[y] Alexandria Visitors Guide
Alexandria, Virginia is located in Northern Virginia right on the banks of the Potomac River just minutes away from Washington DC, the nation’s capital. Having been established over 250 years ago, Alexandria is rich in both American and colonial history. Alexandria is now a lively city that is stuck in their traditions and yet making great leaps forward at the same time. The citizens of Alexandria have made up their minds and are striving to retain the charm and qualities that come from their heritage and culture.
Alexandria is best known as a historical, colonial town, and with its many preserved 18th and 19th century buildings, anyone can see why. Originally, the town was a thriving colonial trading post and extremely active seaport, named after pioneer John Alexander. George Washington owned property, conducted meetings and gatherings, and kept close ties with Alexandria. The city played a large part, mainly as a supply center, for both the War of 1812 and the American Civil War. In fact, it was the only Confederate city that was occupied by the Union troops for the duration of the war.
Between the many homes, businesses, and churches built years ago, Alexandria has many historical attractions and museums. Visitors and residents alike are able to experience the past that makes the city what it is today by visiting sites like the Alexandria Black History Museum, the Friendship Firehouse, Gadsby’s Tavern, Alexandria Archaeology Museum, Fort Ward Museum, and the Lyceum. These places bring Alexandria’s history into the present by telling the fascinating stories of the past.
Alexandria has many spots and events where people can go to celebrate the heritage of the people in Alexandria, such as the Balleyshaners Irish Festival and the Scottish Heritage Fair. The Alexandria Symphony Orchestra and the Alexandria Choral Society perform beautiful renditions of the artists from Alexandria and all of America of both today and those of long ago.
With its many events and attractions, both historical and art and culture-based, Alexandria remembers its past as it strides into the future. Excellent secondary and post-secondary facilities, a thriving economy, and a very high quality of life make Alexandria a great place to both visit or take up permanent residence. All of Alexandria’s assets mixed with the hospitality and friendliness of its residents make the quaint town a very charming and exciting place to be.
Alexandria Fast Facts
- Population: 128,284
- Median Age: 34 years
- Area: 15.2 square miles
- Water Area: .2 square miles (1.49% water)
- Median Family Income: $74,091.00
- Average Per Capita Income: $50,123.00 (ninth in the nation)
- Average Annual Rainfall: 39.5 inches (Average 3.29 inches/month)
- Average Annual Snowfall: 18.2 inches
- Average Temperature in January: 34.5 degrees
- Average Temperature in July: 79 degrees
Gadsby’s Tavern consists of a tavern (1785) and the City Hotel (1792). The Tavern was the happening place to be and the center of all business, political, and social gatherings. It held dances, theater and music performances, and all local organization meetings. Some of the customers who frequented the Tavern include George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, John Adams, and Marquis de Lafayette. Today Gadsby’s Tavern is full of history, architecture, arts, food, clothing, and customs of the 18th century.
The Alexandria Archaeology Museum has students, volunteers, and archaeologists that work, study and manage details and archaeological finds and resources that are important to the city’s past. With the Archeology Museum, you can research the history of the town, explore the current city in a walking or biking tour, view archeological finds, or even go on a “Dig Day” or to summer camp.
The Friendship Fire Company Museum showcases hand-drawn fire engines, axes, leather water buckets, and other fire-fighting equipment that was used when the Company was established in 1855. The Friendship Fire Company was Alexandria’s first volunteer fire company and the museum also has parade uniforms, capes, banners, and other ceremonial objects available for viewing.
The Black History Museum is comprised of the Robert H Robinson Library, which was built in 1940 after a sit-in at the Alexandria Library, and the Reading Room (1955), which was used for learning about African-Americans, their traditions, and their cultures. Also part of the museum is the African American Heritage Park, which is a nine-acre park that includes an African American cemetery.
Fort Ward is a Union fort that was built to protect Washington, DC during the American Civil War (1861-1865). Through its many reenactments, the Museum and Historic Site shows what life was like for civilians and soldiers in Alexandria during these times and the city’s importance to the Union Army. The museum has exhibits on Civil War topics, educational programs, tours, lectures, and live history activities.
The Alexander History Museum was originally known as “The Lyceum” and was established in 1839 as a grand hall, joined with the Alexandria Library Company, and was used as a place for quiet reading, scientific experiments, and a lecture hall. Since then it has also been used as a private home, Civil War hospital, and an office building for the Bicentennial Center. It is now a museum with exhibitions and used for school programs, concerts and lectures, and community functions.
The Lloyd House was built in 1796 and was used as a school, boarding house during World War II, and a historical library. It is now the head of the Office of Historic Alexandria and can be rented for meetings, parties, and receptions.
The George Washington Masonic National Memorial overlooks the nation’s capital and is located on Shooters Hill just a mile away from the Potomac River. The 333 ft. structure is a memorial of George Washington, patriot, Mason, and President. It was dedicated in May 1932, by the Masonic fraternity and is the only single effort of all of the Grand Lodges in the United States. It is open to the public daily and offers special art history and Masonic tours.
The Carlyle House was built in 1752 by the Scottish merchant, John Carlyle. General Braddock and five royal governors met here to discuss the French and Indian War. The Carlyle House is now open for tours and is available for rent.
The Lee-Fendall House Museum and Garden is available for rent for events such as weddings, dinner parties, birthday celebrations, business retreats, and receptions. The Lee-Fendall House was built in 1785 Philip Richard Fendall, who bought the land from his cousin, Revolutionary War hero Henry “Light Horse Harry” Lee who also happened to be the father of General Robert E. Lee.
Alexandria VA Festivals
Historic Alexandria Candlelight Tours, held in December every year, is a perfect addition to the holiday season celebration. The Candlelight Tour visits Gadsby’s Tavern Museum, Carlyle House, and the Lee-Fendall House and will have live musical performances, period costumes, seasonal decor, and hot cider. The Candlelight Tour will allow you to experience the charm and history of Old Town Alexandria.
The Memorial Day Jazz Festival, held every year on Memorial Day in May, features big band, swing, and contemporary jazz with a different band every hour. Held in the amphitheater, it is the perfect spot to enjoy the spring air, have a picnic, and spend a weekend listening to all types of jazz music.
First Night Alexandria is the best New Year’s party in the area featuring many different concerts, storytellers, fireworks, and festival fun. Alexandria’s Mayor says, “It is a wonderful celebration for all Alexandria! It is a way for families and singles of all ages to come together in a safe environment to celebrate the birth of a new year.”
During Alexandria’s Old Town Festival of the Arts, a collection of more than 150 local and national artists display their paintings, sculptures, glassware, photography, jewelry, and other works in a two-day festival right in the heart of Old Town Alexandria.
Alexandria’s Scottish Heritage Fair celebrates Scottish heritage and is a memorial to the Scottish merchants that first settled in the area. It features Scottish Highland Dancers, Scottish animals for viewing like Clydesdale horses, Shetland Ponies and Highland Sheep, and storytelling about Scotland’s people and their culture.
The Balleyshaners Irish Festival in Alexandria is used to promote and preserve the Irish heritage. The festival includes the Alexandria Saint Patrick’s Day Parade, Irish arts and craft show, Irish food tasting, and performances by the Boyle, Sean Culkin, and Maple Irish Dancers.
Alexandria Restaurant Guide
Alexandria has all of the regular restaurants that every city claims, but they also have specialty dining spots based upon the culture of those in the area, such as the Scottish and Irish pubs. Gadsby’s Tavern Museum features a restaurant allowing guests to take in colonial Alexandria while enjoying a hearty American meal. Some local favorites are:
Generous George’s Positive Pizza and Pasta is heaven on earth for kids. It is casual dining and perfect for family outings. George Mansy started Generous George’s in 1977 and has been dishing out pizzas and pasta ever since. Pizzas can be topped with your normal sausage and pepperoni or you can step out and get Taco Cha Ole or Positive Pineapple Pleasure.
The Stardust Restaurant and Lounge is another favorite among Alexandria diners. It is the perfect spot for a date, night on the town, or to meet up with some friends for cocktails or martinis. It is entertaining and lively, with trendy decorations and great music. The music is just as good as the atmosphere. The Washington Post says their “dishes are exuberant”.
The Blue Point Grill is a charming restaurant with the market’s freshest seafood. The Blue Point Grill is the perfect date spot. Imagine eating raw oysters and sipping chilled champagne out on the terrace. Blue Point features lobster, mussels, crab, clams, and several varieties of oysters.
Villa D’Este is an authentic Italian cuisine dining spot in downtown Alexandria. With the Italian decoration and Sinatra music filling the air, diners get the feeling they are actually in Old Italy. Villa D’Este is fine an elegant Italian restaurant with a succulent menu.
The Alexandria Symphony Orchestra, otherwise known as “The Sound of the City”, is the oldest professional orchestra in Northern Virginia. The Alexandria Symphony Orchestra has a full concert series with many exciting programs for an affordably family concert price. Under the leadership of Maestro Kim Allen Kluge, the Alexandria Symphony Orchestra is a wonderful addition to the Alexandria community.
The Prince Royal Gallery is located on the corner of Prince and Royal Street in Old Town Alexandria. It was originally the Concordia Hotel, built in 1880, but is now an impressionistic art gallery featuring works from both emerging and established artists from around the world. Paintings on display here range from landscapes and urban scenes to florals and statutes.
The Alexandria Ballet Company is supported by the Northern Virginia Fine Arts Association (NVFAA) and makes its home in the Greek Revival-style Athenaeum. The ballet has over 20 professional dancers and numerous children and students who come together and perform seasonal productions of “The Nutcracker” and “The Easter Bunny is Late.”
The Alexandria Choral Society is a choral sized choir that performs the music of both local and national American composers. The ACS has about 50 singing members in both its adult and children’s choir who work together to present the highest level of musical quality in their performances.
The Tapestry Theater Company is a community-based theater group that performs quality plays in the Northern Virginia area. Tapestry Theater Company was created in 1995 with the intention of “keeping the Classics alive” and giving new playwrights the chance to see their works performed on stage.
The Torpedo Factory Art Center is right on the docks of the Potomac River and was a torpedo factory during World War I. It has been renovated and is now one of the most successful visual art centers in the country. It features 84 studios where you can visit artists and watch them work, five galleries, two workshops, The Art League School, and the Alexandria Archaeology Museum.
Alexandria, Virginia, located in Fairfax and Arlington counties, is a historic and thriving waterfront community sitting right on the banks of the Potomac River. It has a very strong economic base, excellent educational facilities, many cultural activities, and colonial charm. Alexandria boasts one of the highest per capita incomes in the country and is a leader in professional association and technology manufacturing businesses. Among Alexandria’s best community features are numerous job opportunities, a low crime rate, and quality health care resources all coming together to provide a very good quality of life and a pleasant lifestyle for its citizens. Based of these things, Ladies Home Journal has named Alexandria the number one city in the “Top 10 List of America’s Best Cities for Women”. Today Alexandria is a modern community based on the history and rich heritage of its ancestors. It’s many museums, festivals, and community events pay tribute to the past and the people who began the traditions that are still continued today.
While Alexandria doesn’t have any professional sports teams for its citizens to enjoy, it has a magnificent park and recreation department allowing the residents of the city to get involved and play the sports themselves. Alexandria has a park system within the city that has over 900 acres of land spread between 70 major parks and 30 recreation centers. These parks are operated by the Centers, Playgrounds, and Youth Sports Division and contain eight full-time recreational centers and three after school centers. Most of the activities offered are free and include events such as trips, sports, special interest programs. They offer many daily activities such as Ping-Pong, air hockey, pool, and table games. They have game and meeting rooms, gymnasiums, pottery rooms, and racquetball courts. The Alexandria Youth Sports league has activities for youth including football, baseball, and basketball. The National Junior Tennis League (NJTL) gives Alexandria youth the chance to participate in organized tennis play in leagues for beginners, intermediate, and advanced players. There are also a variety of adult sports offered including programs for both men and women and coed football, softball, and soccer teams. Chinquapin Recreation Center is one of the largest facilities and even offers facilities for swimming.
Alexandria has an annual Turkey Trot Race, which is conducted by the DC Roadrunner’s Club and is a five-mile race through the heart of Alexandria.
History of Alexandria VA
Most of what is today Alexandria was part of a large land grant from the Governor of Virginia, Sir William Berkeley, that was given to the English ship captain Robert Howsing in 1669. Not even a month later Howsing traded the land with John Alexander for 6,000 pounds of tobacco.
By 1732, Hugh West had begun operating his tobacco warehouses just south of the Hunting Creek in an area known as Belhaven. Local Scottish and English merchants asked the Virginia General Assembly to establish a town at Hunting Creek in order to facilitate the shipping of the tobacco at West’s warehouse. In 1749, a town was established and named Alexandria in honor of the original landowner, John Alexander. By the late 1700s, Alexandria had become a port for foreign vessels and an export center for both flour and hemp. Dec de la Rochefoucauld Liancourt, a visitor to Alexandria in 1796, commented on the town saying, “Alexandria is beyond all comparison, the most handsome town in Virginia. Indeed it is among the finest in the United States”.
From their very beginning, the citizens of Alexandria have known about and experienced war first hand. General George Washington often drilled his militia troops through the Market Square during the mid-1700s. The English General Edward Braddock made his headquarters in the Carlyle House in Alexandria in 1755 while planning for an expedition against Fort Duquesne in the French and Indian War. The governors of Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Maryland, New York, and Virginia all met here to discuss what actions to take against the French in America. In 1785, Virginia and Maryland commissioners met in Alexandria to discuss trade relations and navigation of the Potomac River. At the time of the American Revolution, Alexandria served as a principle colonial trading center, the main colonial port, central place for meetings, and a supply and hospital center. Alexandria surrendered to a British fleet during the War of 1812 and according to the terms of surrender the British were allowed to loot the many warehouses in the town. They took mostly sugar, flour, tobacco, cotton, and wine. Despite their losses, the community came together and rebounded from these losses; in the years before the American Civil War, Alexandria’s industry and economy had grown and flourished even beyond what it was previously.
Part of Alexandria, Alexandria County, was ceded to the United States government for the District of Columbia but was reattached to Virginia by 1846 when the District’s size was reduced and the portion of the Potomac River was removed. Alexandria would finally become independent of Alexandria County after the Civil War and the remainder of Alexandria County went on to change its name to Arlington County, ending all of the unnecessary confusion.
In 1861, more war would find its home in Alexandria and the town was occupied by Union military forces from the very beginning of the Civil War in 1861 and became the main supply center for their army. The United States Military Railroad made its base here and the port on the Potomac River was taken under Union control. Both supplies and troops were sent to Alexandria by the railroad system and ports, then sent to wherever they were needed, usually on the front lines. The city was also the main place for wounded soldiers to seek medical treatment. Alexandria was home to many crowded hospitals and medical facilities, the major military hospital center for the Union Army, in fact. Several forts, such as Fort Ward, were built in the area with the duty of protecting the City of Washington. For the last two years of the Civil War (from the beginning of West Virginia until 1863), Alexandria was the capital of the Restored Government of Virginia. The Federal troops kept their troops in Alexandria from the very beginning until the very end of the Civil War, making it the longest-held city during the war. This was a great upset to Confederate General Robert E. Lee; Alexandria was his boyhood home. During the four years of the war, thousands of Union soldiers were either stationed or passing through Alexandria, and many northern civilians came to the city to join in the war effort. One of the first national cemeteries in the United States was established here for the soldiers in 1862.
Although the city was the location of many slave sales before the Civil War, it also became known as a place housing several free black communities. It was at this time that the African-American culture began to take root with the establishment of social organizations, businesses, and churches. Today there are many establishments that remember the African-American’s and both their struggles and their victories. There are both museums and festivals celebrating everything they stood for, went through, and came to be.
Alexandria is one of America’s oldest and most historic communities. It has many original buildings from the 18th century that are still standing. It has played a large part, been a central point, and made it through both the War of 1812 and the Civil War. The citizens living in Alexandria have not forgotten any of the historical events that their town has seen, and they do their best to keep their history, culture, and heritage alive and remembered.