Old Town statue on firm footing despite water-main break

By Josh White
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, January 18, 2010

The bronze statue of a defeated Confederate soldier, his back turned solemnly to the north, has lorded over Washington and Prince streets in Old Town Alexandria since 1889. It is still standing, despite years of weather, protests and even a van crash that toppled it.

On Sunday, the latest attempt to fell the soldier came from a burst water main.

About 6:30 a.m., a 12-inch pipe that runs under the statue broke, opening a gaping hole near the base of its large granite stand. Utility crews shut down Washington Street -- the section of the George Washington Memorial Parkway that runs through Old Town -- between King and Duke streets well into Sunday afternoon, cutting off the main thoroughfare and bewildering pedestrians and drivers.

Erected in 1889 to honor Alexandrians who died fighting for the Confederate army, the statute has stood at the site since, with the notable exception of a brief absence in 1988 after a wayward van hit it.

Protected by state law, the statue returned quickly after the Alexandria City Council ordered it back to the same spot.

Not far from Robert E. Lee's boyhood home, the statue carries the names of 100 Confederate soldiers as a memorial to their sacrifice. Some view the statue as an offensive reminder of slavery, but others see it as an important cultural relic preserving the memory of the Confederacy.

Thomas Strah, 64, of Franconia was walking in the rain after getting coffee Sunday morning in Old Town. He said he hoped that the pipe work might mean the statue's days are numbered.

"I think, just like the stars and bars over the South Carolina Capitol, it's a calculated statement of defiance," Strah said. He said that he has long thought the statue was inappropriate but that he appreciates the viewpoint of those who want to keep it for cultural reasons.

David Barney, a spokesman for Virginia American Water, said Sunday's repair crew worked around the statue.

"Our biggest concern was the landmark in the intersection," Barney said. "It's a very historic city, and we're very much aware of that. The statue is intact, and we won't have to move it."

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