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Historical Overview (75 mins.)

Preserving, restoring and reusing Alexandria's old and historic properties is a priority for the city and its residents. Since the 1960s, when many other cities saw their older homes and businesses fall victim to "urban renewal," Alexandrians protected the city's amazing architecture from the wrecking ball. The roughly 200 surviving structures from Alexandria's early life are protected today by the city's Board of Architectural Review. Touring these sites gives you a glimpse into Alexandria's historic past.

Approximately 75 minutes.

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.

When you leave The Lyceum, walk south on S. Washington Street to the corner of Duke Street. At the traffic light, cross S. Washington Street and walk 1 block east on Duke Street to S. St. Asaph. At the corner, cross Duke Street, and pause at the first house (#301) on S. St. Asaph Street.

2. 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, and gladly welcomed Lafayette into his home for the Marquis' month long visit.
Proceed south on S. St. Asaph Street, pausing briefly at the following locations:

3. "Flounder House"

317 S. St. Asaph Street
Private Residence

This home was built in the early 1800s. The long, narrow house has a sloping shed-roof, resembling half of a gabled house. It's known locally as a "flounder" house because, like the fish that shares its name, the home has eyes (windows) on only one side. One theory is that this unusual architectural style reflects the owner's attempt to avoid paying taxes by claiming construction of the house was unfinished.

4. "Flounder House"

321 S. St. Asaph Street
Private Residence

Like the flounder house at 317 S. St. Asaph Street, this one probably dates from the early 19th century. Flounder houses are common in the older sections of Philadelphia. Because many early residents of Alexandria were Pennsylvania Quakers, it is possible that this type of house originated in that city.

5. George Seaton House

323 S. St. Asaph Street
Private Residence

This large frame house was built in 1852 by George Seaton, an African American, who purchased the lot the previous year for $250. Born free in Alexandria in 1822, Seaton was a master carpenter and built a number of homes and civic buildings in Alexandria during the 1850s and 1860s. An outspoken Radical Republican after the Civil War, Seaton was the first elected African American member of the Virginia General Assembly from north of the Rappahannock River.

Proceed to the corner of S. St. Asaph Street and Wolfe Street; cross Wolfe Street and turn right; walk 1 block west on Wolfe Street to the corner of S. Washington Street.

6. The Alexandria Academy

402 S. Washington Street
Private Building

The foundation stone of this building--one of Alexandria's earliest schoolhouses--was laid with Masonic ceremonies on September 7, 1785. The third floor held the Free School. George Washington established the Free School to educate 20 students each year whose parents could not afford tuition. Girls were allowed to fill any slots not already taken by boys.

Head east on Wolfe Street and continue 4 blocks to the corner of S. Fairfax Street; cross Wolfe Street to the west side of S. Fairfax Street and proceed north partway down the block.

7. 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. In the churchyard, you can see the white marble Tomb of the Unknown Soldier of the American Revolution. Tradition has it that the meeting house bell tolled from the time news of George Washington's death reached Alexandria until after his funeral.

Walk north on S. Fairfax Street to the corner of Duke Street. Cross to the east side of S. Fairfax Street to see the old store windows on the building at 300 S. Fairfax Street, then cross Duke Street and walk 1 block north on S. Fairfax Street.

8. James Green's Cabinet Manufactory

200 S. Fairfax Street
Private Building

On the southeast corner of S. Fairfax Street and Prince Street is the remaining shell of James Green's extensive furniture factory, completed in 1836. On the south wall, the metal initials "J G" are used at the end of an interior supporting rod. During the Civil War, the huge, brick building served as a military prison.

At the corner of S. Fairfax Street and Prince Street, cross to the north side of Prince Street and walk east partway down the block.

9. Relief Fire Company

319 Prince Street
Private Residence

This Victorian structure, built in 1855, is Alexandria's oldest standing firehouse. It was the second location of the volunteer Relief Fire Company. Metal tracks on the ground floor guided horse-drawn engines.

Continue east on Prince Street to the corner of S. Lee Street.

10. The Athenaeum

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

This mid-19th century Greek Revival building originally housed the Old Dominion Bank. Now, you'll find the Northern Virginia Fine Arts Association within its walls. During the Civil War, the building served as the chief commissary office. Notice how the plaster walls have been scored and painted to resemble stone blocks.

Now look across Prince Street at the house on the southeast corner.

11. 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.

Proceed east on Prince Street along the 100 block, also known as "Captain's Row."

The 1749 map of Alexandria shows that the Potomac River came to within a third of a block of present-day Lee Street. Most of this block was created with dirt fill in 1782 and, around 1784, Colonel George Gilpin, who owned the frontage on the south side, subdivided his land and started selling lots for annual ground rents. Sea Captain John Harper, who owned the frontage on the north side, soon followed suit.

At the corner of Prince Street and S. Union Street, turn left; walk 1 block north to King Street; at the corner, turn right; proceed east on King Street partway down the block.

12. Warehouses

(Mai Thai restaurant)
6 King Street

After spending the winter at Valley Forge, Colonel John Fitzgerald returned to Alexandria and built these warehouses. The facades of the buildings have not changed very much since the buildings were first constructed. Fitzgerald, an aide to General George Washington during the Revolutionary War, was Alexandria's mayor from June 1786 to February 1787. He also served as Collector of the Port.

Return to the corner of King Street and S. Union Street; cross King Street and proceed partway down the block on N. Union Street.

13. Torpedo Factory Art Center/Alexandria Archaeology

105 N. Union St.
10 am to 5 pm daily, except major holidays
Admission: Free
Alexandria Archaeology: 10 am to 3 pm Tues-Fri; 10 am to 5 pm Sat; closed major holidays
Admission: Free

The Torpedo Factory Art Center was a real torpedo factory, built in 1918 by the U.S. Navy to manufacture torpedo parts. Today, about 200 artists work in studios, displaying and selling their artwork in galleries throughout the three-story building. On the third floor is the Alexandria Archaeology museum and lab. It's one of the very few research centers of its kind in the U.S., devoted to researching and preserving archaeological sites in an urban environment.

Return to the corner King Street and N. Union Street; cross N. Union Street and proceed west on King Street. As you walk up King Street, you are passing many old warehouses and commercial buildings that have been the heart of Alexandria's business district since the 18th century.

14. Ramsay House Visitors Center

221 King Street
9 am to 5 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. Ramsay was so eager to establish himself that he had a small building loaded onto a barge, towed it up the Potomac River to Alexandria, and placed it on a heavy stone foundation. Years later, the rest of the white clapboard house was built onto the original home and business office. In addition to his mercantile enterprises, Ramsay served as town overseer, census taker, postmaster, and member of the Committee of Safety.

At the corner of King Street and N. Fairfax Street, cross King Street, then cross to the west side of S. Fairfax Street; proceed south partway down the block.

15. Stabler-Leadbeater Apothecary Shop

105-107 S. Fairfax Street
Nov-Mar: 11 am to 4 pm Wed-Sat; 1 pm to 4 pm Sun; closed major holidays
Apr-Oct: 10 am to 5 pm Tues-Sat; 1 pm to 5 pm Sun-Mon; closed major holidays

Admission: Adults $4; children ages 11-17 $2; children under age 11 free with paying adult

Founded in 1792, this apothecary shop served George and Martha Washington. When it closed in 1933, it was the oldest shop in Virginia and the second oldest in the U.S. in continuous operation. It has been meticulously maintained and holds the largest, most valuable collection of medicinal glass in the country. 

Return to the intersection of King Street and S. Fairfax Street. Cross to the northwest corner of King Street; climb the steps toward the fountain.

16. 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

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. Since that time, Market Square has seen several changes, but the Farmers Market has stayed essentially the same and is thought to be the oldest continuously operating one in the nation. The current City Hall was built in 1873, and safely locked inside is the original minute book of the town trustees.

Return to the corner of King Street and N. Fairfax Street; cross N. Fairfax Street and walk north 1 block on N. Fairfax Street.

17. Carlyle House Historic Park

121 N. Fairfax Street
10 am to 4 pm Tues to 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.

Continue north on N. Fairfax Street to the corner of Cameron Street.

18. 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. After the bank failed in 1834, the building was purchased by James Green, who converted it into a hotel in 1848. During the Civil War, the building was used as a hospital.

At the corner of N. Fairfax Street and Cameron Street, cross N. Fairfax Street. Walk west 1 block on Cameron Street to N. Royal Street. At the intersection, cross N. Royal Street and walk south partway down the block.

19. Gadsby's Tavern Museum

134 & 138 N. Royal Street
Nov-Mar: 11 am to 4 pm Wed-Sat; 1 pm to 4 pm Sun; last tour at 3:45 p.m.
Apr-Oct: 10 am to 5 pm Tues-Sat; 1 pm to 5 pm Sun-Mon; last tour at 4:45 p.m.
Closed major holidays
Tours start at a quarter after the hour and a quarter before the hour, lasting about 30 minutes
Admission: Adults $4; children ages 11-17 $2; children under age 11 free with paying adult

Although John Gadsby never owned the City Tavern (ca. 1785) and adjoining City Hotel (1792), his management style brought them worldwide fame. They were the site of birthnight balls for George Washington and an inaugural party for Thomas Jefferson. The restaurant, which operates in the larger building (City Hotel) offers authentic fare, and the servers wear 18th-century clothes.

20. Braddock Cannon Fountain

In front of Gadsby's Tavern Museum

British General Edward Braddock left behind several cannon when he mounted his ill-fated expedition against the French in 1755. This particular one was made into a watering fountain for animals. It stood in the intersection of Cameron Street and N. Fairfax Street before being moved to Cameron Street and N. Royal Street. Finally, it was taken out of that intersection when it became a traffic hazard.

Return to the intersection of Cameron Street and N. Royal Street. Turn left and walk west partway up the block.

21. George Washington's Town House

508 Cameron Street
Private Residence

George Washington purchased this lot in 1763, and his townhouse was completed in 1769. He kept an office with a secretary here to receive and accommodate visitors arriving late to Mt. Vernon. The house, noted for its simplicity of design, was torn down in 1855. In 1960, Gov. and Mrs. Richard Barrett Lowe had the house rebuilt on the original foundation.

Proceed west on Cameron Street to the intersection of N. Pitt Street; cross Cameron Street; continue walking west partway up the block.

22. Yeaton-Fairfax House

607 Cameron Street
Private Residence

This magnificent example of Federal architecture was built in 1801-02 by William Yeaton, who bought the lot in 1799. In 1830, the house was purchased by Thomas, Lord Fairfax, ninth Baron of Cameron, whose father was an intimate friend of George Washington and an early rector of Christ Church. Most of northern Virginia was originally owned by the Fairfax family.

Continue west on Cameron Street to the intersection of N. Washington Street; cross N. Washington Street; turn right and walk north partway up the block.

23. Beth El Hebrew Congregation Marker

The marker designates the site of the first synagogue in Alexandria. The Beth El Hebrew Congregation was formed in 1855, and the synagogue was constructed in 1871. Since that time, it has been razed.

Return to the intersection of N. Washington Street and Cameron Street; cross Cameron Street; walk south partway down the block.

24. Christ Episcopal Church

118 N. Washington Street
9 am to 4 pm Mon-Sat; 2 pm to 4:30 pm Sun
Admission: Free

The first church in Alexandria, Christ Episcopal Church was completed in 1773 and stood within a grove of trees on a hill two blocks beyond what was then the city limits. Both George Washington and Robert E. Lee were regular worshipers here, and both their pews are marked. Washington's has been preserved in its original state. The churchyard holds the graves of early residents and war veterans.

Pass through the churchyard to exit on N. Columbus Street. Turn left and walk south 1 block to King Street. Turn right and walk 1 block west to S. Alfred Street. At the intersection, cross King Street. Then, cross Alfred Street and walk south partway down the block.

25. Friendship Firehouse Museum

107 S. Alfred Street
10 am to 4 pm Fri-Sat; 1 pm to 4 pm Sun, except major holidays
Admission: $2

Etablished in 1774 as Alexandria's first volunteer fire company. The current firehouse was built in 1855 and houses a variety of historic firefighting equipment, including hand-drawn fire engines, leather water buckets, and sections of early rubber hose. The Meeting Room on the second floor is furnished the way it was during the 19th century, Friendship's heyday as a community organization.

Walk south on Alfred Street to the corner of Prince Street. Turn left at the corner of Prince Street. Walk 2 blocks east on Prince Street to Washington Street and cross Prince Street.

26. Confederate Statue

Intersection of Prince Street and S. Washington Street

This sculpture by M. Casper Buberl was based on a figure in a painting by John Elder titled "Appomattox." The statue was erected in 1889 by the Robert E. Lee Camp, United Confederate Veterans at the location where units from Alexandria left to join the Confederate Army on May 24, 1861. The names of Alexandrians who died in service for the Confederacy are inscribed on the statue's base.

Return to The Lyceum.

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