Monday, July 28, 2014

Carlyle House’s rich history is preserved and shared with the public

The Carlyle House Historical Park is a museum located in Old Town Alexandra. This museum is a former home, built and owned by John Carlyle, who was a British merchant and one of the original settlers who was instrumental in Alexandria's establishment.

This grand house has an interesting history due to its uniqueness in architecture for the region during that era. It was truly innovative for its time, having been built entirely of stone modeled after European homes of distinction in Scotland which reflected John Carlyle's heritage.

History of the Carlyle House

Construction for Carlyle House began in 1751 and the efforts came to fruition in 1753. The home was built for Carlyle's bride, Sarah Fairfax, who also was from a prominent family. The home was constructed on one of the best properties in Alexandria, right along the Potomac waterfront in the rear with the Market Square a short walk from the front of the property; an ideal location for a merchant who's shipments came up the Potomac.

Significance of the Carlyle House

In addition to Carlyle's having established himself as a prominent member of early Alexandria society, his ornate home soon became the center of many gatherings. Some claims to distinction are the social and political ties the Carlyle house had during the era. For instance, when General Braddock used the home as his headquarters in 1755 during the time leading up to the French and Indian War, the Carlyle House permanently cemented its prominence in history.

Revival of the Carlyle House

Despite the property's rich connection to colonial history, the remains of the Carlyle House spent a good amount of its lifetime falling into a deteriorated condition from 1827 when the home left family hands. Over the next century and a half, the property changed hands multiple times and served several purposes. It was a hospital during the Civil War, and later on a hotel was constructed on the property. Additionally, the home served as a private residence to many. For several years, a hotel was erected in the front portion of the property which hid the home from sight.

In 1970 the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority acquired Carlyle House with the intent to preserve its rich history with plans to restore the home back to its former glory to serve as a museum for all to learn and enjoy. Having saved the home from ruin, the house is open to the public for all to enjoy.

Visiting Carlyle House 

Today, the home has been restored and indeed serves as a museum. Visitors enter in the basement to purchase tickets for the tour. There is also a small gift shop in this area of the house. As visitors wait for their tour to begin, they are provided with a short video that details the history of John Carlyle, his relevance and connection to early American history and specifics about the house itself.

Once the video is over, your tour guide will invite you to climb the passageway to the main floor. The staircase is a unique structure, narrow, windy and small steps. This was the servants' passageway when the home was originated; visitors today do not enter through the main or rear doors. Once on the main floor, the guide takes you through each room and provides a history and description of each room. The main hallway and elaborate staircase are fascinating, as are the large windows facing the Potomac River. 

After the tour of the main floor, visitors are brought up to the upper level to view the rooms upstairs, which are primarily bedrooms. One of the rooms has been left unfinished and visitors can literally see the history through the layers on the floor and walls that highlights original portions of the house.

Tours groups are typically small and the guides are always very knowledgeable with historic information, architecture of the house and very helpful in answering questions. I've taken this tour a few times and learn something new each time. It's an interesting experience and one I'd recommend if you are an architecture or history buff; or if you simply enjoy touring historic homes

Located at 121 N. Fairfax St., in Old Town, visitors are welcomed, no reservations are necessary. There is a nominal admission fee. You can check the museum's website for current tour times and admission prices.

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