Monday, May 2, 2016

10 fun facts about Carlyle House in Alexandria

Carlyle House has a rich history in Alexandria, Virginia. Built in the mid-18th century, if its walls could talk, it would most likely have some interesting tales to tell about things seen and heard. 

Today the home is a museum located in the Old Town section of Alexandria and its history is shared with the public through tours.

Front view of Carlyle House
Front view of Carlyle House

10 fun facts about Carlyle House


1. The home was built by a man named John Carlyle. Carlyle was a British merchant and one of the original settlers in Alexandria. He was influential in helping to develop Alexandria into the thriving town it became. Carlyle purchased the property in the late 1740s and began building the home for his bride, Sarah Fairfax, in 1751.

Carlyle House, Alexandria, Virginia
Mr. and Mrs. Carlyle greet guests and answer questions at a living history event in December 2015

2. The home is situated along the Potomac River, the perfect location for a merchant. It is built of stone (the only one of its kind in Alexandria) and in Georgian Palladian style. It is considered to be very innovative for its time as, unlike other homes built during this era in America, Carlyle’s house was modeled after European homes of distinction and designed to reflect his family’s Scottish heritage. He finished building the home in 1753.

Carlyle House, Alexandria, Virginia
Standing between floors on Carlyle House looking down into the central hallway. In Colonial times, this would have been an important room with many gatherings taking place. Back in those days bright colors usually signified wealth.

3. The Carlyle home was an important hub, socially, and for business. Many well-known figures spent time in the house as Sarah also came from a prominent family. The home is also well-known for a specific meeting held at the house in 1755. It was at this time General Edward Braddock, the Commander-in-Chief of His Majesty’s Forces in North America, called a gathering with five Colonial governors. The purpose of this meeting was to plan for the upcoming French and Indian War. Carlyle was reportedly not pleased with this but recognized the significance.

4. Did you know Carlyle House almost didn’t survive? Over the years heirs had sold off bits and pieces and the property began to deteriorate.

Carlyle House, Alexandria, Virginia
Dining room at Carlyle House

5. In the early 19th century the home left family hands completely and, through the decades, fell into terrible disrepair. During the rest of the 1800s, the property changed hands a few times with many people moving in and out of the home.

6. In 1847-48 a man named James Green began reassembling the original Carlyle property. He purchased the home and three quarters of an acre of land. Green also purchased a bank to convert and further expand into a luxury hotel. This hotel, named the Mansion House Hotel, blocked a large portion of the original manor home from view. 

Mansion House Hotel Carlyle House
The Mansion House Hotel mid-19th Century. Image credit: Wikipedia

7. During the Civil War, Carlyle House was established as Union Army headquarters and the hotel was used as a hospital. Later, in the 20th century, Green’s hotel became an apartment building and the house deteriorated even more. During WWI the home was designated to be a museum, but it would take many decades for it to be restored to its former glory.

8. The Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority acquired Carlyle House in 1970 and saved it from ruin. The hotel/hospital was torn down to allow the home to be visible and the grounds re-established.  NVRPA fully restored the former elaborate manor in time to be ready for the nation’s 1976 Bicentennial celebration. Today, the house looks beautiful and visitors can experience the home as it existed during the Carlyle era. 

Carlyle House, Alexandria, Virginia
Main bedroom at Carlyle House
9. One of the rooms in Carlyle House has not been restored as the others have been. Instead, visitors can see the original architecture and construction over the years in the various “layers” that can be seen in one of the upstairs rooms. From an architectural and historical perspective, I’ve always found this room very interesting to view.
Carlyle House, Alexandria Virginia
Each wall shows different attributes of how the home looked at different stages. Visitors literally view layers of history in this room.

10. There are a number of reenactments that take place during the year at Carlyle House that represent and highlight specific times in history that are connected to the home. These are fun to attend and learn more about life in those times and the events surrounding the people who lived there. Carlyle House is also a popular wedding venue.

Located at 121 N. Fairfax St., in Old Town Alexandria, visitors are welcomed to tour Carlyle House and learn more about this time frame in early American history. There is a nominal admission fee, check the museum's website for current tour times and admission prices.

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