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The Commonwealth of Virginia is divided into ninety-five counties and thirty-eight independent cities, which are considered county-equivalents for census purposes.

City of Alexandria, Virginia

City of Alexandria Education, Geography, and HistoryAlexandria, Virginia City Hall

Alexandria also called The City of Alexandria is an independent city in the Commonwealth of Virginia. Based on the 2010 census, the population was 139,966, and in 2014, the population was estimated to be 150,575. Located along the western bank of the Potomac River, Alexandria is approximately 7 miles (11 km) south of downtown Washington, D.C.

Etymology - Origin of City of Alexandria Name

The oldest of the cities and second oldest town created in Virginia (after Dumfries) is Alexandria, established in 1749. Despite its reference to an Egyptian city and being the location of the George Washington Memorial, which harkens to an Egyptian style, Alexandria was named for John Alexander, one of the three owners of the land from which the town was planned. The site was near the Hunting Creek Warehouse on great Hunting Creek.


County QuickFacts: City of Alexandria

City History

Alexandria, Virginia was incorporated as a town in 1779 and incorporated as a city on 7 May 1852. Founded in 1748. Located in Fairfax and Arlington counties. [Virginia Genealogy, Sources & Resources, by Carol McGinnis, Genealogical Publishing Inc., Baltimore, MD, 1993.]

The first settlement was established in 1695 in what was then the British Colony of Virginia. Around 1746, Captain Philip Alexander II (1704-1753) moved to what is south of present Duke Street in Alexandria. His estate, which consisted of 500 acres (2 km2), was bounded by Hunting Creek, Hooff's Run, the Potomac River, and approximately the line of which would become Cameron Street. Since it was felt that the Potomac River was a good place for a prosperous town, there was a petition submitted to the Virginia legislature on November 1, 1748, that the "inhabitants of Fairfax (Co.) praying that a town may be established at Hunting Creek Warehouse on Potowmack River," as Hugh West was the owner of the warehouse.

Since this was amidst his estate, Philip opposed the idea and strongly favored a site at the head of Great Hunting Creek. It has been said that in order to avoid a predicament the petitioners changed the name of the new town from Belle Haven to Alexandria, in honor of Philip's family. As a result, Philip and his cousin Captain John Alexander (1711-1763) gave land to assist in the development of Alexandria, and are thus listed as the founders. This John was the son of Robert Alexander II (1688-1735). Lots were being sold for the town of Alexandria by July 1749, though it did not become incorporated until 1779.

In 1755, General Edward Braddock organized his fatal expedition against Fort Duquesne at Carlyle House in Alexandria. In April of 1755, the governors of Virginia, and the Provinces of Maryland, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, and New York met to determine upon concerted action against the French in America.

In March 1785, commissioners from Virginia and Maryland met in Alexandria to discuss the commercial relations of the two states, finishing their business at Mount Vernon. The Mount Vernon Conference concluded on March 28 with an agreement for freedom of trade and freedom of navigation of the Potomac River. The Maryland legislature, in ratifying this agreement on November 22, proposed a conference among representatives from all the states to consider the adoption of definite commercial regulations. This led to the calling of the Annapolis Convention of 1786, which in turn led to the calling of the Federal Convention of 1787.

George Washington prepared "A Plan of Alexandria now Belhaven" for the town. Belhaven comes from John Hamilton, second Baron Belhaven, who spoke eloquently against the union of England and Scotland. The Hunting Creek Warehouse attracted Scottish merchants who named their community after this Scotsman. In 1752, pressure to re-establish the name of Belhaven failed when the Virginia Assembly ruled against changing the name of Alexandria. Belle Haven, south of Alexandria, harkens to that proposed name, but is spelled as if it were a beautiful port and not to honor the baron.

The acts of the colonial assembly established the town of Alexandria in May 1749. It is merely hours younger than Dumfires, as the rider who was delivering from Richmond the two towns' charter papers stopped at Dumfries first, then continued up to Alexandria.

With most roads leading to the new port, Alexandria served as the county seat for Fairfax County from 1752 to 1800. It formally incorporated as a Virginia town in 1779, but in 1790, the creation of the Federal District of Columbia removed Alexandria from Virginia; this move was accepted by Congress in 1801. From 1801 to 1846 when the portion of the district south and west of the Potomac was retroceded to Virginia, Alexandria operated as a town within Alexandria County in the district. (The portion created from Maryland was designated Washington County.) In 1847, the Virginia Assembly recognized the organization of Alexandria County and in 1852 Alexandria became a city. The complete separation of Alexandria city in 1870 from the county of the same name and the resulting confusion, as well as a desire for a separate identity, resulted in 1920 of the renaming of the county to Arlington after the home of Gen. Robert E. Lee.

There was dissent in establishing Alexandria. In the vicinity of what is now the Hoffman Center, a different group of Scottish traders was intent on establishing a port. Being on the Potomac Path, the main north-south road, a tavern was established in the 1740s that was known as Cameron's Ordinary. It derived its name from Lord Fairfax's Scottish title as Baron of Cameron. During the debate to establish a tobacco port, partisans for the Cameron site petitioned in favor of their site. However, the Cameron site was unsuitable to any large vessels, whereas the waterfront at the Alexandria site lay near deep water. The Cameron site had a few residences, the tavern and a grist mill, and was shown on the Fry-Jefferson map of 1754, but Alexandria soon caused its demise. The settlement is still recognized in the name of Cameron Run, which, when it reaches tidal water, changes its name to Hunting Creek.

Geography: Land and Water

As reported by the Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 15.4 square miles (39.9 km2), of which, 15.2 square miles (39.3 km2) of it is land and 0.2 square miles (0.6 km2) of it is water. The total area is 1.49% water. Alexandria is bounded on the east by the Potomac River, on the north and northwest by Arlington County, and on the south by Fairfax County. The western portions of the city were annexed from those two entities beginning in the 1930s.

The addressing system in Alexandria is not uniform and reflects the consolidation of several originally separate communities into a single city. In Old Town Alexandria, building numbers are assigned north and south from King Street and west (only) from the Potomac River. In the areas formerly in the Town of Potomac, such as Del Ray and St. Elmo, building numbers are assigned east and west from Commonwealth Avenue and north (only) from King Street. In the western parts of the city, building numbers are assigned north and south from Duke Street.

The ZIP code prefix 223 uniquely identifies the Alexandria postal area. However, the Alexandria postal area extends well into Fairfax County and includes more addresses outside of the city than inside of it. Delivery areas have ZIP codes 22301 through 22312, 22314, and 22315, with other ZIP codes in use for post office boxes and large mailers. ZIP codes are not assigned in any particular geographic order.

Neighboring Counties

Bordering counties are as follows:

  • Arlington County, Virginia - north
  • Fairfax County, Virginia - west and south
  • District of Columbia - east


The city is served by the Alexandria City Public Schools system and by the Alexandria campus of Northern Virginia Community College. The largest seminary in the Episcopal Church, Virginia Theological Seminary, is located on Seminary Road. Virginia Tech's Washington-Alexandria Architecture Center, also known as WAAC, is located on Prince Street in Old Town, offering graduate programs in Urban Affairs and Planning, Public and International Affairs, Architecture, and Landscape Architecture. Virginia Commonwealth University operates a Northern Virginia branch of its School of Social Work and The George Washington University (Washington DC) also has a campus near the King Street metro. This campus mainly offers professional and vocational programs, such as an executive MBA program, urban planning and security studies.

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