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“Bite-Size Bits of Local, National, and Global History”
Alexandria, Virginia — The American South (Mid-Atlantic)
 

Colross-Alexandria's Urban Phoenix

Alexandria Heritage Trail

 
 
Colross-Alexandria's Urban Phoenix Marker image. Click for full size.
By Allen C. Browne, March 15, 2014
1. Colross-Alexandria's Urban Phoenix Marker
Inscription. For over a century, this two-acre block was occupied by a mansion known as Colross. Built in 1800 by John Potts, the mansion, with its outbuildings, gardens, orchard, and a "clover lot" was in effect a small plantation.

Colross's owners included some of Alexandria's most prominent citizens. Jonathan Swift -- merchant. diplomat, and lodge brother of George Washington -- occupied Colross until 1824. In the 1830s, Thomsen Mason (grandson of George Mason of Gunston Hall) stylishly renovated the property, which had been used as a military boarding school. Mason, who died in 1838, was buried in a brick vault behind the house, although the vault later was removed and the remains re-interred elsewhere. William Smoot, a merchant who bought the property in the 1870s, continued t maintain Colross as an elegant oasis at the edge of a rapidly growing city.

After World War I, Colross's fortunes declined, when new owners divided the property. They constructed a warehouse on the northern half of the block, and used theold mansion as a boarding house for workers at The Virginia Shipbuilding Corporation. In 1927, a tornado ripped through the western end of Alexandria; among the casualties was the once-proud home of the Swift, Mason and Smoot families.

When investigations at Colross began in 2004, the chances of finding
Colross-Alexandria's Urban Phoenix Marker image. Click for full size.
By Allen C. Browne, March 15, 2014
2. Colross-Alexandria's Urban Phoenix Marker
any meaningful archeological evidence seemed remote. In 1929, an interested buyer had dismantled the mansion and rebuilt it in Princeton, New Jersey. Moreover, the block later was occupied by 20th century commercial buildings, including a car wash.

But like the legendary Phoenix, Colross had not altogether disappeared. As backhoes removed layers of modern rubble, details of the block's historic landscape slowly emerged, the complex foundations of the main house basement, the original kitchen for the house, enclosed herringbone brick floors, a well, floor drains, multiple rooms and four massive fireplace bases. West of the house, an area of brick paving defined a courtyard where stables once had stood, and the foundations of Mason's office wing emerged east of the main house. A large domed cistern, also added during the Mason period, provided the household's water supply for much of the 19th century. To the north, where gardens had once bloomed, lay the empty base of the Mason family burial vault. Even the brick piers that supported the early 20th century warehouse were intact.

The investigations undertaken at Colross demonstrated, once again, the power of archeology to document a seemingly irretrievable chapter of our past.
 
Erected by Diamond Properties LLC in cooperation with the Alexandria Archaeology Museum, Office
Colross, early 20th Century image. Click for full size.
By Allen C. Browne, March 15, 2014
3. Colross, early 20th Century
Colross in the early twentieth Century was the elegant and imposing residence of merchant William Smoot.
Close-up of photo on marker
Alexandria Library
of Historic Alexandria.
 
Location. 38° 48.647′ N, 77° 3.057′ W. Marker is in Alexandria, Virginia. Marker can be reached from the intersection of Oronoco Street and North Fayette Street, on the right when traveling west. Touch for map. The marker is in the courtyard northeast of the intersection. Marker is at or near this postal address: 1111 Oronoco Street, Alexandria VA 22314, United States of America.
 
Other nearby markers. At least 8 other markers are within walking distance of this marker. War, Rails, and Wells (about 400 feet away, measured in a direct line); Robert Robinson Library -1940 (approx. 0.2 miles away); The Memorial Pool (approx. 0.2 miles away); Parker-Gray High School (approx. 0.2 miles away); Home of Edmund Jennings Lee (approx. 0.3 miles away); Washington-Rochambeau Route (approx. 0.3 miles away); Lee-Fendall House (approx. 0.3 miles away); a different marker also named Lee-Fendall House (approx. 0.3 miles away). Touch for a list and map of all markers in Alexandria.
 
Also see . . .
1. Colross. Wikipedia (Submitted on March 17, 2014, by Allen C. Browne of Silver Spring, Maryland.) 

2. Colross. (PDF) Archeological Investigations, Suzanne L. Sanders, 2012. (Submitted on March 17, 2014, by Allen C. Browne of Silver Spring, Maryland.) 

3. Alexandria Heritage Trail. (Submitted on March 18, 2014.)
 
Categories. Man-Made Features
 
Colross in ruins, 1927 image. Click for full size.
By Allen C. Browne, March 15, 2014
4. Colross in ruins, 1927
Colross lay in ruins following the tornado that devastated western Alexandria in 1927.
Close-up of photo on marker
Alexandria Library
Archeology image. Click for full size.
By Allen C. Browne, March 15, 2014
5. Archeology
Archeologists at work in the basement at Colross were reminded that its multiple rooms were probably used by slaves who served the mansion's owners prior to the Civil War.
Close-up of photo on marker
R. Christopher Goodwin and Associates, Inc.
Colross in Princeton, New Jersey image. Click for full size.
By Allen C. Browne, March 15, 2014
6. Colross in Princeton, New Jersey
Dismantled in 1929, Colross was reconstructed brick by brick in Princeton, New Jersey,where it stands today at the Princeton Day School.
Close-up of photo on marker
Princeton Day School
Colross -- 1916 image. Click for full size.
Wikipedia
7. Colross -- 1916
Colross -- Front Elevation, 1916 image. Click for full size.
Wikipedia
8. Colross -- Front Elevation, 1916
Tree Sculpture image. Click for full size.
By Allen C. Browne, March 15, 2014
9. Tree Sculpture
In the courtyard, 1111 Oronoco Street.
1111 Oronoco Street image. Click for full size.
By Allen C. Browne, March 15, 2014
10. 1111 Oronoco Street
 
 
Credits. This page was last revised on June 16, 2016. This page originally submitted on March 17, 2014, by Allen C. Browne of Silver Spring, Maryland. This page has been viewed 732 times since then and 31 times this year. Photos:   1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10. submitted on March 17, 2014, by Allen C. Browne of Silver Spring, Maryland. • Bernard Fisher was the editor who published this page.
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