The Berg

Find Your Place In The Berg

About The Berg

The Berg is a neighborhood of about 15 blocks with boundaries that have changed over time. Generally, it is bordered on the west by North St. Asaph Street, on the north by Madison Street, by Princess Street on the south and the eastern edge runs along North Fairfax Street.

This historic community was settled in 1861, during the American Civil War, by enslaved blacks feeing Petersburg, Virginia. They settled in the area after Union troops occupied Alexandria that May. It was one of the first black neighborhoods to develop north of King Street, white Alexandria’s commercial center. Then called Petersburg (later shortened to “The Berg”), the neighborhood encompassed several blocks just west of the waterfront area known as “Fishtown,” which was a collection of shacks adjacent to the wharves on the Potomac, bounded on the west by the AWR railroad tracks and running from 1st Street to Bashford Lane and Royal Street.

A large number of black refugees created small settlements throughout Alexandria. Prior to the Civil War, Free Blacks gravitated towards the Bottoms and Hayti, both south of the white residential and retail districts. But after 1861, thousands seeking protection, shelter, and jobs settled in new areas of the city. “Contrabands,” (southern slaves liberated by Union troops), worked for the military at the wharf and railroad or built barracks for soldiers and destitute freedmen. By 1864, the black population filled vacant lots with makeshift homes in the old town, as well as on its outskirts. The Berg was joined by Contraband Valley, Pump Town, Newtown, Grantville and more than a dozen other settlements.

There are no remaining structures from this historic period of The Berg. The most prominent modern-day landscape features were the James Bland Homes and Samuel Madden Homes, part of a two-story, 250-unit public housing complex covering several blocks.

From The African American Historic Sites Database:

“The Berg continued to be an African-American neighborhood throughout the 20th century. In the 2000 movie, “Remember the Titans,” set during Alexandria’s school integration crisis of 1971, the Berg was used as shorthand for the black ghetto. “Whites lived on Seminary Ridge, Blacks lived in ‘the Berg’ near the waterfront,” screenwriter and Alexandria resident Gregory Allen Howard recalled in a September 2000 interview in the Los Angeles Times. “They did not ‘mix,’ a common term used then.”

In 2000, the City of Alexandria greenlit a redevelopment project known as Chatham Square, developed by EYA. The project completed in 2005. The Planning and Zoning department sought to “redevelop and disperse the public housing, currently spanning four predominately African-American and low-income neighborhoods: Samuel Madden, Andrew Adkins, Ramsey and James Bland. A combination of public, workforce, affordable and market-rate housing would be erected in their place, according to the proposal.” Per ULI Development Case Studies: “Chatham Square is located on a two-block site bounded by Pendleton, North Pitt, Princess, and North Royal streets. The site—which lies only four blocks from the Potomac River—formerly was occupied by Samuel Madden Homes, a deteriorated two-story, 100-unit public housing project built during the 1940s. There was little landscaping; land not covered by buildings was paved and used for surface parking. The project, also known as “the Berg,” was home to the African American high school football players featured in the movie Remember the Titans, which depicted the consolidation of Alexandria’s three racially imbalanced high schools into one in 1971.”

The Chatham Square development displaced 48 of The Berg’s 100 public housing units in 2001, disbursing families to three sites citywide. Some moved out of the city altogether.