The Ghost Signs of OId Town

Alexandria’s history dates back to 1749, and the older, brick buildings in our town, particularly along Union Street, have been repurposed many times over the centuries. This included commercial uses where a little in situ advertising on their walls would have benefited sales of their goods. Although these buildings now generally house restaurants and more tourist-oriented shops, there are faded reminders of their previous lives still visible on their facades – ghost signs.

The most visible is likely this building on the corner of Prince and South Union:

Formerly the home to “ETIMAN FERTILIZER”  and “CERES FERTILIZER,” according to the ghost signs on both the south and east facades,

It was for a few decades the home of The Christmas Attic, but that business, too, has gone the way of Ceres Fertilizer, and is no longer there. We’ll see who moves in next.

Just north on an adjacent building is the former home to BYRNE ORGANIZATION:

We have no idea what this is, but would like to think that it was Alexandria’s Irish mob version of the Bada Bing in the Sopranos. Regardless, it’s now the whiskey room portion of Union Street Public House.

Across the street is Virtue Feed & Grain restaurant and bar:

At some point in the past, this was “WALTER ROBERT’S HAY, GRAIN, FLOUR & FEED.” The building also was home to the actual Virtue Feed & Grain store, and we thought there was a ghost sign for this that inspired the restaurant’s name, but it’s not visible now.

A ghost sign that we didn’t even realize was there until recently, despite walking or running by the place hundreds of times, can be found on the corner of Duke and Fairfax:

This was once a corner store, which, prior to the 1960s and the advent of the supermarket, occupied most corners in Old Town (including both ends of our block of Wolfe Street). The last of them – a deli on the corner of Fairfax and Franklin – succumbed to residential conversion about a decade ago.

As with many of the former corner stores, now residences, you can tell that they once served a commercial purpose – this one based on the store windows. The ghost sign can be found between the two windows on the second floor.


The most recently uncovered is undoubtedly the coolest – the Grape house on the corner of South St. Asaph and Gibbon:

The house was built in 1842, and for our entire residency in Old Town, this wall was painted. However, the house underwent a comprehensive renovation in 2015, including stripping the old paint from this wall, revealing a chewing tobacco advertisement. Wisely, the wall was left exposed. We assume that it actually added a premium to the house price, considering how prominently the Grape tobacco ad was featured in marketing for the house when it was sold.

All of these ghost signs are located in the southeast quadrant. There’s one in the southwest on the top floor of a brick building on King Street:

“Michelbach’s Furniture”

And perhaps a future ghost sign on the side of the new location for Conte’s Bike Shop:

And, lastly, a fake and hokey Oldey Timey sign that the developers of the Watermark condos put up on the Strand:

We have no doubt that this structure (which used to be the sales office for the Potomac River cruise ship The Dandy) was at one time the PHILIP B. HOOE WAREHOUSE for GRAIN, but the oldey timey font is a bit much.

The tables, btw, are overflow outdoor seating for Chadwick’s around the corner (a true Old Town institution). The city has permitted restaurants to spill out into the streets and alleys to accommodate outdoor dining during the current restrictions, which is absolutely awesome. If you haven’t been out to a restaurant since February and are hankering to dine out, come to Old Town!

Categories: Alexandria History, Maps and Miscellany, WolfeStreetProject | Tags: , , , , , , | 4 Comments

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4 thoughts on “The Ghost Signs of OId Town

  1. E B Connell

    You should go into marketing.


  2. Sandra Werner

    Well done, as usaul…..


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