The Seaport Foundation’s focus today is on providing life and career skills to young people in need of confidence and a new direction for their lives. By engaging our Apprentices in the rich maritime heritage of Alexandria, we guide and nurture them to a better understanding of their capabilities, their place in our community and their ability to contribute to the historical thread of our City. Centered on developing the academic and hand-crafting skills required to build traditional wooden boats, our Apprentices’ time in the Seaport Center is also punctuated by lessons in history, community, and seamanship. As we guide our Apprentices toward their futures, they learn about the boats and lives crafted throughout Alexandria’s history and realize that they too can craft their lives and flourish.
The Alexandria Seaport Foundation was founded in 1982 to facilitate acquisition of The Schooner Alexandria, a 125’ tall ship with a rig height of 85 feet. The Foundation maintained the three-masted topsail schooner as a living museum and ambassador for the City of Alexandria until its sale in 1996. The Foundation’s original mission was to honor the City’s maritime history by providing monthly lectures, conducting regularly scheduled community sails to Accokeek and George Washington’s Mount Vernon, and offering sunset history cruises for local residents and visitors.
In 1992 the Alexandria Seaport Foundation began construction of the McIlhenny Seaport Center, our iconic timber frame located on Alexandria’s waterfront. This effort marked an expansion of the Foundation’s focus and a new mission to improve the lives of at-risk youth. The Foundation’s signature Apprentice Program was developed to improve academic and social competence through training in historical handcrafting skills and construction of traditional wooden boats. In addition to learning required boat crafting and woodworking skills to build these historical craft, Apprentices were exposed to the history, economics and geography of our community.
To celebrate the history of the Potomac River and the importance of the oystering industry in the growth of the Mid-Atlantic region, The Foundation constructed its first Potomac River Dory, The Potomac. This 42’ replica was typical of the crafts built for oystering in the Potomac and Chesapeake from 1880-1930. Designed with the watermen in mind, these boats were low cost, easy to use, fast sailing, and powerful. Unlike their predecessors, these boats were large enough to pull an oyster dredge but still had a shallow draft for work in smaller rivers and creeks.
After 17 years of service, The Potomac was retired, and The Seaport Foundation set its sights on construction of two 30’ Potomac River Dories, William Henry and Monte Byers, which were completed in 2012.
Since 1993, the Seaport Foundation’s apprentices and volunteers have built many other traditionally constructed boats, including a 28’ whaleboat for Mystic Seaport Foundation’s restoration of the Charles W. Morgan, and historic replicas for Mount Vernon Estates.
Meet Seaport Foundation Apprentice Chris Adkins and learn about Historic Replicas at Mount Vernon Estates.
Learn about the Whaleboat for Charles W Morgan.
The Seaport Foundation’s passion for sharing Alexandria’s maritime history helps ensure continued celebration of our City’s rich heritage. One of many organizations devoted to Alexandria’s Port City Heritage, we partner with City of Alexandria organizations like the Tall Ship Providence Foundation, the Office of Historic Alexandria, Alexandria Archaeology, and Visit Alexandria toward a shared goal of preserving and highlighting our region’s maritime heritage. The Seaport Foundation believes that this collaboration will strengthen awareness, appreciation, and support for maritime history—the proverbial rising tide that can lift all boats.
Our goal over the next several years is to use each partner organization’s knowledge and expertise to create wayfinding, informational brochures, and informational activities for residents and visitors to learn more about Alexandria’s maritime history.