Alexandria Architecture

The Old & Historic District of Alexandria, fondly called Old Town, is the third oldest and one of the largest historic districts in the country. More than 4,000 buildings in the City are designated historic. 

A limited range of building materials and a restrained attitude toward the public display of wealth gave the early streetscapes of Alexandria a simpler look than the grand homes being built at the same time in Charleston, South Carolina, and Savannah, Georgia. With the notable exception of the Carlyle House, early Alexandrians made common use of other materials to simulate stone.

Approximately 60 minutes.

Begin at the intersection of S. Washington Street and Prince Street.

1. The Lyceum: Alexandria's History Museum

201 S. Washington Street
10 am to 5 pm Mon-Sat; 1 pm to 5 pm Sun; except major holidays
Admission: $2

The Lyceum, built in 1839, is one of the City's few Greek Revival buildings. It was designed to reflect the cultural aspirations of the two groups that sponsored its construction: the Alexandria Library Company and the Alexandria Lyceum Company. The Lyceum was used as a hospital during the Civil War, when the City was occupied by Union forces. After the war, it became a private home. In 1940, it was converted into an office building. In 1969, the City exercised eminent domain to protect the structure from demolition, and private and public funding transformed it into a museum.

2. Virginia Public Service Building

117 S. Washington Street (across Prince Street)
Private Building

Built in 1930, this building is Alexandria's best example of the Art Deco style. 

Walk west, past The Lyceum, on Prince Street.

3. Fowle House

711 Prince Street
Private Residence

James Patton purchased this quarter block in 1797 and built his home here. In 1811, William Fowle acquired the property and enlarged and restyled the house. Family tradition credits the facade to Charles Bulfinch, architect of the U.S. Capitol. The features of this beautiful Federal style house include the fanlight surrounding the front door and the Palladian window.

4. 712 Prince Street

Private Residence

Built in 1803, the original Federal town house was remodeled by Henry Daingerfield in the Second Empire Victorian style, which was popular just after the Civil War. Notice the curved French Mansard roof, elaborate dormers, and deep scroll brackets below the cornice.

Head east on Prince Street and cross S. Washington Street.

5. 605-607 Prince Street

Private Building

These buildings were probably built or restyled by William B. Klipstein, who purchased the lot of 605 in 1853 and 607 in 1858. They are the only known examples in Alexandria where the simulated stone facade is actually made of cast iron.

6. EDAW offices

601 Prince Street
Private Building

This corner building was built in 1840 in a Greek Revival style for the Second Presbyterian Church. The structure was extensively remodeled in 1889 by Glen Brown in a Romanesque Revival style. The building's highlights are its corner tower and semicircular masonry arch on short, fat columns. 

Continue east on Prince Street, where the 500 and 400 blocks contain a number of well-preserved 18th- and 19th-century dwellings, including:

7. Murray-Brown House

517 Prince Street
Private Residence

Built around 1775 by Patrick Murray, who acquired the quarter block on which it stands on December 20, 1774, this house is typical of most of the better homes built in Alexandria during George Washington's day. Purchased by John Douglas Brown in 1816 and owned by only one family since then, it is perhaps the least altered of the surviving early buildings. Like many other wooden buildings in Alexandria, the wide clapboards originally were painted oxide red, which was not only one of the least expensive paints available but also gave the facades the appearance of brick. 

At the intersection of Prince Street and S. Pitt Street, turn right.

8. St. Paul's Episcopal Church

228 S. Pitt Street.
Designed by Benjamin Latrobe, one of the first professionally-trained American architects, the church was built by Jeremiah Bosworth in 1817-1818. Latrobe was unhappy about changes made to his plans to conserve money, but, apparently, all ended well. 

Return to Prince Street and turn right.

9. Bank of Potomac

415 Prince Street
Private Residence

This Federal-style building was built in 1804-1807 as the Bank of Potomac. The door surrounds and window lintels are made of beautifully carved sandstone from the Acquia Creek, south of Alexandria. During 1863-1865, the building served as the headquarters of the restored government of Virginia.

10. 403 Prince Street

Private Residence

This structure, dating from before 1883, is a wonderful example of the alley houses that can be found around Alexandria. Their side walls were nothing more than the outer walls of the existing houses on each side; all that needed to be added were a roof and facade. Such alley houses typically were built to house servants or children of the family in the adjoining house.

11. Relief Fire Company

319 Prince Street
Private Residence

This Victorian building, constructed in 1855, is Alexandria's oldest standing firehouse, although it was converted into a private home in 1980. It had been the second location of the volunteer Relief Fire Company. Metal tracks on the ground floor guided horse-drawn engines. The balcony has two 14-foot French doors.

12. Alexandria Fire Department, Station 51

317 Prince Street

Constructed in 1915 by the City of Alexandria, this was the fifth location of the volunteer Relief Fire Company. 

Continue east on Prince Street.

13. Gentry Row

Referred to today as "Gentry Row," the 200 block of Prince Street is one of the best collections of rowhouses representing the wealth of late 18th-century Alexandria. The architectural detailing is a mixture of bold, mid-18th-century Georgian and elements of the more delicate Federal period, popular in America after the Revolutionary War.

14. The Athenaeum

201 Prince Street
Gallery Hours: Noon to 4 pm Thur, Fri, Sun; 1 pm to 4 pm Sat
Admission: Free

Now the home of the Northern Virginia Fine Arts Association, this Greek Revival building, constructed in 1851, was originally the Old Dominion Bank. During the Civil War, the building served as the chief commissary office. Four bold Doric columns support a triglyph cornice. See how the plaster walls have been scored and painted to resemble stone blocks!

15. Hooe House

200 Prince Street
Private Residence

Built around 1780, this was the home of Colonel Robert Townshend Hooe, the first mayor of Alexandria (1780-1781). Hooe came from Charles County, Maryland, where, during the Revolutionary War, he served on the Committee of Safety and as a lieutenant colonel in the 12th Maryland battalion. George Washington dined here on several occasions.

At the corner of Prince Street and Lee Street, turn left. Walk to King Street and stop at the corner.

16. 100-200 King Street

The 100 and 200 blocks of King Street are dominated by late 18th-century vernacular warehouses, which have been in continuous use for some 200 years. Notice the handsome details at the cornices. The roofs were constructed of fireproof materials like slate. Many of the original heavy timbers are exposed in the interiors. Check them out when you go inside! 

Turn left and head west (up the hill) on King Street

17. Alexandria Visitors Center at Ramsay House

221 King Street
9 am to 8 pm daily, except major holidays
Admission: Free

William Ramsay, one of the first 11 trustees of Alexandria, purchased this lot at the first auction in 1749 and was so eager to get established that he had a small building loaded onto a barge, towed up the Potomac River to Alexandria, and placed on a heavy stone foundation. The rest of the white clapboard house was later built onto the original residence-business office and served as home to the Ramsay family for more than 100 years. 

Turn right onto N. Fairfax Street (Market Square and City Hall to your left).

18. Alexandria City Hall and Market Square

301 King Street
City Hall open 9 am to 5 pm daily
Farmers Market 5 am to 10:30 am Sat year-round

Market Square has always been Market Square. On July 13, 1749, when the first lots were auctioned for a town yet to be built, two half-acre lots were set aside for the Town Hall and Market Place. The current City Hall, designed by Adolph Cluss, was constructed in the early 1870s in the Victorian style, after the previous structure was destroyed in a fire. The original steeple was attributed to the architect of the U.S. Capitol, Benjamin Latrobe.

19. Carlyle House Historic Park

121 N. Fairfax Street
10 am to 4 pm Tues-Sat; 12 pm to 4 pm Sun
Admission: Adults $4; children ages 11-17 $2; children under age 11 free with paying adult

Built 1751-1753 by one of Alexandria's founders and first landowners, John Carlyle, this is the only Georgian Palladian-style mansion in Alexandria. The regulation that dwelling houses must be built in line with the street was not drafted when construction of the house began. In 1755, it was site of an important conference with British General Edward Braddock to discuss French-Indian War strategy.

20. Bank of Alexandria

133 N. Fairfax Street
Private Building

The Bank of Alexandria was the first chartered bank in Virginia, established by Act of Virginia Assembly in 1792. The Federal style building, constructed in 1807, provided quarters for the cashier and his family on the second floor. The eagle above the doorway is a common Federal decoration. Most of the interior woodwork and other ornamentation are original. 

Return to the intersection of King Street and N. Fairfax Street. Cross King Street. Walk south on S. Fairfax Street to Prince Street. Turn right and walk west 1 block to S. Royal Street. At the intersection of Prince Street and S. Royal Street, turn left.

21. St. Mary's Roman Catholic Church

310 S. Royal Street

Originally, a Methodist meeting house was built in 1780 on the site of this Gothic Revival Catholic church. The meeting house was purchased in 1809 by the Reverend Francis Neale of Georgetown, who later acquired additional land for the church. The church was enlarged in 1856 and underwent major modifications in the late 1890s.

22. Old Presbyterian Meeting House

321 S. Fairfax Street
9 am to 3 pm Mon-Fri
Admission: Free

Richard Arell and his wife sold the lot the Old Presbyterian Meeting House was built on to the minister, William Thom, for one shilling in July 1773. The original meeting house was built in 1774-1775; rebuilt in 1835; and enlarged in 1858. The bell tower was added in 1843. Designed on the same plan as Christ Episcopal Church on N. Washington Street, the meeting house is noted for its Flemish bond brickwork and gable roof with round louvered openings. 

Continue south on S. Royal Street to Wolfe Street. Turn right.

23. Vowell-Smith House

510 Wolfe Street
Private Residence
This lovely Italianate structure was built in 1854 by Francis L. Smith on the quarter block his wife Sarah inherited from her father, John C. Vowell. The grillwork on the first-floor windows, wrought iron stair railing, and fence are all original to this freestanding, patternbook, suburban dwelling.

At the intersection of Wolfe Street and S. St. Asaph Street, turn right.

24. "Flounder Houses"

321 and 317 S. St. Asaph Street
Private Residences

Built in the early 1800s, these residences are called "flounder" house because, like the fish, they usually have eyes (windows) on only one side. One theory is that this unusual architectural style reflects the owner's attempt to evade taxation by claiming that construction of the house was unfinished. See how its sloping shed-roof resembles just half of a normal gabled house!

25. 311 S. St. Asaph Street

Private Residence

Built by Alexander Lyles in 1874 in the Second Empire (Victorian) style, this home has lovely stylized stone architraves over the windows and doorway. Notice how the semicircular dormers contrast with the porches and chimneys.

26. Lafayette House

301 S. St. Asaph Street 
Private Residence 

In 1824, President James Monroe invited the Marquis de Lafayette to visit the United States. Lafayette commanded the Virginia light troops during the Revolutionary War, and Monroe wanted to thank him for helping secure America's freedom from England nearly 50 years earlier. At the time of the official visit, Alexandria was part of the District of Columbia. The British burned the town during the War of 1812, and this three-story, Federal-style residence was one of the city's newest and nicest homes. Thomas Lawrason built the home in 1815, making it one of the city's newest and nicest homes. The house is notable for its beautiful door surround. 

Continue along S. St. Asaph Street to the corner of Duke Street.

27. Dulany House

601 Duke Street
Private Residence

Described as one of the outstanding examples of early American elegance, this late Georgian/early Federal town house has changed very little since it was built in 1783-1784. Even the early coach house still survives. Tradition has it that the Marquis de Lafayette, on his visit in 1824, stood on the steps of this house to address the Alexandrians assembled to welcome him. 

Cross Duke Street, turn left, and walk to S. Washington Street. Cross and turn right.

28. Downtown Baptist Church

212 S. Washington Street

The original church was built in 1805 but destroyed in a fire in 1829. Today's church was constructed in 1858 and attributed to Thomas Tefft. At that time, the plaster front facade was scored and painted to imitate brownstone blocks. During the Civil War, the church was used as a hospital. 

Return to The Lyceum.


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