APS : Architectural Preservation Services


Bruin's Slave Jail Wash House Cistern

Alexandria, Virginia

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Carr Properties

Completion Date



During an archeological investigation for the new 1701 Duke/Edmonson Plaza development, a circa-1850 brick cistern was uncovered. This cistern is associated with the Bruins Slave Jail at 1707 Duke Street, which is on the National Register of Historic Places and part of the National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom for its historic role in the Alexandria slave trade. The cistern required documentation, repairs, and backfill before development could be completed.


An architectural conservator from APS documented the structure extensively before treatment, as well as the artifacts found during excavation work, and also performed mortar analysis. APS then wrote a repair methodology with the approval of the City of Alexandria Planning Office, and our conservator remained on the project as the Quality Control Officer. Worcester Eisenbrandt, Inc. (WEI) masons disassembled unstable sections of the cistern and cut out the deteriorated mortar. The entire structure was repointed, and missing sections rebuilt.

As requested by the city, infill brick used to complete the shape is distinguishable by color from the historic brick. To rebuild the partial dome, the WEI crew built a form to match the original curve, which was removed after completion. The interior was parged with mortar matching the original in color and texture, but could be distinguished from the original with analysis. Once the structure was restored, it was filled with washed gravel and topped with oyster shells to match the final landscaping of the surrounding plaza, leaving the upper edge exposed for visitors.