There is no better way to see America than on foot. And there is no better way to appreciate what you are looking at than with a walking tour. Whether you are preparing for a road trip or just out to look at your own town in a new way.
Each walking tour describes historical and architectural landmarks and provides pictures to help out when those pesky street addresses are missing. Every tour also includes a quick primer on identifying architectural styles seen on American streets.
This stretch of land along the west shore of the Potomac River was the last chunk of the Virginia Tidewater to be settled. In 1748, when Fairfax County was cleaved from Prince William County the town was created and named for a family that had once owned the land. Seventeen-year old George Washington was on the survey crew that laid off the town in streets and 84 half-acre lots. His half-brother Lawrence and brother Augustine were among the initial purchasers. George would later come to own a townhome as well and since it was only eight miles from his beloved estate at Mount Vernon always considered Alexandria his home town.
In 1752 Alexandria was made the county seat. The town was incorporated in 1779 and adopted a seal with a ship in full sail - a nod to the town's position as one of the busiest ports in young America. Wheat was the main export but the warehouses on the waterfront were also filled with hogsheads of tobacco. The place became so attractive it was given away to the new Federal government to become part of the District of Columbia that was being built in 1799. In 1846 residents longing for a return to Virginia requested Congress to return Alexandria to the Old Dominion. Alexandria County was created and the town set up as its seat; in 1920 the county was changed to Arlington.
The Federal government returned shortly after the outbreak of the Civil War. It became the longest occupied territory of the war but because the city saw little fighting, Alexandria escaped the havoc that obliterated the early history of other Virginia cities. The wooden wharves are gone and the air is no longer permeated by the odor of fish and fertilizer but the streetscape is stuffed with Federal-style brick houses and some of the streets even retain their cobbles. Our exploration will poke around the third oldest historic district in the country and we'll begin where the city did on the banks of the Potomac...
About Doug Gelbert
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Published December 19, 2010
by Cruden Bay Books.
History, Arts & Photography, Travel, Professional & Technical.