Alexandria Virginia was established in the mid 1700s as a tobacco port, its history is fascinating. At one time, this busy port city was home to one of the largest slave trading companies and the largest settlement of free blacks in America. Many black slaves ran here to find freedom, most famously, the Edmonson sisters, born in Maryland (given voice by Harriet Beecher Stowe in Uncle Tom’s Cabin).
Local Virginian, Edward Stabler, bought slaves purely to emancipate them throughout his lifetime.
It is still considered today, full of both corporate enterprise and liberalism; home to musicians, writers, artists, designers and entrepreneurs.
A haven for both politicians and creatives, George Washington and President Gerald Ford both called Alexandria home, and musical talents Mama Cass and Jim Morrison grew up here as well.
The torpedo factory, erected in 1918 and closed when peace was declared after WWII in June of 1945, local city officials, artists and investors gathered forces and began renovating the building into artist lofts and exhibition spaces. You can see a deactivated torpedo up close and personal on the first floor.
On the third floor houses a wonderful place dedicated to delving into the past, the Alexandria Archeological Museum. This is a must see for the kids, where they can see and touch some of the latest excavated finds and learn about and experience the city in an immersive way.
There are the proverbial cobblestone streets and fantastic architectural gems from the 1700s through Deco.
Another must see for modernists is the Frank Lloyd Wright Pope Leighey House from 1940, which occupies the same grounds of Woodlawn.
George Washington gave the site to his nephew and Martha’s granddaughter in 1799, and the home was designed by architect William Thorton, designer of the U.S. Capitol, and was the very first property on the National Trust.
photo credit: Peter Skowronski
The plantation was later sold in 1846 to Troth, a Quaker lumberman who wished to create a free labor colony. At the time of purchase, Woodlawn had an already established free-black community (many freed from Washington in his will) and were employed there until the property was then sold to Baptists John and Rachel Mason, who established a Sunday School in previous Quaker School location in the mansion.
The grounds still continue fostering new ways of thinking, and today is home to Arcadia, a passionate, non-profit enterprise focusing on sustainable food and agriculture, focusing on community engagement, food access, and environmental stewardship.
Alexandria is all that it claims to be, and more. It blends old heritage with new ideas seamlessly, and is definitely worth the visit. Don’t be afraid to go off the beaten path and venture down the side streets to local havens of music, art, and need I say, fantastic food establishments.