The American Guide Series was a set of books published during the final year of the Great Depression. The Works Project Administration, one of FDR’s “New Deal” programs, sent employees of the Writers’ Program to each state in the CONUS. Each book gave small histories and served as a travel guide.
The books now serve as great tools for researchers, a snapshot of places across America. We have a musty copy for "Virginia: A Guide to the Old Dominion" (1941), and thought it would be fun to comment on the “Points of Interest” listed for Alexandria.
City Hall and Market House
Today we call this City Hall and Market Square. There were market houses on this block in the past, but they and others buildings were cleared in the 1960s for the Market Square Renewal Project.
For me, City Hall and Market Square are such a mixed bag. The spire inspires and the Farmers Market is one of the best around. But the square is otherwise underutilized and just looks so bland.
Arguably, the most synonymous place with Old Town, and its most iconic place (great Jay, way to lose friends).
Gadsby’s retains all its charm and historical feeling inside and out. The ice well addition has been a huge success.
We now know the Carlyle House was completed in 1753, not the 1752 showing on the building. One of my favorite historic homes.
The guide book noted the Ramsay House “is the oldest house in Alexandria.” At that time, it was the original house, but it is difficult to know if it was the oldest.
The Ramsay House burned down in the 1940s and is now used as the Visitors Center. Not a historic destination but the building certainly stands out architecturally.
Alexandria Gazette Building
We love and appreciate our local newspapers, but safe to say it’s been a while since they’ve shown up as a Point of Interest (Then again, maybe they could start giving tours).
This building, which likely had some appeal in its form, was torn down during the Urban Renewal in the 1960s. There are no addresses for 300 King, as the City Hall is on Cameron.
The Gazette moved to 717 N. St. Asaph, which was later torn down.
One of the Gazette’s first homes is on Prince. It’s worth checking out actually with a marker and evidently the blackened bricks are from the fire mentioned on the marker.
Stabler-Leadbeater Drug Store
Not many places have an apothecary museum. What a gift this place is. A travel magazine recently made it the focus of their story.
The guidebook writes:
Robert E. Lee was making a purchase here when Lieutenant J.E.B. Stuart delivered orders to him to suppress John Brown's Raid in 1859.
It's my understanding that research has found this not to be the case.
Old Presbyterian Meeting House
Such a wonderful place, this church and its unique cemetery in the rear are a must see, and a place where you can learn a lot about the city’s early history. The historic markers there are very informative, as well as the ceremony for the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, and other events.
The description of this house as “dilapidated” reflects the state of Alexandria’s older housing stock in the 1940s.
There was a desire to tear down more than a dozen blocks of homes in the 60s. A community of preservationists fought back. They and subsequent other home owners have lovingly restored these homes, while retaining their historic look.
We no longer refer to this small flounder house this way.
This is a fascinating story, as told by Smith and Miller.
George Coryell was an artisan builder from New Jersey. The clapboard flounder deteriorated and at some point was covered with a brick veneer and incorporated as an extension of the Craik House.
The famed General stayed here only one night, but turned this beauty into gold. Don’t overlook the marker on the side of the house, where you can learn a little French.
By the way, this one can be yours for a cool $5.4 million.
Old Lyceum Hall
We call it the Lyceum and it is still a landmark that serves as the city museum and hosts talks and such. Hard to believe some wanted to tear this down!
Lord Fairfax House
Home of Thomas, Ninth Lord Fairfax. One of my favorites. Other than the Carlyle House, arguably the grandest home in the city (keep it up Jay). Opened its doors this spring for Historic Garden Week. You can bet bubba was there.
Robert E. Lee House
There’s more Virginia State Highway signs at this corner than in some counties.
This house used to be open to the public for tours but this stopped in the 70s.
Kind of odd it doesn’t have a marker. Then again, Hallowell’s School was not here very long.
The Philip Fendall House
We call it the Lee-Fendall House. Love its architecture - the telescopic style.
Such a fascinating history and to think there was a desire to tear it down too!
Such a magnificent stalwart, even atheists love it. And the two silver plates for Washington and Lee are still there.
Friendship Fire House
With limited hours this jewel of a museum doesn’t get a lot of visitors, but it comes alive during events.
George Washington Masonic National Memorial Temple
Recently received National Historic Landmark status. We don’t use the term temple, but that is exactly what it is.
It’s interesting that of these 19 places, the Athenaeum was not included.
Well, that’s it, our seventy-five years later romp through the ancient seaport. Alexandria is a progressive city, but the historic sites remain its bread and butter…