Maps and Miscellany

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A Slight Detour

A post this morning decidedly not about travel. Instead, a wildly entertaining one on words, albeit not one of our creation. In addition to our well-established reputation as cartography geeks (and our lesser-known, but related, verve for vexillology), we’re also word nerds. (For any in doubt, we would simply point to this finely curated collection here.)

All of this simply to provide thin context for this morning’s post, pasted verbatim from an Opinion piece by John Ficara in today’s Washington Post:

“Opinion: How I wound up with a wound from heteronyms”

“The English language has something to confuse or annoy just about anyone — the mysteries of who and whom usage, the e.g. vs. i.e. standoff, the polarizing Oxford comma. I have a long-standing, personal problem with heteronyms — words that are spelled the same but don’t sound alike. Allow me to explain with a little story.

In order to graduate from the graduate program at my university, every student was required to take part in a group discussion of heteronyms. My group asked me to take the lead which, alas, went over like a lead balloon.

I now know that when trying to perfect one’s thinking for the perfect presentation on heteronyms, you must project confidence in your project and be content with the content. I was not.

Shy by nature, I do not live to give live presentations. Nor am I very articulate, so it’s always been difficult for me to articulate my points.

The teacher, as if able to intimate my most intimate fears, knew this. Like a food fighter at a buffet, he immediately began to buffet me with criticisms. He raised minute points every minute. I made a futile attempt to object to being made the object of his ridicule. I told the teacher his conduct was unacceptable and this was no way to conduct a class. He told me my arguments were invalid and I was being an emotional invalid.

As he continued to tear into me, I shed a tear.

I’m normally reluctant to attribute a negative attribute to anyone, but as I wicked away the moisture on my cheek with a tissue, I decided my teacher was a wicked man. There is no good excuse to excuse cruelty.

Meanwhile, the class took sides, and a row broke out in the back row.

Sensing I was sailing against the wind, I tried to wind up my presentation as quickly as possible.

Afterward, some classmates and I made a deliberate plan to meet so we could deliberate on what went wrong. They agreed that my big mistake was to just stand in front of the class and read what I had read. Technically, it isn’t plagiarism, but it also isn’t appropriate to appropriate others’ work.

They also agreed that my opening was poor, arguing I should have used my entrance to entrance my audience.

As this record indicates, and as history will record, my interest in heteronyms continues. But thanks to that cruel teacher, I wound up with a wound that remains to this day.”

As noted in the Post: “John Ficarra was the editor of Mad magazine from 1985 to 2018.” Indeed.

The author also narrates the piece with a killer Brooklyn accent, which you can access from the same link to the Washington Post article.

(And, after we published the post, this excellent, directly applicable addendum from Yvonne!)

Categories: Maps and Miscellany, Miscellany | Tags: , , , , , | 1 Comment

A Post Featuring Both European Borders AND Boundary Stones: Be Still Our Hearts

As anyone who follows this blog knows, we’re weirdly enthralled with all things cartographic in Europe. Plus, we have a comparable passion for Old Town Alexandria – the undisputed best small town in America – which includes our fair city’s retrocession from the District of Columbia in the 19th century. A local cartographic legacy that is still represented by extant boundary stones in Virginia delineating the original borders of the District.

Imagine our nerdy elation upon reading a news article in today’s New York Times that involves both!

Regarding boundary stones, recall this image from our Alexandria, DC, post celebrating the anniversary of our fair city’s retrocession:

Boundary stone Southwest 2 near Alexandria’s Union Station

Now, compare that image with this one of the 1819 boundary stone on the Franco-Belgian border from this morning’s article:

A stone, carved with the year 1819, marks the border between France and Belgium. It was recently moved by a farmer, local officials said.
From https://www.nytimes.com/2021/05/05/world/europe/france-belgium-border-moved.html

You can read the full New York Times article here, but the essence is captured by this paragraph:

“Apparently frustrated by a 200-year-old stone border marker, a Belgian farmer dug it out and moved it about seven feet into French territory, local officials told French news media, thus slightly enlarging his own land as well as the entire country of Belgium.”

Nice!

Categories: Belgium, France, Maps and Miscellany, Miscellany | Tags: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

The Fountain of Couth

Can fountains be considered couth or uncouth? Maybe? Whatever. The ones that we’ve encountered are both cool and compelling, if not couth (and WolfeStreetTravel always likes a pun, no matter how tortured it may be).

One of the common denominators to travel in Europe is the ubiquity of cool and compelling public fountains. Not decorative fountains serving as atmospheric – but nonfunctional – water features, like Trevi Fountain. We’re talking about fountains that serve as public drinking water sources in city and village squares all over the continent. We find them weirdly appealing and compelling (and sometimes gratifying, as was the case in the heat of the Southern Italy summer while biking through parched Puglia).

Because we don’t anticipate getting back into Europe for the next 6 months or more, we figured this would be a logical time to finally post the collection of cool-ass fountains that we’ve been aggregating by theme for several years into a single post. Again, weirdly appealing to us, with an emphasis on weird. What more can we say? So, we’re taking a quick break from posting on the Southeast Asia trip to finally put this one up on the site.

Thematically, you first got your stern- and angry-looking dude-with-additional-features-style public water fountains:

Cool fountain in Bruges, Belgium, from a Christmas trip in 2015.
A disembodied head in Ljubljana, Slovenia, from a 2008 trip.
An absolutely furious water dispenser in Belagio, Italy, in 2004.
A withered, disembodied head fountain in Split, Croatia, from 2008. What a delight to have your drinking water dispensed by this guy. . .
Dude at the Netherbow Wellhead in Edinburgh, Scotland
A brass, satyr-looking dude dispensing drinking water inside the Hamburg Rathaus from a Christmas trip in 2017.
Our favorite fountain in the town square / Roman forum in the middle of Arles, Provence, France, from our trip to Europe in 2002 and our first bike trip, at that.
Closeup of the fountain face. This has become our avatar for WolfeStreetTravel for two reason:
1. It’s cool as shit and very Gaulish / Celtic
2. It’s an iconic image from our very first European trip

(We’ll acknowledge that this one isn’t actually a drinking water fountain, per se, considering the non-potable sign, but it’s absolutely included due to the reasons noted above.)

Cherubimic little fella in Dubrovnik, Croatia, in 2008.
Cool fountain in Beaucaire, Provence, France, in 2002.
Scallop-headed dude with fish from London in 2016.
Hulking Samson’s fountain (Samsonova Kašna) in České Budějovice, Czech Republic, built in the 1720s. From a Central European bike and road trip in 2006. České Budějovice, btw, is hope to the original Budweiser beer, the source of legal battles over the decades.
So, maybe this one isn’t actually a drinking water fountain . . .

You got your lady fountains:

Fountain in Ghent, Belgium, in 2015.
A fountain frequently used during our stay for water bottle fillups in Bergamo, Italy, from the Great Micronations Road Trip of 2017.

You got your creature fountains:

Interesting iron fountain in Kotor, Montenegro, in 2008.
Very cool fountain in Stockholm, Sweden, in 2016.
A very similar, but smaller one in a different media, in Paris in 2008.

You got your always-popular lion fountains:

Located just down the street during the same trip to Paris, but in an adjoining arrondissement, are these stylish, royal blue lions.
Paris, France
A sad, confused, or constipated lion fountain in Dubrovnik, Croatia, from 2008.
A lion fountain supplying a watering trough right outside the walled city gates in Carcassonne, France, on a stopover during the Great Micronations Road Trip of 2017.
A pair o’ lions in Girona, Spain, the starting point for our bike trip through Catalonia in 2011.

And, your lion / creature hybrid?

Another fountain in Dubrovnik, Croatia, from 2008.

Finally, you got your truly utilitarian water fountains out in the country – in this case on rides in Italy and Spain.

Countryside fountain located while biking in Puglia – as long as it had a brass spout, it was potable, and the water from all of these was excellent
Outside the village of Colmers in Catalonia while biking in 2011 (took this ’cause of the snails, not the design . . .).
A perfectly located fountain at a masseria along one of our rides in Puglia in 2013.
A formerly functional and now purely decorative fountain in Strasbourg, France, during Christmas 2017.

And now for something completely different: Moroccan public water fountains. We thought we’d expand the theme of awesome European water fountain sculptures to the same function, but different approach, in Morocco, home to the “I shipped my pants” advertising campaign. Here, the public water fountains are all about the mosaic tile.

Potable water fountain outside Fez‘ Museum of Wood in 2019. Yup. Museum of Wood.

Another fountain in full use deep within Fez’ medina in 2019.

Further expanding the theme, here’s a couple of NON-potable water fountains, deviating from our original theme to a few decorative fountains. That are cool enough to qualify for the post: Antoni Gaudi’s tiled animal fountains, unique to Barcelona’s Parc Güell.

Park Guel, Barcelona, Spain, in 2011, at the tail end of biking in Catalonia.

And finally, a further expansion to the drinking fountain theme – a stretch beyond which we really can’t expand further without diluting the original theme to oblivion.

Town cistern and multifaceted fountains down the street in Dubrovnik, Croatia, in 2008.
Another in an unmarked, tiny town in Catalonia, Spain, while biking in 2011.

And finally, a contribution from home: the weirdest freakin’ fountain-type sculpture in the DC metro area, as far as we’re concerned:

There are a series of these creepy fish dudes along Ohio Drive Bridge downtown, otherwise known as the Tidal Basin Bridge:

What the hell? Not only does the dude have a fish body, but he’s definitely leering.

We’ve never known what they were, but whenever we bike or walk over this bridge, we’re always weirded out by them. Other than that awareness, though, we didn’t know anything else. But in posting this, we did find a Washington Post article that explains these, and why the dude’s a fish. “The bronze sculptures on the Ohio Drive SW bridge at the Tidal Basin were commissioned about 1987 in honor of Jack Fish’s forthcoming retirement from the Park Service. They are more correctly called grotesques, because they don’t have the rainspout that defines a gargoyle.” Jack Fish was director of the National Park Service’s National Capital Region until 1988.

So, they’re technically not the European city square drinking water fountains that we’re enamored with, but they’re thematically similar enough to include here.

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Old Town’s Alley Houses

The narrowest house in Old Town (and reportedly the narrowest house in the country) is located on the 500 block of Queen Street and is known as the Spite House. It gets way too much attention, given a relatively unknown competitor three blocks away from us on Prince. (Nonetheless, it made it into one of our previous posts . . .)

The place even rated a story in the New York Times, from which we’ve quoted its origins: “The house, 7 feet wide, about 25 feet deep and a whopping 325 square feet in two stories, is a tiny landmark on Queen Street in the Old Town district in Alexandria, Va., just across the Potomac from Washington. Structurally, it’s more of an enclosed alley than a house — the brick walls of older houses on either side form the painted brick walls in the living room. It’s called the Spite House by some because John Hollensbury, the owner of one of the adjacent houses, built it in 1830 to keep horse-drawn wagons and loiterers out of his alley. Indeed, the brick walls of the living room have gouges from wagon-wheel hubs.”

The article cites the Spite House’s 7-foot width. It’s actually wider than that. How do we know? We freakin’ walked over and measured it one day. It’s 7′ 6.5″ wide.

We measured it because we were convinced the tiny house closer to us on Prince Street was actually narrower and should be getting the spotlight that was always the freakin’ Spite House. Here’s the Prince Street house:

It clocks in at 8′ 1.5″ wide. Wider than Hollensbury’s house by 7 inches. We’re surprised and annoyed, but numbers don’t lie.

Here they are, side by side:

Unlike the Spite House, the house on Prince wasn’t built out of spite, but as a means to generate rent revenue. According to our copy of “Historic Alexandria Virginia Street by Street: A Survey of Existing Early Buildings” the house was “built before 1883, when Samuel H. Janney bequeathed to his son, Henry, the rents accruing from ‘the three-story brick house and the small two-story brick house adjoining thereto on the northwest corner of Prince and Royal.'”

Although the little Prince (Street) wasn’t built out of spite, it does share an attribute with the Spite House that few other town houses in Old Town do – it’s an alley house. A house built in what previously was a narrow alley between two larger houses, and that may use one or both sides of the houses on either side of the alley, instead of having independent sides, separate from the other houses.

This was brought to our attention in this article last week by Sarah Dingman in Alexandria Living magazine, which identified this as one of only three other alley houses in Old Town, in addition to the Instagram favorite, the Spite House.

Another of the alley houses can be found 11 blocks west of the little guy above, on the 1400 block of Prince Street:

From the Alexandria Living article:

“It is unique from the other spite houses in that it is only one story tall. The home is a little more than 8-feet wide and has been incorporated into the home next to it. 

The same color as the building to the east — the rear of 131 S. West St., which houses Christ House — it almost blends in. It also looks like a miniature replica of the buildings to its left. Note in the photo below the similar framing above the front door and window.

This alley house is the youngest alley house, built between 1891 and 1895 according to Sanborn Fire Insurance maps.”

The final alley house is a boutique shop on the 200 block of King, right in the middle of the shopping and restaurant district:

More from the Alexandria Living article:

“Only a couple blocks up from the water, it is commonly passed by but not noticed as one of the alley houses. [We can vouch for this.]

This alley house is relatively wide, measuring 11 feet wide (as measured by Old Town Home blog). The house was built around 1812. 

In 1994 the residence, which was located above a then-Birkenstock shoe store, was a total of four rooms, including the bathroom and a kitchen, didn’t have space for a washing machine.”

Definitely puts our small house into perspective!

Categories: Alexandria History, Maps and Miscellany, WolfeStreetProject | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Traveling in 2020

There’s a header image on one of our blog pages depicting our shelf of travel books from a few years ago:

Enticing portals to exotic locales and far away places in normal times!

And now:

Just saw this awesome post on Reddit – totally captures this year for us . . .

Categories: Maps and Miscellany, Miscellany | Leave a comment

Exploiting a No-Deal Brexit through a 17th Century Bruges Charter?

As some have observed, this blog maintains a low-grade obsession with cartography and European history. Although this story is a little light on the former, it’s equipped with some decent elements of the latter. Plus, it centers on Bruges, in Flanders, which we totally dug during a Christmas trip in 2015.

The opportunity for exploitation revolves around a charter granted in 1666 by Charles II of England to a bunch of fishermen in Bruges. Here’s a portion of an article in yesterday’s Telegraph that outlines the brilliant scheme:

“Belgium will invoke a 1666 Royal charter granting its fishermen the eternal right to fish British waters if there is a no deal Brexit.

Boris Johnson has threatened to quit negotiations with Brussels if a trade deal is not in sight by the October 15 EU summit. No deal will hit Belgian fisherman hard because they will face being shut out of British waters.

King Charles II granted 50 men of Bruges the right to fish UK waters for “eternity” after staying in the city during his 1656 to 1659 exile after the English Civil War that ended with the execution of his father.

The regional government of Dutch-speaking Flanders said it would use the ancient charter in the courts if necessary.

“Our goal is to reach a negotiated deal,” a spokesperson for Flemish Fisheries Minister Hilde Crevits told Belgian radio. 

“But if we don’t reach a deal, we could invoke the charter. It dates back to 1666 but was confirmed by a UK lawyer in 1820.”  

EU boats land about eight times more fish in UK waters than British fishermen do in EU waters.  Three quarters of the fish sold in the Belgian port of Ostend are caught in British waters.

“One wonders if it is in Belgium’s, or anyone’s interests to start going back to such historic claims. A lot could get put back on the table,” a British source said.

Britain began fishing negotiations with the newly established Kingdom of Belgium in 1849. A treaty was signed but Belgium insisted at the time it was “without prejudice” to the 1666 “fishing privilege”. 

The charter was rediscovered in Bruges city archives by alderman Victor Depaepe in 1963, who wrote to Queen Elizabeth pressing the claim. 

Mr Depaepe, an accountant and owner of a fishing fleet, contrived to have himself arrested by the Royal Navy fishing off the coast of East Sussex. 

British authorities never brought the case to court, which has fueled speculation prosecutors believed the charter could still be legally enforceable.”

Pretty cool, man!

Categories: Belgium, Maps and Miscellany, Miscellany | Tags: , , | 2 Comments

More Trip Planning and Itineraries. Dammit.

So, one of the planning tools that we didn’t feature in this post on how WolfeStreetTravel plans trips is customizable Google Maps. We bring this up because only because we’re now working on our our third freakin’ map to plan travel over the same Labor Day period, thanks to COVID-19.

We didn’t feature the map on the previous planning post because we hadn’t really used them for planning before – only for tracking completed WolfeStreetTravel destinations on the customized Google Map that’s embedded on the blog’s home (“Map”) page. Customizing Google Maps is useful primarily for road trips in a targeted, but still broad, region, where there is a universe of destination and lodging options that needs to be winnowed down. Visualization of these options in map format with pins applied based on planning research helps to formulate an itinerary.

Unlike the Google map we use to document WolfeStreetTravel destinations on the blog home page, where virtually all destinations are designated by pins that are homogeneous in shape and color, the Google maps we’re using for our now-constantly retreating Labor Day road trip uses uses multiple colors and icons to code the map to designate sources of destination ideas, hotel collections, confirmed stays, and candidate next stops.

We use three monitors for travel planning:

  1. A split screen on one monitor, which enables us to view the customized Google planning map in one half and run a separate instance of Google maps or Rome2rio to calculate drive times and routes on the other (we used Rome2rio to plan the Micronations road trip, as well)
  2. The main monitor for research – Conde Nast Traveler, TripAdvisor, Relais Chateau, Design Hotels, SLH, VRBO, AirBnB, region-specific sites, and other travel blogs
  3. A third monitor to drive the spreadsheet with our evolving itinerary and point-to-point travel tables, as well as additional notes and links

Our plan for the Labor Day period originally was a slow-rolling road trip through the Languedoc region in the South of France, rolling inexorably west, through Cathar country, and ending in San Sebastian, Spain (dropping the rental car back off in Biaritz, France, to avoid ridiculous drop fees that we’d incur if we returned the car in Spain):

Most of the pins designate “The Most Beautiful Villages in France” or similar designations or members of our preferred hotel collections. The primary source of beautiful villages is an officially sanctioned list produced by the French government. “There are 161 villages in France rated as a Plus Beaux Village (as of 2013). The ratings are awarded by the Plus Beaux Villages de France association. The basic requirements to be considered by the association are: population under 2000, at least two village sites or buildings classified as “protected”, and the municipality requests that the village be considered. Others originate from regional tourism boards or reasonably referenceable travel blogs that we’ve vetted (there are innumerable shit travel blogs out there). Purple bed pins represent lodging that we had reserved, question marks potential next stops, etc. This trip was 50% done in February when COVID hit; we held out until May, then threw in the towel. Since then, of course, France, as well as the rest of Europe other than Ireland, has declared American travelers persona non grata – understandably so, since the country’s a shitshow with no national strategy.

So, we retrenched. To New England. We’ve wanted to spend time there – and in Maine and Prince Edward Island, in particular. Unfortunately (but reasonably), both Canada and Maine restricted travel from dipshit areas of the US that were out of control, so the northernmost destination targets were now off limits. Based on the laxer travel requirements in other areas in New England, we’d now head north through New York, Rhode Island (we’ve never been), Massachusetts, New Hampshire (we’ve never been), then over to Vermont, down through Pennsylvania, and home. This Google map shows the progress we had made on the backup plan:

But now, New York (our first stop) is (again, understandably) conducting checks on out-of-state travelers on key “key entry points,” to help enforce quarantine requirements. For Rhode Island and New Hampshire, we’d need to quarantine the entire time (which pretty much eliminates the benefit of staying in Newport or Portsmouth, which is where our lodging is located) or produce a negative COVID test taken within 72 hours of entry. Regardless of the challenge with the 72-hour timing (we’d be leaving Virginia more than a week before we hit New Hampshire, for example), there’s no way of knowing when the test results would be available. For Rhode Island, where we’d arrive maybe 68 hours after leaving Virginia, we still may not get a result until after we left for Massachusetts, resulting in quarantining in a cottage the entire time. Not bad digs, since it’s Castle Hill Inn, but not leaving your cottage would get pretty old after the first few hours.

So, starting last Thursday, we’ve had to cancel the four lodging reservations we had in New England, plus a round-trip ferry to Martha’s Vineyard, which does not appear to be (cancellable, after all), and start to plan what we’re optimistically calling the Mid-Atlantic Road Trip:

Based on what’s going on in the country, it’s probably going to wind up simply as the Alexandria circumnavigation-by-bike trip. . .

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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.

“GROCERY SPECIALTIES”

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

Ice, Ice, Baby

That’s right – Vanilla Ice knew his Old Town ice houses. There are exactly two ice ice houses in Alexandria, down from dozens across the city at the turn of the 20th century.

Neither are used for storing and selling ice anymore, but this summer, according to Alexandria Living Magazine, a company called Goodie’s Frozen Custard will be moving into the more iconic of Old Town’s two extant ice houses. After 30 years as a plumbing supply shop, and then being abandoned for more than a decade, that ice house will soon host a tenant worthy of the space.

Between 1900 and 1930, ice houses in Alexandria distributed hundreds of thousands of tons of ice annually to the city’s businesses and residents. The increased availability of electricity throughout the city after this period rendered the ice houses obsolete. Most were demo’d to allow the construction of new structures. But two remain standing, albeit used for other purposes.

The more well-known of the two (and the one for which its function is unambiguously broadcast), is located in the southwest quadrant, on the 200 block of Commerce Street (and visible from King):

When one of us was growing up, that ice house was abandoned, and painted a uniform, faded light blue. The “ICE” was visible only as relief on the facade. (BTW, we continue to look for a serigraph of the ice house in this condition by late, local Torpedo Factory artist Clay Huffman, but the search has been fruitless.) About 5 years ago, someone bought ICE house, began restoring it, and applied the new, improved paint scheme. This is the future home of the frozen custard purveyor, fittingly enough.

The other remaining ice house structure lies on the 100 block of South Lee Street:

We run or walk by this place multiple times a week, and only recently realized that it was an ice house. This was the home of the Mutual Ice Company from 1900 to 1937, when it closed due to widespread adoption of electricity for refrigerators and freezers. It’s now home to an architectural firm.

As with the first “ICE” house, the structure on Lee features a shelf on which to place ice blocks during a transaction:

And a pretty impressive, heavy wood insulated door to the ice freezer:

These more recent ice houses have nothing on the grand daddy of them all in Old Town, though – the 18th-century Gatsby’s Tavern ice well. (All of the quoted information below is verbatim from the city’s historical information site here.)

“The Alexandria Common Council granted Wise permission to build an icehouse underneath the corner of Royal and Cameron Streets in 1793 as part of his construction. For the previous four years, Wise had leased the Alexandria Inn and Coffee House at 201 N. Fairfax Street, which included an on-site icehouse. Perhaps this convenience in his earlier ventures convinced Wise of the importance to the hospitality industry of having a regular supply of ice. Wise saw into the future by including this important feature in his designs for Alexandria’s five-star hotel of the 18th century.”

Inscription on the bluestone at the center of the circle on the corner above:

“Ice harvesting was an expensive and time-consuming process. It was cut from the frozen Potomac River in the winter and hauled by cart to the City Tavern for storage.  Once in the well, the ice was formed into a solid mound and covered with straw to preserve it for use through the summer months.  Preserving ice was an on-going challenge in the late 18th century and an expensive venture. Therefore, ice was generally reserved for wealthy estate owners. George Washington records in his journals the trials and tribulations of trying to preserve ice. In Alexandria, many homes had interior ice pits to store small quantities of ice. Those lucky enough to have access to ice used it to chill beverages, preserve perishable foods, and even make a new popular dessert of the day: ice cream. This availability of ice at Gadsby’s Tavern helped to distinguish the establishment as one of the finest of its kind in the 18th century.”

Linked directly to the Tavern basement by a brick-walled and vaulted tunnel, the ice well was also accessed by the tavern staff through a small hatch at street level. The City Tavern’s well is much larger than most urban residential ice wells, measuring over 17 feet in diameter and over 11 feet deep at the lowest excavation point. The well could store as much as 68 tons of ice, enough to supply the tavern and even the citizens of Alexandria. In 1805, when John Gadsby was leasing the tavern from John Wise, Gadsby advertised the sale of ice from the well, “ICE FOR SALE, Persons may be supplied with ice, at eight cents per pound on application to John Gadsby.”

A view into the ice well:

“The ice well is an important and rare example of a commercial well in an urban environment.  Most ice wells have been lost to “progress” as they have succumbed to office buildings, parking lots, and housing.  Examples still exist at Monticello, Montpelier, and Mount Vernon, but these were created for private and not commercial use.  Gadsby’s ice well tells the larger story of commerce and the evolution of hospitality.  It is a reminder to modern day travelers and residents of something we take for granted today – a ready supply of ice.”

Stay cool, Old Town.

Categories: Alexandria History, Maps and Miscellany, WolfeStreetProject | Tags: , , , , | 2 Comments

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