We had a good time yesterday morning in Fairfax’s Old Town Historic District. Living history presenter Jenee Lindner guided a turnout of more than three-dozen on a 90-minute tour on and around Main Street.
We started at the Ratcliffe-Allison House, the city’s oldest dwelling. My Alexandria ears popped up a couple of times with this one.
When the county needed a new courthouse after Alexandria became part of the new District of Columbia, they looked to a location closer to the center. In 1799, Richard Ratcliffe more or less donated four acres of land for the new courthouse at the corner of modern day Main Street and Highway 123.
As William Page Johnson II points out,
Richard’s offer was not entirely philanthropic. He owned all the land around the four-acre courthouse lot and he hoped to benefit from the commercial development that would follow.
Lindner took us inside and explained how the brick dwelling was first used as an ordinary. The piedmont farmers needed a good road to Alexandria, thus Little River Turnpike was built.
We also got a look at a permanent exhibit titled, “Dr. Kate Waller Barrett: Mother to Many.” Alexandrians are aware of her great legacy as someone who championed the cause of the downtrodden. A beautiful bronze plaque inside the library notes she was:
“A woman without fear, with a great heart equal to her brilliant mind, a leader in every movement for the advancement of humankind, a champion of unpopular causes.”
It was a pleasant surprise to see this exhibit and listen to the docent tell us that it was Barrett who saved the Ratcliffe-Allison house from demolition in 1923.
A large information panel points out that Dr. Barrett’s “central interest was helping unmarried mothers.”
Along with her husband, Charles N. Crittenden, she established 76 homes in this cause. She became President of the National Florence Crittenden Mission and did her utmost in this role.
This guided tour is new and is sponsored by Historic Fairfax City Inc. The next one is May 24.