services provided. Don’t forget the Alexandria Canal, connecting with the C&O Canal by an aqueduct across the Potomac.

Ships were built here, with shipping activity across the Atlantic and beyond.

Virginia Shipbuilding was at Jones Point. When you visit there, you’ll see the National Park Service has done a much better job of displaying the city’s nautical history than the city has.

And Alexandria is blessed with replica Continental Navy sloop Providence, John Paul Jones’ first command and the first American ship to land Marines on foreign soil.

In my time there I spoke with countless visitors, both from the area, from out of state and foreign. Many of them said they love the history and charm of Alexandria and were back on a return visit or would be coming back again.

Alexandria is especially blessed with this history and heritage, and the pendulum needs to shift from the current trend of “wannabeing” like the cookie cutter National Harbor and The Wharf. We should instead capitalize on the city’s real strengths.

-Hal Hardaway, formerly of Alexandria