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Friday, May 23, 2014

Take a step back in time in Old Town Alexandria, Va.

Alexandria's deep historical roots of early American history date long before the city was officially founded in 1749. With such an optimum location right on the shore of the Potomac River, it is no wonder this city hosted a myriad of activity during the 18th century.

Old Town Alexandria is a hot spot for historical landmarks in Northern Virginia, but there are also many other noteworthy places to visit on the outskirts south of the city. George Washington, before being a General and President, was a surveyor, and he actually did the planning for many of Alexandria's streets. The first U.S. President spent much of his adult life in Alexandria; even the church he attended is still an active one today.


To get a good feel for where the historical landmarks are in Alexandria, your first stop should be the
Ramsay House Visitors Center located on King Street. The center houses a plethora of brochures and other valuable information you'll want to have during your visit. The Ramsay Center is also a historical landmark in itself since it dates back to 18th century and was the home of a city founder, William Ramsay. 

Depending on your interests, you may want to go on a walking tour or target your visit towards visiting specific locations. If you opt to take either a formal or informal walking tour, there is plenty to see and you never know what you'll stumble upon as you wander the city streets, specifically if you stick to wandering around in the Old Town section of Alexandria. Alexandria City Hall and Market Square is located just across the street from the Ramsay House. The current structure was completed in 1874 and has a definitive colonial feel. The fountains are a nice addition and make this section a noteworthy landmark.  

Not too far from the Market Square is Gadsby's Tavern. The tavern was operational in colonial times and today is still a working business. In addition, there has been a museum added to the tavern and former hotel. This tavern is remarkable and was a place Presidents Washington and Jefferson used to frequent. 



Interior of Gadsby's Tavern
Ballroom at Gadsby's Tavern
To the west of Ramsay House on N. Fairfax Street is the Carlyle House. This grand home, built in the 1750s was the home of another city founder, John Carlyle. The house greeted many dignitaries back in colonial times and was a frequent meeting place. You can tour the inside of the home for a nominal fee daily, except Mondays when the property is closed. 
Carlyle House
Carlyle House
Christ Church, located on N. Washington Street, was built in the latter part of the 18th century and was George Washington's place of worship. Robert E. Lee was also a member of this congregation in the 19th century. The church still has services, but the church can also be toured during specified hours. I highly recommend giving Christ Church a visit.
Interior of Christ Church
Interior of Christ Church

Another notable place of interest, newer, but still notable as a landmark is the Torpedo Factory. The former factory rests on the docks of the Potomac River at the historic riverfront area. This building was constructed in 1918 and used to manufacture torpedoes. Today it is a working artists' gallery and visitors can enjoy wandering through the 80+ galleries housed in the building. 

Torpedo Factory Art Center
Torpedo Factory
Apothecaries were popular in the 18th century and Alexandria's apothecary was located on S. Fairfax Street and operated from 1792-1933. The Stabler-Leadbeater Apothecary Museum is housed in the building today and open for daily tours. This one is a can't miss in my opinion; it is one of my favorite places to visit in Northern Va. It truly is a testament to how social, economic and financial times evolved through the many decades it was an operating business. 

The Alexandria National Cemetery is the resting place of soldiers. The cemetery is located on Wilkes and Payne Streets and holds 3,500 graves of Civil War soldiers, and also a few men who lost their life pursuing John Wilkes Booth after President Lincoln's assassination at Ford's Theater.

These landmarks are only a handful of what to see in Alexandria. If you wander the streets, you'll note many residencies contain plaques indicating their historical value. Since they are private homes, many are not available for tours, but are still noteworthy to pass by as you tour the city; some of the architecture is pretty amazing.

Princess Street in Alexandria, Va.
Princess Street is of the two cobblestone segments that remain in Old Town Alexandria. This road has only been "touched" once since it was originally built. These are the original cobbles.

If you venture out of the city, there are also a few other landmarks located within Alexandria's boundaries. Off Route 1 are Woodlawn Plantation, Frank Lloyd Wright's Pope-Leighey House, and the famous Mount Vernon. These homes are all open for tours and definitely worth the time invested in visiting. 

There is so much to see in Alexandria, it is difficult to name all of the historical landmarks located in the city. Alexandria holds such a strong link to the past and its rich history is still reflected in the city today. It is one of the most wonderful cities to see if you are in the Washington, D.C. Metro area. Not to mention it's got some great ambiance, restaurants and shopping.

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