April 2008
Northwest Alexandria Perspective View, A.M. Gorman, c. 1894
Published by Gedney & Roberts

"I might have made a good artist and gone hungry. I thought it better to be a fair printer and have a pay envelope at the end of the week."

-- William F. Roberts

This interesting view of an early Alexandria subdivision is a copy of an original found in the panoramic maps collection at the Library of Congress. The panoramic style of mapping was popular in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries in the United States, particularly in the Northeast and Midwest. The maps are not generally to scale, but they are detailed and were painstakingly created; the artist walked the streets to fill in a frame and project the view from an elevation of around two to three thousand feet. Using a panoramic map to show the potential of areas planned for development was a fairly common tactic. Alexander M. Gorman, a real estate agent and the manager of the Northwest Alexandria project, may have commissioned this map.

The birdís-eye view takes in the area northwest of Alexandria that now contains the Braddock Heights, Del Ray, and St. Elmo neighborhoods. A subdivision plat dominates the scene; this was originally laid out in 1890 and known as Northwest Alexandria, but renamed Braddock Heights in 1900 (Escherich, p. 38). Other notable features seen on the map include the St. Asaph racetrack, two railroad stations, a prominent Potomac River, and the Washington, D.C. skyline. The map probably dates to circa 1894, since the Washington, Alexandria, & Mount Vernon Railway only extended to the racetrack as pictured from November 1894 to May 1896 (Merriken, pp. 5-6).

Washington, D.C. city directories provide more information about the mapmakers. The firm of Gedney & Roberts consisted of Albert G. Gedney and William F. Roberts; based on directory listings, this partnership appears to have lasted only from 1891-1895. Gedney was an engraver and lithographer who along with several siblings followed his father Joseph F. Gedney into the business. After the suicide of Walter Gedney in 1895, D.W. Gregory took over the business. Gedney's partner William F. Roberts was a renaissance man who also studied birds and worked for the Law Reporter before turning to printing.

Other 19th Century Views of Alexandria

A picturesque and well-known image is the View of Alexandria, VA which depicts the town in 1853, looking south along Washington Street from the Mount Vernon Cotton Factory. This lithograph was published by J.T. Palmatary and drawn and printed by E. Sachse and Co. of Baltimore. A slightly later view in a different and more detailed style is the 1863 Birds Eye View of Alexandria, VA lithograph by Charles Magnus of New York, which portrays the street grid, waterfront, and busy river traffic.