Neighborhood History


West Old Town (once known as “Uptown”) is located in the northwestern quadrant of the Old Town Alexandria street grid that was laid out in 1797. The area was primarily rural for much of the 18th-century, but railroad tracks were laid through the neighborhood by the time of the Civil War, during which and after the area became a haven for freed blacks and escaped slaves. The largest historically-black neighborhood in the city now mostly consists of small row houses, but there are also many commercial buildings.

Much of the area within WOTCA boundaries is the 40-block Parker-Gray Historic District, which encompasses 984 contributing buildings, including many representative of a number of popular 19th-century architectural styles, especially Greek Revival and Queen Anne. Parker-Gray saw much growth beginning in the 1980s with many of the newer buildings constructed to blend in with the older structures surrounding them, but more recent styles visible in the neighborhood are Art Deco and Streamline Moderne. The Parker-Gray District Board of Architectural Review oversees historic preservation efforts in the community. The neighborhood was initially designated a historic district in 1984 and was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2010.

The district takes its name from the Parker Gray Elementary School which opened in 1920 and was named to honor the principals of two local segregated schools: the Sarah Gray of Hallowell School for Girls and the John Parker of Snowden School for Boys. The school became Parker-Gray High School in 1950 and was the first segregated high school for black students in the city. After desegregation, it became Parker-Gray Middle School, but then closed in 1979. The site of the school today is home to the headquarters of Alexandria City Public Schools and is marked with a commemorative plaque.

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