John Fitzgerald was a former aide-de-camp to George Washington during the Revolutionary War. It’s unclear as to when John was born, however he projected leadership. He was elected to the House of Burgesses within a year of his arrival in Virginia, Colonel in the Continental Army, exposed a cabal against George Washington and gave early evidence against Benedict Arnold. He moved to Alexandria in 1779 after spending the winter at Valley Forge.
In September of 1778, John purchased with Valentine Peers the south side of the 200 block of King Street. The town trustees granted them the “sunken ground” on the south side of King, east of Lee Street. This building was John Fitzgerald’s Warehouse.
The first reference to the warehouse is to its loft by sailmaker Daniel McDougall in 1798. He informed the public of his move over the warehouse belonging to John Fitzgerald. His loft was on the south east corner of King and Union, where Starbucks is today.
Early warehouses here are simple one and a half story wooden structures. Raised four feet from the ground, their cribbing filled with sand and rubbish. The first and second floors served as a warehouse and salesroom, the top floor housed a sail loft that was 42 ft x 83 ft in length.
Wales Alley, now a 30 ft street, was a 50 ft wide pier serving vessels.
John Hunter was a shipbuilder born in Scotland and came to Alexandria about 1783, establishing Hunter’s Shipyard. His business was regarded as one of the most complete and private establishments. Most important exports were tobacco, Indian corn, wheat, and flour with imports of a variety of processed goods and manufactured items. Whether these two John’s knew each other is unclear from my research. Although it would not surprise me if they did cross paths given their businesses being right on the waterfront within the same time frame.
John Fitzgerald passed in 1799 preventing him from making significant use of the building. Before his death, deep in debt he deeded the warehouse in January of 1799 in trust to William and John Herbert of Burke and Herbert Bank. The bank is still in operation on the corner of King and South Fairfax.
A few years later in May of 1801 an ad for the warehouse appeared in the Alexandria Advertiser and Commerce Intelligencer. Two respected merchants John Dunlap and Thomas Irwin offered $14,750 for the building. After Dunlap’s death in 1806, it would then be known as Irwin’s Wharf and Warehouse. The Irwin family held the property for a number of years.
Today the Warehouse is home to Starbucks, The Old Town Shop and around the corner from Starbucks is Mai Thai. The once 50 fit pier is now an alley that provides a walkway to the waterfront and a space between the Old Town Shop and Virtue Feed and Grain. This author can be found in the shop and haunting the streets of Old Town.