History of Founders Park

DID YOU KNOW: The riverfront area of present day Founders Park was called West Point in the early 1700’s. West Point was the first important European settlement along the waterfront and predates the city of Alexandria. The warehouse that was built here in 1732 was the first permanent structure established on the waterfront and led to the founding of the town.

West Point was not always the up-scale area of shops and residences it is today. Through the 1700’s and 1800’s it was variously a tobacco storage area, a landing point for slaves from Africa and the site of a notorious ‘fish town’, a seasonal community of wharf laborers who inhabited a makeshift shantytown by the river.

During the Civil War the Union army occupied the waterfront and used the wharfs for shipping and receiving goods from the Potomac.

By the turn of the century West Point was the site of the Smoot coal and lumber yard and continued to be an industrial area until the 1960’s when Smoot moved and West Point became an empty, trashy vacant lot by the river, a ripe plum for developers. By late 1976 plans were well along toward building an apartment complex of four 18-story towers. Residents of the new townhouses along Queen, Quay, Princess and Union streets formed a group that took up the cause of creating a park instead of the large condominium.

What at first appeared to be an up-hill struggle finally met with success when an arrangement was reached with the City of Alexandria and the apartment consortium to build the condominium on the abandoned school grounds off Royal Street. This made it possible for the neighborhood residents to press vigorously for a park that could be enjoyed by the public.

They succeeded in pursuading the Alexandria City Council to spend $18,000 for improvements to the shoreline and landscaping. Further progress was slow but encouraging. In the fall of 1978 Councilwoman Ellen Pickering held a public meeting in Founders Park (by now the park had a name!) to discuss a proposal to request Federal funds and change the zoning that controlled what could be done with the park area. In December 1978 Founders Park Community Association was officially incorporated.

In April of 1979 the FPCA held its first Park Cleanup Day. Thirty-eight assorted doctors, lawyers, Congressmen, military officers, business men and women, civil servants and spouses collected forty-two bags of trash and large piles of driftwood and debris. The beautiful park one sees today is a point of pride and personal dedication for the members of FPCA. The park is a peaceful riverside garden in Old Town Alexandria where the public can stroll along the shore, walk their dogs, play volleyball, have a picnic and enjoy the flowers and greenery of Northern Virginia.

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