New Alexandria waterfront hotel overflows with local history

July 24, 2024 | Beneath a new hotel is centuries of history (WTOP's Rachel Nania )

WASHINGTON When Hotel Indigo announced its plans to build boutique accommodations along Old Town Alexandria’s waterfront development, it made a deal with the local government.

“Part of the plan with the City of Alexandria and the waterfront development was unearthing any buried treasures that could have been here,” said Kate Ellis, the general manager of Old Town’s Hotel Indigo, which opened last week.

And that is exactly what happened. During the early construction phases of the hotel, crews stumbled across a historical find.

“We expected to find some foundations of old buildings and warehouses that we knew existed, but we were not expecting to uncover the hull of a late 18th-century ship,” Ellis said.  

The discovery led to a delay in construction for the Carr Hospitality development on South Union Street, but Ellis said the excitement surrounding the excavation made it well worth the wait.

“We were able to stop construction and really do some great archaeological work,” she added.

Archaeologists believe the 50-foot vessel may have been a “coastal ship” that traveled up and down the East Coast. In the 1700s, Alexandria was one of the busiest tobacco trading ports in the U.S., and warehouses were constructed along the waterfront to accommodate the booming business.

“And this is where the tobacco came in as it was being shipped up and down the Potomac River from the South,” said Ellis, who added that Hotel Indigo’s location is also the former site of John Carlyle’s tobacco warehouse.

The 120-room hotel, which is a brand from the InterContinental Hotels Group, opened its doors in early May. It’s the first completed project in Old Town’s multiyear waterfront redevelopment plan. Old Dominion Boat Club and a mixed-use retail and residential building will join it on either side.  

The site’s history is very much a part of the new boutique building. A seven-panel mural, completed by a local artist, hangs in the entryway and details the excavation work from the ship.

Ellis is also hoping the hotel will receive a few artifacts from the dig to display in the lobby once the ship returns from a five-year restoration project at Texas A&M University.

Documentary records show between 1788 and 1796, the ship went from being a vessel to being buried. (Courtesy Anna Frame)

Other aspects of the neighborhood are on display at the new hotel, including a library filled with books on the area’s history and artwork from the Torpedo Factory. Treats from the workforce training program Together We Bake are also available in the hotel’s market.

Cathal Armstrong, of nearby Restaurant Eve, will head the hotel’s waterfront restaurant, called Hummingbird Bar and Kitchen. The restaurant will open later in the month.

Ellis says the menu will focus on local flavors and ingredients.

“Very heavy on seafood, plans for a raw oyster bar, as well as great surf-and-turf items to feel like you’ve really got that new American homestyle cooking,” she added.

This is the first Hotel Indigo in the D.C. area. Plans for a second location are in the works for D.C.’s Southwest waterfront development.

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