This is a continuing series of quick looks at historic streets in Old Town Alexandria. Our three major sources are T. Michael Miller's writings at the Alexandria Chronicle, Ethelyn Cox’s Survey of Early Buildings, and Alexandria Houses, 1750-1830 by Davis, Dorsey and Hall.
Previous: Part One: South Lee Street, Part Two: 100 Block of Prince
Our tour of the streets of Old Town Alexandria continues today, as we head up the hill to the 200 block of Prince Street. At once, the visitor is struck by this block’s yellow-brick road, the temple that is the Greek-Revival Athenaeum and sturdy Georgian townhomes.
The appeal of 200, however, is not so much those features, as it is those who have lived here on Alexandria’s famed “Gentry Row.” In her 1949 history of Alexandria, Gay Montague Moore writes, “The 200 block of Prince Street is probably the finest left in Old Alexandria…”
In one of his research pieces, T. Michael Miller notes, “the 200 block of Prince was an upper class neighborhood and was inhabited by wealthy merchants, many of who were Quakers.” Robert Wilson was inspired to author, "The Story of Old Town & "Gentry Row" in Alexandria, Virginia."
A number assigned.
Letter identifying facing N, W, S or E.
It should be noted that some houses qualify for the marker, but if the owner has chosen not apply, it won’t have a marker. A couple of years ago I inquired as to how many markers there were, and was told 650 some.
Difficult to spell, but easy to stand in awe of, the Athenaeum occupies the north corner spot at South Lee Street. As their website notes, this Greek-Revival is one of only two in the City (other is the Lyceum). Built a half-dozen years after Virginia retroceeded from the District of Columbia in 1848, the Athenaeum has seen many occupants, including banks, a commissary during the Civil War, a house of worship, a warehouse and coming up on its 50th anniversary, the Northern Virginia Fine Arts Association.
This house is arguably Alexandria’s most famous address and most impressive townhouse. Its original owner, Colonel William Fairfax, was one of the most powerful residents of the city, and bosom friend of George Washington.
His son inherited the three and a half story dormer, and lived there with his wife Sally Cary Fairfax. Washington had strong romantic feelings for her.
Other owners include Captain John Harper who became a real estate magnate in the city after serving in the Revolutionary War, William Hodgson and Lewis McKenzie, a fascinating figure who has not gotten his due.
Gay Montague Moore and her husband, Charles Beatty Moore, passed by 207 in 1952, fell in love, purchased it and restored the inside. Along with others such as Sara Hooff and the Hulfish and Delaneys, the Moores helped start the preservation movement in Old Town.
Between 200 and 210 (driveway, no home)
Miller brings back the Ship’s Tavern, a watering hole which operated from 1800 to 1804. Other residents include the Alexandria-Washington Lodge and Robert Hunter, a wealthy ship building magnate. City Council elections were held there and at one point the Farmer’s Hotel served the city. Apparently, a fired destroyed the dwelling two days after Christmas in 1870.
216 Prince Street
A wooden warehouse occupied this address before giving way to the brick townhouse built between 1809 and 1816. Jacob Hoffman owned it next. Miller notes he may have “operated a bacon and currying manufactory here.” Around 1915, the building was converted into apartments. Other occupants include “The Society of the Skull and Dagger.”
Seems the motto of this block is whatever you can do, I can do different. This wooden home with two addresses is one of the more unique structures in Alexandria. William Hartshorne, a Quaker merchant and friend of Washington, built this one before the turn of the century. One year before the War of 1812, residents got whiffs of the smell of fresh biscuits. This was the early morning work of John Cranston. Miller notes this house was restored in the 1930s and attracted attorneys.