The Christmas Attic
One block off King Street and near the waterfront, this shop has EVERYTHING you could possible want related to Christmas and a smaller selection for other major holidays. In one of the oldest buildings in Old Town, this shop is a treat for the senses.
Belvior Mansion & Gravesite, Fort Belvoir
After George Washington moved to Mount Vernon, his closest neighbor, both in distance and friendship, was Colonel William Fairfax, who built and resided at Belvoir Plantation on a bluff overlooking the Potomac. William Fairfax was the grandson of the 4th Lord Fairfax of Cameron, and his bother Thomas was the 6th Lord Fairfax of Cameron.
William Fairfax first lived in the Colonies in Marblehead, Massachusetts, but he moved to Virginia in the 1730s to oversee his bother Thomas' vast quantities of land. In 1741 William Fairfax construct Belvoir Plantation, an elegant mansion with splendid views of the River and into Maryland. William Fairfax had a tremendous political career, serving in such positions as President of the Governor's Council in Williamsburg, member of the House of Burgesses, Justice of the County Court, and as County Lieutenant.
William's bother, Thomas Fairfax, the 6th Lord Fairfax of Cameron, lived at Belvoir for a few years before he moved to the Winchester, Virginia area. He was the first member of British nobility to live in America, and he employed George Washington as a surveyor of his lands.
During the American Revolution the mansion was confiscated by the fledgling American government. In 1783, fire destroyed much of the mansion and its surrounding buildings. In 1814, during the War of 1812, the mansion ruins were further damaged when bombarded by the British fleet that was part of the force that captured Washington DC. Finally in 1917 the ruins of the house and the surrounding lands were acquired by Virginia and ceded to the US Army, forming today's Fort Belvoir. The obelisk monument at the family grave site was constructed in the 1920s as well. In 1931 the fort's commanding officer began the first archeological dig at the old house. In the 1970s a three-year archeological dig culminated in the site being listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1973.
The Belvoir Mansion site is located at a very poorly marked site on Fort Belvoir, Virginia. From the main gate, take Belvoir Road several miles to its end and turn right on Fairfax Drive. Where Fairfax Drive meets Forney Loop, there is a small parking area that sits at the trailhead for the mansion trail. The trail is well-marked with many interpretive signs. The total distance from the parking lot to the grave site is only about a quarter mile, and the house is located at the halfway point wjust above the river.
Yes there are still cobble stone streets in VA
Wander off King Street and you will find the cobblestone streets. You can drive down them, but I don't advise it as it's a pretty rocky drive and you must go slow! Otherwise you may find your vehicle needing some repair work done to the undercarriage.
- Historical Travel
- Hiking and Walking
- Budget Travel
Ford's Landing is a housing area in southern Old Town Alexandria, near the Woodrow Wilson Bridge. This small neighborhood contains some 136 high-end townhouses, many just feet from the edge of the Potomac River.
By the 1740s what we know as modern Alexandria was comprised of a handful of plantations with waterwarehouses and docks for shipments of tobacco. But by 1790, the area had become a commercial center, and the original marshlands on the edge of the river had been filled in as much as 400 feet beyond the river's original edge. The area occupied by Ford's Landing was known as Keith's Wharf in 1785, and it served as a fish market and ferry terminal. During the Civil War, the area around Ford's Landing was occupied by Battery Rodgers, as well as a wharf for the offloading of Union soldiers heading south. After the Civil War, this area was used by a shipbuilding company that repaired many types of vessels and built about 10 boats a year. From 1932until 1996 the Ford Motor Company had a huge plant on this very site.
During the Civil War, a massive ring of fortifications protected Washington, D.C., from attack, including forts in Arlington, Alexandria, and the city of Washington, DC. By 1865, the entire system of defenses of Washington included 68 forts, 93 batteries, and some twenty miles of trenches. More then 30 miles of military roads connected these strong for communications and transportation purposes. Today just a few of the largest structures are still in existence and open to the public.
In Alexandria, only Fort Ward is still in existence, though Fort Ellsworth stood near the Washington Masonic Monument, and Battery Rodgers stood near Jones Point Lighthouse.
Here stood Battery Rodgers, built in 1863 to prevent enemy ships from passing up the Potomac River. The battery had a perimeter of 30 yards and mounted five 200 pounder Parrott guns and one 15-inch Rodman. It was deactivated in 1867.
The George Washington Mural - north of Old Town
The George Washington Mural is tucked in where few tourists will ever see it, but where locals enjoy it daily. Where is this wonderful mural that stretches 1,200 feet (yes, almost a quarter mile), stands 10 feet tall, and depicts 13 of the most significant scenes from the life of our first President? It is along the Mount Vernon Trail, in one of the most rarely traveled sections behind the Alexandria power plant.
The mural starts with Washington's boyhood home at Ferry Farm in Fredericksburg (but not his birth home...?), then continues to show scenes of his life as a surveyor, British soldier, Revolutionary General, and his life as the President. The figures in the foreground of the painting are full sized, amazing for a mural of this length. At the northern-most section of the mural are paintings of various objects related to Washington such as the $1 bill, the quarter, and stamps for example.
The mural was just completed in May 2009 after years of work. Before the mural was finished, this was a plain old chain link fence barely hiding the coal yard for the power plant.
Old Town's Spite House
This tiny blue house on Queen Street in Old Town is just 7 feet wide, 25 feet deep, and 325 square feet on two floors. The house was built in 1830 by the owner of the neighboring house to keep wagons and loiterers out of the alley next to his house, hence the name. They say the front room still has grooves in the walls from wagon wheels that once used the alley.
Gravelly Point Park - near Reagan National Airport
Gravelly Point Park is located due north of Regan National Airport along the northbound lanes of the George Washington Parkway. The park offers a great view of airplanes flying in and out of Regan and also gives access to the great Mount Vernon running trail along the Potomac. Furthermore, Gravelly Point has athletic fields suitable for soccer, football and baseball, all along the beautiful Potomac River.
Planes land and take off every two or three minutes, and bikers and joggers always stop to watch.
George Washington Masonic National Memorial
The George Washington Masonic National Memorial is a Mason's lodge and memorial for President George Washington, a mason, and former president of the local lodge. The nine story tower is designed after the ancient lighthouse at Alexandria, Egypt, and the exterior was built from 1922 to 1932. Work on the interior was not completed until 1970, and the monument and plaques on the front lawn were just completed in 1999. The building's replica lodge room contains Washington's masonic artifacts such as his apron and the silver trowel he used to lay the cornerstone of the Capitol Building. The top floor has an observation deck offering views in all four cardinal directions.
During our visit, we were between tours of the tower, so we stuck to the ground floor and the basement. The ground floor is dominated by a huge hall with a tall bronze statue of Washington flanked by great white columns in front of murals and stained-glass windows. To the left of this atrium is a small room with artifacts and photos of previous Mason commanders, then a modern-day meeting room. Downstairs you will find a central hall with small paintings of some of the great Masonic lodges of America, and there is also a small museum and gallery for the Shriners.
The monument stands on a tall knob called Shuter's Hill, that overlooks downtown Alexandria. In 1781 this was the site of John Mill's plantation house, which burned to the ground in 1842. In the 1850s a large brick house was built on the site, and this was incorporated into the Civil War-era Fort Ellsworth. The brick mansion was destroyed by fire in 1905. It is said that Thomas Jefferson once proposed this hill as the ideal site for the nation's capitol, prior to work starting across the river in Washington.
The monument is open to the public from 9am to 4pm daily with guided tours daily at 10am, 11:30 am, 1:30 pm and 3 pm.
The monument has three plaques that read:
"Let prejudices and local interests yield to reason. Let us look at our national character and to things beyond the present period. — George Washington"
"This classic sculpture commemorates the 50th Anniversary of the George Washington Masonic National Memorial. The bronze bas-relief is a gift from Eastman Kodak Company, and was first commissioned as part of America's Bicentennial observance. It is the work of Isabel Giampietro Knoll. Dedication August 1982."
"This monument erected with the support from Grand Lodge of Ohio; Scottish Rite, Hartford, CT.; Corinthian-Philo Lodge No. 368, Philadelphia, PA.; Scottish Rite, Bridgeport, CT.; Demolay Foundation of New Jersey, Inc.; Mt. Lebanon Lodge, Boston, MA.; Supreme Council, Scottish Rite, Southern Jurisdiction; Supreme Council, Scottish Rite, Northern Jurisdiction; Scottish Rite, Southern New Jersey; Holland Lodge Foundation, Inc. N.Y.; to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of the George Washington Masonic National Memorial."
Lord Fairfax House & Harry "Light Horse" Lee House
The Henry "Light Horse" Lee House was one of the last homes of this American Revolutionary War hero and colonial leader. Lee was part of a very influential family and a friend of George Washington. Lee went to college at Princeton (along with James Madison, James Monroe and Aaron Burr), then he joined the Colonial Army where he lead a cavalry unit. Lee led the successful attack at Paulus Hook, New Jersey, then served under Nathanael Greene in the south, pushing Cornwallis toward his eventual defeat the Yorktown. After the war, Lee married, then began an unsuccessful career in land speculation, including the purchase of much of the land around Great Falls, Virginia. Lee was also a politician, serving in the Congress under the Articles of Confederation, as governor of Virginia, and in the US Congress. Later his debts led to his imprisonment, and while there, he wrote the famous Revolutionary War book called History of the War in the Southern District. Around 1810 Lee and his family moved to Alexandria, to this home on Cameron Street.
The Lord Fairfax House was used by Thomas, Ninth Lord Fairfax and his son. Lord Fairfax was a Scottish peerage title given to this Scottish family that settled in America for several generations. The current Lord Fairfax (the Fourteenth) lives in England.
The most famous Lord Fairfax in America was Thomas, Sixth Lord Fairfax who lived in northern Virginia at Belvoir (now Fort Belvoir) and was distantly related to George Washington through marriage. Sixth Lord Fairfax owned nearly a quarter of the state of Virginia, and he enlisted sixteen year old George Washington's help in surveying this massive estate. Lord Fairfax is even credited with shipping the brick used to build Alexandria's Christ Church all the way from England.
Robert Fairfax, Seventh Lord Fairfax, was the brother of Thomas Fairfax. He inherited the title and Thomas Fairfax's five million acres in Virginia in 1781 when Thomas died shortly after the Battle of Yorktown ended.
Bryan Fairfax, Eighth Lord Fairfax was the son of Thomas Fairfax's first cousin. His is considered the first American-born member of the British House of Lords. During his life he was a lieutenant in Washington's militia during the French and Indian War, he clerked for Alexandria's John Carlyle, and he was a justice for Fairfax County, Virginia. Later he was Episcopal minister at Alexandria's Christ Church. He is considered a close friend of Washington, as the two hunted together, and often visited one another. Bryan Fairfax is known to be among the final guests at Mount Vernon before George Washington's death.
Thomas Fairfax, Ninth Lord Fairfax, was born in 1762, and died in Fairfax County, Virginia, 21 April 1846. He was Bryan Fairfax's second son, and he lived on a plantation, but maintained a winter home in Old Town Alexandria, just a block away from George Washington's townhouse. Some sources say the house was built in 1816, others say around 1800.
The house at 607 Cameron Street has a plaque that reads:
Erected (c.) 1800 by William Yeaton. Residence of Thomas, Ninth Lord Fairfax and his son Dr. Orlando Fairfax until 1875.
Placed by John Alexander Chapter, National Society Daughters of the American Revolution. 1966.
Alexandria Heritage Trail
The Alexandria Heritage Trail is a 23 mile jogging and biking path that runs throughout the city. Its route follows the rec trail along the Potomac River, but also forms an inland loop around the West End, Del Rey, and other neighborhoods. I have only visited a few sites such as the Hooff's Run Railroad Bridge (built in 1856), the West End, and the old Tannery. On the north end of town, the Tide Lock of the Old Alexandria Canal is preserved as part of the trail.
Another spot near the canal locks is a former neighborhood called "Cross Canal," that was once a post Civil War African American community. The sign says this are was very rural and the houses all had gardens and farm animals.
There is not much information about the Heritage Trail available on the internet, but I will post more as I explore the trail!
Stone Mansion - Fairfax County
Stone Mansion was built in 1780 by a Revolutionary War naval commodore named Walter Brooke. Brooke, a friend of George Washington and cousin of George Mason, originally named his house Retirement. In the 1940s the house was expanded and modernized to the present state with two large wings, a stone facade, and the large columns on the front porch.
Stone Mansion is located in 14-acre Stoneybrook Park, which has tennis and basketball courts, a picnic pavilion, and a large playground next to the house. The house itself is a venue for weddings and large meetings, that can seat 90 indoors or 150 outside.
From Alexandria, take Route 1 south to South Kings Highway. After about one mile, go left on Stoneybrookee Drive and the house is on the left.
The Virginia Presidential Trees
These trees were planted in 1932 to honor the eight presidents from the state of Virginia: Washington, Jefferson, Madison, Monroe, Harrison, Tyler, Taylor, and Wilson.
Mount Vernon Parkway, Fairfax County, just a half mile south of Alexandria. The monument is located next to the northern most parking lot at Belle Haven Marina, between the lot's exit road and the Mount Vernon Parkway, easily visible from your car.
The plaque at the site reads:
These trees were planted in commemoration of the eight Presidents of the United States who were sons of Virginia.
George Washington, 1789-1797
Thomas Jefferson, 1801-1809
James Madison, 1809-1817
James Monroe, 1817-1825
Wm. Henry Harrison, 1841-1841
John Tyler, 1841-1845
Zachary Taylor, 1849-1850
Woodrow Wilson, 1913-1921
Mt. Vernon Chapter N.S.D.A.R., Alexandria, Virginia.
George Washington's Alexandria Townhouse
This structure is a replica of Washington's original townhouse on this lot. This house was built by Washington when he was surveying the region. It was later used when he had business in the area, or when friends were heading to Mount Vernon and needed a place to sleep on the way.
The house is one block away from Lord Fairfax's House, home of Washington's good friend.
Near the corner of Cameron and St. Asaph Streets.
The plaques read:
Replica of Washington's Town House
Lot purchased by George Washington 1763. House completed 1769 – torn down 1855. Rebuilt by Gov. and Mrs. Richard Barrett Lowe 1960. Bricks & stones from excavation used in construction. Worth Bailey, Historian; E. S. Holland, Engineer; Robt. Rust, Contractor.
Site of Washington's Town House
First used by him in his surveying. Here he maintained an office with secretary to receive and accommodate belated visitors to Mt. Vernon.
DC Boundary Stones in Alexandria
Washington DC was first surveyed in 1791 and 1792 by Andrew Ellicott. The city was partly in Maryland and partly in Virginia in a square shape 10 miles on each side. Each side of the square was marked by 10 boundary stones for a total of 40 stones around the city. The first stone was placed at Jones Point in Alexandria, VA.
In 1915 the Daughters of the American Revolution protected the boundary stones by placing a fence around each and performing routine maintenance.
Today 37 of the original boundary stones survive. 14 of the original stone locations are in the state of Virginia, in the city of Alexandria or Arlington County since this part of DC was retroceeded back to Virginia prior to the Civil War.
The Alexandria boundary stones are located at Jones Point, next to the Alexandria National Cemetery, on Russell Road, and and three along King Street.
I have visited the following boundary stones in Alexandria:
The South Boundary Stone at Jones Point lies in the seawall next to the lighthouse. The stone is only visible through a small hole cut into the stone, and it is marked by a small plaque. If you cross the small white picket fence, you can lean over for a better view or photo. This is the first boundary stone of Washignton DC and was placed in 1791. It was replaced in 1794, and this second stone remains today.
Southwest Number 1 stone sits enclosed in a large black iron cage behind a white picket fence in an older residential community right at the corner of Wilkes and Payne Streets. Today it sits several hundred feet from its original position, and it has been turned.
The stone called Southwest Number 2 was the third stone placed back in 1791. It stands behind a small iron fence on the east side of Russell Road just north of King Street. The original stone stood about a third of a mile northwest of this site, but has long since been lost. The Duaghters of the American Revolution replaced this stone in 1920, but I'm not sure why they put it so far from the original.
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