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Thursday, May 12, 2016

6 of the best-kept secrets in Northern Virginia



The greater Washington DC Metro area includes Northern Virginia and there are plenty of things to see and do in NoVa. Well-known attractions, such as Mount Vernon, the Pentagon, Manassas Battlefield and the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum's Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, are popular destinations (and rightly so), but did you know there are some real jewels sandwiched between and/or just beyond some of these major tourist attractions?

Not that these sites are any true secret, mind you, but they are probably a little less-known than some of those larger historical sites and museums. And these gems are definitely ones worth checking out.

1. Stabler-Leadbeater Apothecary, Alexandria

Located in the Old Town section of Alexandria, the Stabler-Leadbeater Apothecary is one of my personal favorites. It is a museum that showcases history, business and socio-economic trends spanning an amazing 141 years. Opened by the apothecary’s founder, Edward Stabler, in 1792, this business operated consecutively by the same family until its closure in 1933. 
Old Town Alexandria, Virginia
Inside view of the apothecary's store. You also get to see upstairs where the behind the scenes work was done too when on your tour

The fact the family simply locked the doors and walked away, leaving everything as is, makes this museum even more amazing. The history shared and the items displayed in this museum are just beyond cool. To learn more about the Stabler-Leadbeater Apothecary, I invite you to check out my detailed post about it.

While in Old Town Alexandria, there are other many fab places to check out too. A great city to explore and very close to Washington, D.C.

2. Fauquier History Museum, Warrenton

This is an interesting one – I stumbled across this gem while poking around online one summer day looking for things to do with the kids. The museum is built around the fact it was once an early 19th century jail that was operational for more than 150 years, closing in 1966. Built in 1808, it was expanded in 1824 and it’s interesting to see both original buildings. The 1808 building was adapted to house a jailer and his family.
Old Jail Museum, Warrenton, Virginia
Exterior shot of the Fauquier History Museum before its name change

Formerly known as the “Old Jail Museum”, it’s easy to see why its name was changed. While the main attraction is probably the jail for most visitors, the original building showcases the 1824 kitchen and the other rooms have been converted into museum rooms. These rooms share a lot of U.S. Civil War and other interesting local history, including a fully-stocked 1920s dentist office.

I’ve only been to the Fauquier History Museum once, but it’s on my list of places I want to visit again.

3. Chapman's Mill, Broad Run

Over the years this structure has fascinated me as I could see it driving west on I-66, but didn’t see an easy way to get there. I had no idea what this fabulous stone structure was called or if it was open to the public. An online search told me it was Chapman’s Mill, also known as Beverley Mill (named for later owners). Armed with that information, I was able to plug in an address into GPS and actually get there. 

Beverley Mill and Beverley Store
Chapman's Mill and the Beverley Store (May 2016)

Located on the border of Prince William and Fauquier Counties, if Chapman’s Mill could talk, it would certainly have a lot of stories to share. Built in 1742 and having survived and operated until the mid-20th century (even after being burned during the Civil War), it has an amazing history.

Chapman’s Mill is currently undergoing restoration. It’s wonderful to see this gem is being preserved. I have written a couple of posts about the mill, here is my most detailed one with lots of additional photos.

4. Sully Historic Site, Chantilly

Dating back to 1794, Sully Plantation has an interesting history. Originally owned by Richard Bland Lee, Virginia’s first congressman, this property almost was demolished to expand the Dulles Airport. Fortunately, it was saved in the 1950s and has been preserved for the public to enjoy. Run by the Fairfax County Parks Department, Sully Historic Site has a lot to offer, including a ton of terrific themed events scheduled throughout the year. 
Sully Plantation
The Sully House

I went back for a tour in late March, which was excellent. I’d been through the house many times, but usually during a themed event and this most recent experience was a little different because the day was totally focused on the site itself, not the happenings around it. This was the second time I’d been on a full tour and really enjoyed learning more about the house and the families that lived in it.

If out visiting the aforementioned Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, the Sully Historic Site is also conveniently located off Route 28 and is just a hop, skip and a jump from the popular Smithsonian museum. Very easy to get back and forth between the two sites.

5. Museum of the Shenandoah Valley, Winchester

Winchester is one of those cities I’m near often enough, but usually passing through. I really need to set aside some more time and explore it properly. We met our friends out that way in December 2014 and enjoyed every place we visited, despite the heavy rains that day. 

Museum of the Shenandoah Valley
Photo taken Dec. 2014 - Pic is of one of the walls in a large exhibit called "Second Time Around: The Hubcap as Art". This showing lasted a couple of months - great stuff!

One of our stops was the Museum of the Shenandoah Valley. Whether you love art, history or both, there are a lot of interesting exhibits and collections to see. Some of the exhibits are permanent, others are special and only opened for a limited time. According to the museum’s website, there are 11,000 in MSV’s permanent collection. From the furniture to the dollhouses to the dishes to the paintings, there is just so much to see. I definitely want to go back during the warmer months and see more of this wonderful place.

6. Hotel Strasburg, Strasburg

Located approximately 90 minutes east of the District, the Hotel Strasburg was a great getaway for us a few years back. The building was constructed in 1902 and was once a hospital. Today, it is a historical landmark in the picturesque Strasburg and is restored back to the Victorian Era.

Dining room at Strasburg Hotel
One section of the dining room at Strasburg Hotel
During our stay, it wasn’t a terribly busy time of year and many of the doors to the rooms were ajar, allowing us a peek in as we passed by. From what I can tell, each room had its own uniqueness, furnished with antiques, which further added to my intrigue. If traveling out this way or just looking for a place to spend a night or two, I’d recommend it, for the D.C. area, the prices were quite reasonable when we booked. The restaurant was very good too (despite the hotel itself being quiet, the restaurant seemed to be a hot spot in town, it was very busy!)


To be honest, I had a hard time narrowing this post down to a handful as there are just so many smaller historic sites, museums and parks located throughout the region. Many of which I haven’t visited – and several I probably haven't even discovered yet. Hope to rectify some of that this summer and do lots of exploring!

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