Fishtown Businesses

Historical Significance

Today occupied by Founders Park, the area known as Fishtown developed in the 1850s. As fishing season began each spring, throngs of fishmongers rented wood to build shacks along the wharves, dismantling them at the end of the season in order to return the wood. Since "hired" wood could not be cut, windows were created by leaving out a plank, resulting in windows that were 15 feet long and 1 foot tall. These temporary tenements housed a variety of businesses dedicated to salting, packing, selling, and serving fish.

Fishing increased in economic importance after Alexandria's manufacturing fortunes began to decline in the 1830s, when fishing and slave-trading became the city's two major commercial activities.

During the antebellum period, the 150 or so fisheries along the Potomac employed many African Americans, who also provided most of the labor used to manufacture the rope, bricks, and ships necessary to support Alexandria's standing as a major east coast port. Some 450 ships used in the shad and herring business hired African Americans as dock hands; many others worked in Fishtown's fish processing plants. Black bricklayers, carpenters, glaziers, and builders also found jobs in the wharf district.

Fishtown workers may have lived in the Berg, a black neighborhood just west of Fishtown settled by blacks during and after the Civil War. 

Physical Description

Fishtown was located between Princess and Oronoco Streets to the east of Union Street.

Geographical and Contact Information

400 block of N. Union St. and Founders Park
Alexandria, Virginia
22314
Phone: 703-838-4399

Cite this Page:

Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, “Fishtown Businesses,” African American Historic Sites Database, accessed November 24, 2017, http://www.aahistoricsitesva.org/items/show/150.

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