1908 Town of Potomac 1929
The Alexandria Almshouse was a publicly-funded poorhouse and workhouse where the needy could find refuge and the courts often sentenced people for vagrancy or indebtedness. Residents worked hard for their sustenance. The Almshouse was built about 1801 and included almost 20 acres of land, which the residents farmed for food. In 1850, the Almshouse sheltered 41 people. Among them were two African-American women, Eve Dorsey, age 102, and Rachel Hodges, age 100. The building remained in use as a poorhouse until a larger, modern facility was built outside Manassas in 1926 for the use of the City of Alexandria and four nearby Northern Virginia counties.
Alexandria purchased a large tract of land outside the city in 1800 and built the Almshouse over the next two years. The building served the needy for almost 125 years and provided temporary shelter during a tornado in 1927. The house was sold to Robert C. Frame in August 1928, and he reopened it as a six-room tourist hotel. When Frame defaulted on the mortgage, the City purchased the property back in March 1935. Eugene Smith Stadium was built on the land, and the Recreation Department used the building for storage. The original Almshouse building was torn down in 1952.
The Civil War had little effect on the crowded Almshouse. In 1862,
the keeper recorded 38 residents, plus 8 members of his own family, along with 3 horses, 2 cows, 1 bull, 19 hogs, 20 hens, 4 roosters, and 5 ducks. After the war, the land was also used by the City for other purposes, such as a dog kennel.
The Almshouse served many purposes: shelter for the needy, a work facility for petty criminals, and a holding place for others who ran afoul of the law.
The Almshouse was a two-and-one-half story, Georgian-style brick building with a full basement. Each floor was 3,350 square feet. For heat, the house originally had 18 fireplaces, but modern plumbing and boilers were eventually added. The June 1900 census showed superintendent William Smith and his wife residing there, along with 13 men and 15 women—totaling 15 whites and 13 blacks—as residents. The January 1920 census showed Joshua Sherwood, 70, as the head keeper, along with his wife, Mary and only 14 residents, 6 of them men, aged 44 to 58 and 7 women aged 47 to 78, as well as the youngest resident, a 23-year-old woman.
The Almshouse was originally situated in a rural area outside the City limits. The Town of Potomac (today's Del Ray) and the Potomac Yard railroad facility built up around the Almshouse property at the beginning of the 20th century. This view looks north in 1923 with the Almshouse in the foreground, near present-day intersection of E. Monroe Avenue and Richmond Highway (U.S. Route 1).