Our trip to Alexandria

Members of RVA Archaeology visited Alexandria’s Archaeology Museum on June 28th, 2014 to learn about Alexandria’s archaeology programs and historical sites. A lot of fun was had by all, and it gave many of us a sense of what Richmond could achieve with collaborations between developers, city government, community groups, and interested citizens. Archaeological and historical planning has helped Alexandria build public amenities that recognize the city’s history, including very troubled history, in an appropriate and moving way. Check out some of the images from our trip, and click below to read more details!

Retired Alexandria City Archaeologist Pam Cressey has had a lot of experience incorporating archaeology into the planning of developments and into city legislation. “Developers now call to consult with us during the early stages of [city commercial and residential] development,” said Dr. Pam Cressey, who served more than 30 years as Alexandria’s City Archaeologist. She described how archaeology has been preserved by city ordinances that were crafted with input from developers, the city attorney, and archaeology advocates. These collaborations were important to generating a broad support for their proposed ordinances, and those attending the trip were impressed by the results of these collaborations.

RVA Archaeology members were struck by how Alexandria has embraced archaeology as part of their city culture. “As a child, I lived in countries that have a significant culture of ‘appreciated archaeology’ such as Israel and Egypt,” said Richard Rumrill. “It was nice to see a city in Virginia with archaeology in their DNA.” Many members also saw Alexandria as a model for how archaeology could be managed and interpreted in Richmond. “I will tell everyone who will listen that our visions for creating and establishing valuable and economically sound places for African American historical sites here in Richmond is possible,” said Florence Breedlove, who went on the trip. “I’ve [now] seen how it can come together with the networking between the community and city government…in accordance with hard work.”

The visit began on the third floor of the old Torpedo Factory, which now houses studios for local artists, galleries, and the city’s Archaeology Museum. The city-owned Art Center oversees Alexandria’s Potomac River Waterfront and its adjoining marina, where community values of art and history have been influencing the development of the Waterfront. “There were strong feelings for and against the waterfront development,” said Cressey, “but we advocated for art, archaeology and history. If we had taken a side [for or against development], it would been over.” She said archaeology advocates would have lost their credibility and their strong ongoing influence upon development projects.
After several conversations and presentations, Cressey and Francine Bromberg, Interim Director of the Alexandria Archaeology Museum, took the RVA Archaeology group on a tour of three historical and memorial sites within a 10-minute drive of the popular Alexandria Waterfront. Development of these sites incorporated findings from archaeological excavations and artistic conceptualizations generated by community engagement. “The high point for me was the visit to the historical sites. I was extremely impressed with [our host’s] historical knowledge about Alexandria in general and the sites in particular,” said Sele Adeyemi, an adjunct African American History instructor at James River Community College.
The African American Memorial Park, the Freedmen and Contraband’s Memorial Cemetery, and the Bruins Slave Jail were visited by the Richmond contingent, and all demonstrated how archaeological research and outreach created visible history on the city’s landscape. The Freedmen’s Cemetery was especially moving, with an imposing sculpture (“The Path of Rose and Thorns” designed by Mario Chiado) that evoked strong emotions in the group. “The sculpture moved me to tears. No words were needed to express how our [enslaved] people must have felt,” said Donnell Boddie, a resident of Henrico. “One could feel the pain. However, I also saw the strength in the fact that at the top of the sculpture, a rose was extended in a giving gesture…it would be nice to see a work of art equal to the magnitude of The Path of Thorns and Roses [in Richmond’s African Burial Ground].”
The trip grew naturally from the mission and objectives of RVA Archaeology. Alexandria stands as a model for what is possible when collaborations, rather than contests and conflicts, are sought by all sides. “I was most impressed by the commitment of the City to uncover, preserve and commemorate its history through archaeology AND to make it a part of the City Code for development,” said Anita Lee. “As a resident of the City of Richmond, I would feel a sense of pride if our City would own its history, all of it. If done well, we could be a positive example to the rest of the country.”