The city of Alexandria has spent four months and $190,000 resurfacing single block of Princess Street in historic Old Town and the pavement is still the bumpiest in town.
Which is the way residents want it.
Instead of cement or asphalt, the 600 clock of Princess near the Potomac riverfront is paved in cobblestones -- historic cobblestones, according to local lore -- and ripping up the old surface and tossing it away was out of the question.
To keep Princess Street residents happy, city officials had the stones on the crumbling street carefully removed while a new road bed was put down. Then three workmen, on their knees and wielding rubber mallets, gently knocked the cobblestones back into place. On a good day, they might repair only 10 feet.
The result is "the biggest scale cobblestone street laid in Alexandria in 150 years," boasts Dayton Cook, the city's director of transportation and environmental services.
A cherished city tradition holds that the Princess cobblestones were laid by Hessian soldiers captured by George Washington's troops -- in which case the stones could be dated from the late 1770s.
Alexandrians have also long circulated the story that the stones were imported to America as ballast in ships.
Unfortunately, according to historical literalists, there is no hard evidence to back either story.
"These are both persistent legends, but we can't attest to the veracity of either," said Richard Bierce, Alexandria's historic resources coordinator.
"We know that in the 1790s, here was newspaper advertising for the purchase of stones suitable for paving. Some of those stones might have been used on Princess."
"Princess was surely done by the early 1830s By then, they were using brick to pave streets," Bierce said.
The renovation project began last August after the city and Princess Street residents agreed it was time to fix up the crumbling thoroughfare.
The street has been subjected to the indignity of asphalt patching and the punishment of heavy trucks.Tourists had been known to steal a loose, genuine cobblestone from the street that, in all probability, George Washington traveleded on horseback.
"Much of the cobble was badly broken," said Cook. "It had an undulating surface. You could hardly ride a car up and down it, it dipped and swayed so."
Electricity and other new-fangled utilities also had been added, giving Princess Street a distinctly un-18th century air.
To preserve the original cobble, the stones were painstakingly removed by the city's subcontractor, J. A. Laporte Co., and taken to a warehouse in Woodbridge where they were cleaned and mixed with enough new stones to pave the 280-foot-long block.
The stones were then relaid individually in a cement base. A sealer and plastic tarpaulin were spread over each day's work.
Electricity, gas and cable television lines now will run beneath the street.
Gadsby lights -- a modern fixture with the appearance of an antique coach light -- will bathe Princess Street with the aura of an earlier era.
For all the city's attention to detail, at least a few neighbors were less than enchanted with the renovation plans.
Soon after the work had begun, some homeowners lodged a protest with the city government over the shape and composition of the gutters to be installed.
"They wanted to be like the 100 block of Prince (Captain's Row)," said Cook, who was cast as the villian in the dispute. The 100 block of Prince features brickwork, which covers most of the unseemly regularity of granite curbing.
The city quickly acceded to the Princess neighborhood's demands.
"We had to make a fuss," said Morgan Delaney, a 33-year-old, physician who grew up in a big, red-brick house on the corner of Princess and North Washington St. "They would have destroyed the street in order to save it."
Even with the the curbing battle successfully fought, Delaney is not entirely happy.
"I supposed the final appearance will be very nice," Delaney conceded. "But the street no longer bears the scars of having been lived in for 200 years. This street is too perfect."