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PHOTOS: 'Blazing a Trail In Old Town Alexandria': Walking Tours Cover 19th-Century Blazes, Lies About George Washington

The Huffington Post  
First Posted: 04/13/2012 5:33 pm Updated: 04/13/2012 6:02 pm

ALEXANDRIA, Va. -- George Washington fought fires here. Washington was one of Virginia's first volunteer firefighters.

Or maybe he wasn't. For years legend has had it that Washington acquired a fire engine from Philadelphia for Alexandria's Friendship Fire Company in 1775, the year after the company was established.

"It's turned out there's no documentation to prove that," says Elizabeth Field, a museum aide with the Office of Historic Alexandria. "It's one of those Alexandria legends."

Never fear: Alexandria's actual fire fighting history stays interesting.

In April 1961, Union Army Col. Elmer E. Ellsworth, who studied law under Abraham Lincoln, raised the 11th New York Volunteer Infantry Regiment -- the "Fire Zouaves" -- a group of firefighters from New York City.

On May 23, 1861, Virginia's voters ratified the state's secession. The next day Ellsworth and the Fire Zouaves entered Alexandria, to occupy the city. Ellsworth saw an enormous Confederate flag flying from the roof of what is now The Hotel Monaco, then called The Marshall House, a second-class hotel in the heart of Old Town.

Ellsworth tore the flag down off the hotel's roof. The hotel's notoriously violent innkeeper James Jackson shot Ellsworth with a shotgun. Ellsworth died; he was the first Union officer killed in the Civil War. Jackson, too, was killed, by Corporal Francis E. Brownell, a member of the Fire Zouaves.

Discover more facts and legends about Alexandria's firefighting history on two upcoming walking tours. "Blazing a Trail: Alexandria's Firefighting Past" on April 14 and May 12. The tour begins at at 1 p.m. at the Friendship Firehouse (107 S. Alfred St., Alexandria), which is heavily decorated with photos of George Washington; Washington is still something of a Alexandria firefighting mascot, even if not an actual Alexandria firefighter.

Columbia Firehouse
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Among Alexandria's 19th-century firehouses is the Columbia Firehouse at 109 South St. Asaph St. Built in 1883, this historic firehouse is now home to Columbia Firehouse restaurant.

RELATED VIDEO: A video about The National Portrait Gallery's exhibition "The Death of Ellsworth"

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