Alexandria Favorite Tips by Ewingjr98 Top 5 Page for this destination
Alexandria Favorites: 28 reviews and 68 photos
Favorite thing: Driving through the north side of Old Town, particularly along Wythe Street, you'll notice some of the street signs say "Parker Gray" in tiny letters under the street name. After some research I've discovered that Parker Gray is the name of Alexandria's largest historically black neighborhood. This section of town was named after Sarah Gray, the principal of Hallowell School for Girls and John Parker, principal of Snowden School for Boys. In 1920 a combined school was built and named after these local administrators. Parker Gray High School was later built in this same neighborhood in 1950. The opening of the Braddock Road Metro Station in 1983 brought change to the neighborhood including new office buildings and gentrification.
Potomac in Old Town Alexandria
Favorite thing: The Potomac River runs 383 miles from the West Virginia-Maryland border to the Chesapeake Bay south of Washington DC. Some of the major cities along the river include Harper's Ferry, WV, Washington, DC, Arlington, VA, and Alexandria, VA. The river forms part of the borders between Maryland and Washington, D.C. to the north and West Virginia and Virginia to the south. At the mouth of the Potomac, the river is 11 miles wide, between Point Lookout, Maryland and Smith Point, Virginia.
Numerous famous Americans were born and lived along the Potomac. Two of the most famous are George Washington and Robert E. Lee. Of course, every President and Congressman has also resided along the river while serving in Washington DC!
Various methods have been used to navigate the river. The Patowmack Canal was envisioned and partially funded by George Washington to connect the area Georgetown with Cumberland, Maryland. Started in 1785, its five short canals were not completed until 1802, and they ceased operations in 1830. The Chesapeake and Ohio Canal operated along the opposite bank of the Potomac in Maryland from 1850 to 1924 and it also connected Cumberland to Washington, D.C.
Today numerous parks line the Potomac. The Chesapeake & Ohio Canal National Historical Park runs is 184.5 miles along the north side of the river. Also in Maryland, south of DC, you will find Oxon Hill Farm, Fort Foot National Park, Fort Washington Park, Piscataway National Park, and Point Lookout State Park. In Washington DC you will find Georgetown Waterfront Park, Theodore Roosevelt Island, Lady Bird Johnson Park, West Potomac Park, and East Potomac Park including Hains Point. In Virginia, you'll find Harpers Ferry National Park, Balls Bluff Battlefield, Great Falls Park, Jones Point Park, Fort Hunt National Park, Mount Vernon, Leesylvania State Park, and George Washington's Birthplace National Park.
Favorite thing: The Historic Alexandria Foundation's Historic Buildings Survey places small oval plaques on historic structures throughout Alexandria, VA. The vast majority of these buildings are located on Fairfax St near the water, on Duke Street, and on Cameron Street.
The Historic Alexandria Foundation was created in 1954 "to preserve, protect and restore structures of historic and architectural interest in and associated with the City of Alexandria, Virginia, to preserve antiquities and generally to foster and promote interest in Alexandria's heritage."
The first citywide historic survey was undertaken by this foundation in 1960 which resulted in the first round of plaque placement, and also led to a book about the historic properties of Alexandria, called Historic Alexandria, Street by Street. The plaque initiative continues today as a program that recognizes 100 year old buildings which retain an integrity of historic architectural features.
The Foundation's map of historic buildings with plaques is available at their website (http://www.historicalexandriafoundation.org/plaques/map.aspx).
Many of these historic homes also have cast-iron fire shields on the front walls. These date from the 19th Century and were used to show that the owner had paid one of the local fire companies to respond in case of fire. Presumably, houses without shields would be allowed to burn...
B&H Bank - Del Ray Branch
Favorite thing: Burke and Herbert Bank is an Alexandria original, and the oldest active bank in Virginia. It was founded in 1852, prior to the Civil War in Old Town, Alexandria at Prince and Lee Streets. One of the founders, Mr. Herbert, was actually the last person born in the Carlyle House in Old Town, and he was later a Colonel in the Confederate Army.
Today Burke and Herbert Bank has 18 offices in Alexandria, Arlington, Fairfax County, and Falls Church. Their main office is at 100 South Fairfax Street in Old Town Alexandria, and they have 11 other locations in Alexandria.
My favorite location is the Del Ray branch which features a towering bank sign that appears to be from the early 1900s.
Favorite thing: The Old Town Crier is one of the best local sources for events and attractions in Alexandria. It is published locally, just a block off King Street, and a block from my apartment in Old Town. The glossy-cover newspaper runs a variety of features each month, as well as provides an events calendar, restaurant and bar guide, a listing of local arts and antique shops, and much more. Monthly features often cover travel, local history, hotel reviews, and more.
If you are in Old Town and need some information, the Old Town Crier is a good starting point. Look for their papers in local businesses and in newspaper boces along busy streets like King Street. It's FREE!
Address: 112 South Patrick Street, Alexandria, Virginia 22314
Favorite thing: Fort Belvoir was established in 1917 during World War I. It sits adjacent to the Potomac River, easily accessible from US Route 1 or I-95.
The fort is named after Lord Fairfax's 2,200 acre Belvoir Manor plantation, with a mansion that was completed in 1741 on parts of this land. Thomas Sixth Lord Fairfax is known as the only member of British nobility ever to live in the original American colonies, and he was a close acquaintance of George Washington who lived on the neighboring Mount Vernon estate. In 1773 Lord Fairfax returned to England and in the War of 1812 the remains of the estate were destroyed by British canon fire when the Americans established a fort on the site.
Today Fort Belvoir remains an important and growing installation in the Washington DC area. They have a great Officers Club overlooking the Potomac River.
Favorite thing: Alexandria has two stretches of cobblestone streets: the first is the lower Prince Street area known as Captains' Row, and the other is Princess Street near Washington Street.
Captians' Row has very rough cobblestones with no concrete curbs or other modern features. This area is said to have been the home of many local sea captains. There is a white planter at each end of this street with a sign that reads, "Captain's Row 1783." This section of Prince Street is located between Lee St and Union St., Old Town, Alexandria. Just west of here is the area called Gentry Row on the 200 block of Prince Street.
Princess Street just east of Washington Street also has a one-block section of cobblestones. The signs at the entrances read:
In the 1790s many Alexandria Streets were paved with cobblestones. According to legend, Hessian soldiers provided labor to cobble Princess Street. These cobbles remained essentially untouched until 1979 when the street was restored using the original cobbles.
Favorite thing: Located at 3330 King Street, this huge school has 2100 students in grades ten through twelve. The school was built in 1965, and became the city's only public high school in 1971 when the Alexandria schools were finally integrated following the 1959 desegregation law. In 2007 the original building was replaced by a brand new school building and demolished.
TC Williams high school is famous from the 2000 movie "Remember the Titans" starring Denzel Washington. The movie takes place in 1971 when the three city high schools, each of which was made up of predominately one race, were consolidated into a single multi-racial school. In the movie, as in real life, the team overcomes racial problems associated with the desegregation to go undefeated and win the state AAA championship.
Unfortunately the movie was filmed in Georgia, so none of the real scenes from Alexandria are in the movie.
Orinoco Park at dusk
Favorite thing: Alexandria has a distributed park system with approximately 950 acres spread across 70 major parks and 30 recreation centers. Most of my favorite parks are in Old Town, but there are a few spread around the rest of the town that I occasionally visit. My favorite parks are the disconnected pockets of parkland along the river that are separated by warehouses and parking lots. From the north these parks are Tide Lock Park, Rivergate City Park, Oronoco Park, Founders Park, Torpedo Plaza and Marina Park, Waterfront Park, Point Lumley, Roberdeau Park, Shipyard Park, Pomander Park, Ford's Landing, and Jones Point Park. As old warehouses come down and new development goes in, waterfront access is improved and the parks are interconnected along the water, but it is a slow process!
Tide Lock Park is located at the site of the old seven mile canal that connected Alexandria to the much more famous and successful C&O Canal in Georgetown. This canal was built in 1843 and remained in operation until 1886. Just to the north is a privately owned, but publicly accessible area called Promenade Classique with unusual art such as an obelisk and fake ruins.
Rivergate City Park is located at the dead end of Madison Street north of Oronoco Park.
Oronoco Bay Park is just north of Founders Park, both separated by an old warehouse. The park occupies 4.5 acres of what used to be the Standard Oil Company grounds. The area was purchased by the city in the 1980s and converted to waterfront parkland. Oronoco Bay Park is the home of the annual Alexandria Waterfront Festival, the largest American Red Cross fund raising event in the country!
Founders Park was originally a shipping port called West Point, and it actually predates the establishment of the city of Alexandria. The warehouse that was constructed here in 1732 was the first permanent building on the Alexandria waterfront. Through the years this area was often used as a key slavery and tobacco port, as well as an important military shipping area during the Civil War. In the 1970s the industry left, but soon plans for huge 18-story apartment buildings sprung up; luckily these were rejected in favor of the park you see today. Founders Park is on Union Street between Oronoco and Queen Streets.
Torpedo Plaza and Marina Park is behind the Torpedo Factory Art Center. This is one of the city's most visited parks, as it has restaurants, a marina, benches, and trails connecting to the neighboring parks.
Waterfront Park is a small 1.5 acre square located at the base of Prince Street. This park has an open grassy lawn, a statue of a ship builder, old anchors, and a monument to fallen policemen.
Point Lumley is another of the string of disconnected riverfront parks in Old Town. This park lies at the base of Duke Street, and has just .2 acres of land with some flowering vegetation, a few benches, and a tiny river overlook. On either side of this park are warehouses and parking lots... too bad the city can't buy up the rest of the riverfront lots and
expand these parks!
Roberdeau Park is a tiny park at the end of Wolfe Street on the Potomac.
Shipyard Park is on Wilkes Street next to Pomander Park on the river.
Pomander Park and Windmill Hill Park are separated by Union Street. Together these parks are comprised of about five acres and they have basketball courts, playgrounds, a few trails, dog areas, and great views of the Potomac.
Ford's Landing is the site of the old Ford Motors plant on the waterfront.
Jones Point Park is one of my favorite parks, as it has a variety of historic elements such as the Jones Point Light House, the first Washington DC boundary stone, the foundations of old ship building factories, and even Native American sites.
These are some of my favorite parks that are not along the river:
Simpson Park is in the Del Rey Neighborhood, just a mile or less from Old Town. This park is bordered by our local YMCA, and it has baseball fields, a fitness path, and more.
King Street Gardens Park is located near King Street Metro Station at the big intersection of King Street, Diagonal Road, and Daingerfield Street. This park was dedicated in 1997 and features a small wetlands, a large vine-covered trellis, summertime concerts, and a farmers market.
Fort Ward Park is a huge park that was created to preserve Civil War-era Fort Ward. Though this fort was never involved in a battle, this is the best preserved of the ring of forts surrounding the nation's capitol.
African American Heritage Memorial Park is located just west of Alexandria National Cemetery next to the Carlyle neighborhood.
NOVA Annandale Campus
Favorite thing: NOVA, or the Northern Virginia Community College, is a two-year community college, founded in 1965, with locations in Arlington, Annandale, Alexandria, Springfield, Manassas, Woodbridge, Loudoun, and Reston. In 2003-2004, the college enrolled 63,000 students in credit courses and some 250,000 more in non-credit offerings.
The Annandale Campus is the largest in the NOVA system. The campus is about a mile outside the Capital Beltway at exit 52 in Annandale, VA.
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