After walking through Clover/College Park, I chose to cross Quaker Lane and start looking at the Seminary Hill neighborhood.
Before we get started, it’s worth noting that neighborhood names and exactly where their borders lie can be tricky. Some websites show Seminary as one large area west of Quaker Lane. Alexandria Archaeology Resources Areas breaks it down somewhat differently.
Whatever you call it, this part of the city is rich in history and natural beauty. There was a time when many of the hills surrounding Alexandria held appeal for those who could afford to build or inherited country estates. It sure seems, however, that there was something special about Quaker Lane and its western side. I didn’t realize the full extent of this until preparing for this walk.
We start on the southern tip of Quaker Lane, the hilly thoroughfare that looks down to the Eisenhower Valley and across to Fairfax County. The steepness factor is not exactly San Francisco material, but it makes for a heart-pumping start nevertheless.
Our first stop is towards the crest of the hill. The Civil War Roundtable of Alexandria erected a marker here for the site of Fort Williams. Wally Owens tells us a brick powder magazine lies behind the house at 212 Quaker Lane. (As pointed out by the marker, the site is about 100 yards to the west and cannot be seen from Quaker Lane). It is alleged that the bricks used to build the magazine came from Cameron, the home of General Samuel Cooper. The Union Army destroyed Cameron to build Fort Williams.
A bit more uphill walking brings me to 318 Quaker Lane. Although this large home is partially hidden by trees and its setback, Clarens still shows it beauty and prominence. It’s perhaps the crown jewel home of all of Seminary Hill. Zillow lists the value of the home and its outbuilding at a figure approaching $4M.
It’s time to escape the noise of passing cars and head into the neighborhood. Trinity Avenue leads the way. If you recall, Trinity also runs through Clover/College Park.
For this walk, I did my usual pre-work and found out about the historical assets. This method does take the thrill of discovery out of the equation, but it also ensures I don’t miss anything. But sometimes there are still those wonderful surprises and I am about to come across one.
When I came home, I played around with google searches and finally found some information. The late Mrs. Charles R. Hooff Jr. (Elizabeth T. Dunn, 1917-2014), lived here. Her obituary states she lived at “The Hooff Cottage” for most of her 72 years in Alexandria. Prior to her arrival, she lived in Philadelphia. She met Mr Hooff there and were married in 1938.
A lady ahead of her time, she became a stockbroker with Rouse, Brewer, Becker and Bryant in the late 1960s. Then she became the first female director on the board of the Burke and Herbert Bank. She was a preservationist and active in charity causes.
As part of the Alexandria Legacies initiative, Gail Ledwig and Ken Elder conducted an oral history with Mrs. Hooff in 2006. She talks about her move to Seminary Hill in 1947, a period when large farms dominated the area.
She also laments the loss of a barn.
No. The barn had been torn down. The barn was sitting right in the middle of Trinity Drive. It was a cute little barn, one of those with turrets. Wonderful...those old barns like Victorian...would have made a wonderful house.
Continuing on Trinity Drive, I arrived at the intersection with Fort Williams Parkway. I made my way down a path and stopped to appreciate Strawberry Run, one of three creeks that stream into Cameron Run in these parts. The neighborhood dog association greets me – always a chorus that goes on way too long (uh-oh I just lost the dog crowd..)
Strawberry Run winds its way through Fort Williams Park. I read where our human footprint has eroded its flow and grassy banks (I’ve seen a lot of this on other walks). The city has taken on the task of restoration. I can see their work.
My next stop is Moss Place. On the way I see more pear trees in full bloom. More than anything else, they announce the arrival of sweet springtime.
I arrived at Moss Place. It would be easy to think this is just another residential dead end with nothing historical there. The home at 4007 Moss Place is Muckross, famous historically as the estate of the Colonel Arthur Herbert CSA. He is the co-founder of the Burke and Herbert Bank. This dynasty started in 1852, safeguarding money in the seaport as they still do.
Next up is Harris Place, another dead end but a street that can tell some stories too. A historical sign is located here for Fort Worth, also erected by the Civil War Roundtable of Alexandria. At the end of Harris Place, where the cul de sac lies, is the site of Fort Worth. Wally Owens notes that 4100 Harris Place was built on the south magazine of the fort. He points out much of the fort was in excellent condition until 1970. One can also see the back side of Muckross from this vantage point.
It’s always fun to trace the history of a neighborhood using Historic Aerials. In this case, the eye in the sky reveals that in the late 40s, the only road in this area was what became St. Stephens Road. It ran from Seminary Road to Fort Worth. Like a lot of Fairfax County, these parts heard the hammers throughout the 50s and 60s. But it wasn’t until after 1977 that Fort Williams Parkway was laid out (I bet that was controversial).
Next up is St. Stephens/St. Agnes School. Quite an impressive place. Alumni includes Tom Boswell. A baseball field manicured to top-notch level is a terrific first impression. If my buddies and I had a field like this growing up, we’d still be there.
The soccer and lacrosse field is named in honor of Matthew J. Kelleher, who lettered in three sports. Tragically, his life was snuffed out in an automobile accident in 2003.
My next stop takes us back to antebellum Alexandria. Dave Cavanaugh, a local resident, shows me where Vaucluse was located (more or less the intersection of Gaillard and Ormond Avenue and INOVA Hospital lies just to the west of its site), as well as the ravine where writer and author Constance Cary Harrison played. She lived at Vaucluse during a formative period of her life.
Dave has done some amazing research on Vaucluse. He provides new information and corrects misconceptions that have obscured the real story of Vaucluse.
“Refugitta of Richmond,” Harrison’s memoir, is also very insightful. The family fled the homestead in the spring of 1861 when the boys in blue arrived. Down went Vaucluse, demolished for military purposes. It’s a crying shame nothing has gone up to revive its memory.
I’ve seen a lot so far but there’s still a bit more. It’s time to turn back into the rising sun and return to Quaker Lane. This stretch of Seminary Road holds its treasures, too. The real crown jewel of this area is the Virginia Theological School, but that’s on the other side and deserves special and separate treatment.
My penultimate stop is Beth El Hebrew synagogue at 3830 Seminary Drive. Bet you didn’t know this congregation, founded in 1859, first met in Old Town at 216 North Washington Street (See State Highway Marker there). They made their move to this location in the mid 1950s.
My final turn is a right onto Quaker Lane. One last hill to hoof, which leads to our final stop. This is the Charles Goodman House, listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Born in the Big Apple in 1906, Goodman earned fame designing Modernist homes and buildings in suburban Washington D.C. The National Building Museum called him the Washington area’s preeminent mid-century modernist. National Airport is among his works.
Goodman turned away from the steep gables and other hum-drum norms to design the homes that make up Hollin Hills south of Alexandria. Glass companies must have loved him.
For himself, he sketched out an International Style redesign and preservation of an 1870s-built farmhouse at 510 Quaker Lane. As noted by the NRHP form, the most striking part of his addition is the 34-foot-by-20-foot enclosed glass pavilion. A fence partially blocks the view but one can see enough of it to be fully impressed.
The home stretch is ahead, the walk back down the hill. I reflect on something someone told me about Alexandria a couple of years ago. Old Town gets all the attention, she said. It’s not fair to the other parts that are also rich in history.
I’m beginning to see her point. "River to rails” sums up the core of Alexandria's past, but its full story is “river to hills.”