Seeking out family roots in Alexandria, VA

Trip Start Mar 14, 2006
Trip End Mar 15, 2007

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Friday, May 12, 2006

I headed off to Alexandria, VA. It was only about 100 miles along I-95 (and the related ring roads) and I stayed in Richmond a while longer than usual and took a slow road to Alexandria. On my trip I continued following the Civil War sites; however, I kept missing the exits. The one I was able to find was at Massaponax Church. The information post says "Massaponax Baptist Church, built in 1859, served a congregation founded in 1788. On May 21, 1864, Lt. Gen Ulysses S. Grant and his commanders conferred on pews in the churchyard as the Union Army marched from the Spotsylvania court House battlefield to North Anna River. Photographer Timothy O'Sullivan hauled his heavy stereo camera to the balcony of the church and recorded this conference in a unique series of candid images showing a war council in progress."

As I got closer and closer to Alexandria (which is right outside of Washington, DC and bills itself as "the fun side of the Potomac") the traffic became very bad indeed. The road branched out into many lanes and exits going every which way. I got off the highway 'way too early and took the very long way into town. However, when I got there, the Visitor Centre was very, very helpful. They directed me first of all to Christ Church, which is where the Crease's went when they lived there. The City of Alexandria was founded in 1749 and the Crease's arrived in about 1809.

Their web site tells me that "Christ Church has a continuous history as a house of worship going back before the founding of the United States of America. Although the building was begun in 1767, its roots go back much further. The Church of England was the established church of Virginia, part of and protected by the government. The American War for Independence, which commenced shortly after the completion of the church, required the organization of the American Episcopal Church, an autonomous province of the Anglican communion. In Virginia this change meant the end of government support and protection for the Church. Unlike many Virginia parishes, Christ Church survived and grew through the support of local residents like George Washington and its clerical leadership. The church was vigorous enough to add a gallery by 1787.

Life at Christ Church was abruptly altered by the Civil War. When the U.S. Army occupied Alexandria in 1861, many churches were seized for use as hospitals or stables. Apparently, Christ Church's reputation as George Washington's place of worship preserved it as a church, where U.S. Army Chaplains conducted services. ... Ironically, the post-war years saw more changes to the interior of Christ Church than did the war years. ... In the 1890s, it was restored to the original colonial style. The present interior design dates from that restoration. In the twentieth century Christ Church has honored its heritage and preserved its colonial structure while continuing to minister to its parishioners and the community. It is a tradition for the President of the United States to visit the church some time during his administration, usually on a Sunday near George Washington's birthday."

After visiting the church, I went to the Library, which the tourist place told me had the best collection of historical material relating possibly to the Crease's. but this was closed as the staff was taking a development day or something. The visitor's centre guided me to Lloyd House. This is the 1797 house which serves as the administrative headquarters for the Office of Historic Alexandria, a department of City government charged with the collection, preservation, and interpretation of city owned historic sites, museums and programs for the public. It is one of the best examples of Alexandria's late eighteenth-century Georgian style. Not only that, but the administrator also has a superb collection of reference material and referred me to two publications which mention John and Anthony Crease and provide reference to a number of other sources. They also referred me to the gentleman who wrote the book, T. Michael Miller, by name and a building called The Lyceum, where he works.

This building was built in 1839 in the Greek Revival style. It has been a Civil War hospital, a private home, an office building and the nation's first Bicentennial Center. After the war the building was sold as a private residence. It was saved from demolition in 1969 and in 1974, after extensive restoration, opened as the nation's first Bicentennial Center. It now serves as the history museum for the City of Alexandria and provides exhibitions, school programs, lectures and concerts, volunteer opportunities and space for rental functions for the community.

Mr. Miller is research historian for the history museum and is like a little squirrel. He has rooted out some of the most fascinating information about Alexandria. He clearly loves his job. He copied a number of things for me about the Creases (buildings, documents, reference points) and encouraged me to go back to the library tomorrow and follow them up. He was fascinated by the information I have gathered already and encouraged me to send him a copy of anything I wrote as a result. I will do so.

I went to look for the building the Creases apparently lived in when they lived there. It is at 602 Cameron Street and was noted in 1820, in a newspaper article to be "a new, very commodious and agreeably situated three story brick tenement and lot of ground". He purchased it in 1811 for $350 and his estate (I believe) sold it in 1833 for $2,500 which suggests he enlarged it. It now houses a law firm. I popped my head in the door and all I could see was that it was about two rooms wide and had a flight of stairs about mid way back. The gal at the reception knew nothing about the house.

I then made my way to the Days Inn I was staying at (WAAAAAAY overpriced) and after a meal at Yamazoto Japanese restaurant, I settled in for the night. Only I couldn't. The toilet ran all night (until I turned it off), the air conditioning was so incredibly noisy I could not bear it so turned it off and the floor, carpet, was dirty. I managed to overcome these problems however complained to the management the next day.

I also got an email from BJ, another online friend in Downingtown giving me guidance on how to get to Downingtown from Alexandria without paying too much in turnpike fees. Sounds a bit confusing but I'll give it a try and will call her if I get lost.
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