Alexandria's historical roots date long before the city was officially founded in 1749, as settlers first arrived there in 1669
. Built along the Potomac River, it was an optimal location to do business. The city hosted a myriad of activity during the 18th Century and, while perhaps the types of businesses have changed, it remains a busy city today.
George Washington, prior to his serving as General and President, was a surveyor and participated in the planning
for the proposed town of Alexandria.
Washington spent much time in this area of Northern Virginia, known today as "Old Town", as he owned a townhouse, secondary properties, and attended church services; he even was first publicly addressed as "President" on the steps of Wise's Tavern, located on North Fairfax Street.
Also on North Fairfax Street is Carlyle House. Construction for the home began in 1751 by John Carlyle; the home was completed in 1753. Built on one of the best properties in Alexandria, with the Potomac waterfront in the rear and the Town Market Square a short walk from the front, it was an ideal location for a merchant whose shipments came up the Potomac.
Carlyle had established himself as a prominent member of early Alexandria society, and his home was the center of many political and social gatherings. The property was almost lost due to neglect over the 19th century, but in 1970 the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority acquired the house and much restoration effort has been done in order to restore the home and preserve it for all to enjoy.
Christ Church, located on N. Washington Street, was built in the latter part of the 18th century and is still an active congregation today. Construction of the church began back in 1767 and was completed in 1773. Although the church is still an active one, Christ Church can also be toured
during specified hours.
Apothecaries were popular in the 18th century, and Alexandria's apothecary was located on South Fairfax Street. It was operated continuously by the same family from 1792-1933. A very interesting tour, this one highlights the political, business and societal perspective of the changes from Colonial times to the Great Depression.
Gadby's Tavern was opened in Colonial times and remains a working business to this very day. A museum section has been added to the tavern and former hotel. What is now the museum building was once a prosperous tavern, which opened somewhere around 1785. The current Gadsby's Restaurant was once a hotel in the late 18th Century.
These are a few highlights of Alexandria's earliest history and the architecture that provided the atmosphere for history to be shaped in its walls. However, if you wander the streets, you'll note many residencies contain plaques indicating their historical connection. Since they are private homes, many are not available for tours, but still noteworthy as one walks through city streets.