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St. Paul's Episcopal Church began in 1809 in a small building on South Fairfax Street between Prince and Duke Streets. In 1817, one of the country's most famous architects, Benjamin Henry Latrobe, was chosen to design the present church. Appointed by President Jefferson in 1803 as surveyor of public buildings in Washington, D.C., Latrobe completed the U.S. Capitol and the White House. An outstanding example of American architecture and inspired by the Gothic churches in Europe, St. Paul's is said to have been modeled after St. James's Church in Piccadilly, London.

On February 9, 1862, the Reverend K.J. Stewart was arrested by Union officers after failing to offer a prayer for the President during the height of the Civil War. A melee occurred in the sanctuary as the congregation attempted to defend its minister. On that same day, a warning was issued to 'females and others,' threatening arrest for offensive remarks and demonstrations prompted, no doubt, by the actions of several St. Paul's ladies, including one who is said to have dropped her prayer book from the gallery onto the head of an offending officer.

On June 28, 1862, St. Paul's was seized and used as a hospital for Federal forces until the spring of 1865.

St. Paul's has consistently been involved in community activities throughout its long history. In addition to establishing what would become the Virginia Theological Seminary in 1823, the Alexandria Hospital was founded in Wilmer Memorial in 1872 and in 1914 the Alexandria Red Cross was founded by the ladies of St. Paul's Church.