Historic Alexandria

Historic Preservation Month in Alexandria

Murray-Dick-Fawcett House (Photo: Historic Alexandria)

Alexandria, VA – National Preservation Month started as National Preservation Week in 1973. In 2005, the National Trust expanded the celebration to the entire month of May to allow for a fuller exploration of buildings and spaces of historical significance to American history.

This year, Historic Alexandria is excited to announce multiple historic preservation projects:

– return of the Prettyman Fire Hose Reel Carriage to the Friendship Firehouse Museum,

– ponding of the 18th-century ship timbers in Ben Brenman lake, which was covered last month,

– opening of the Freedom House museum at 1315 Duke Street, the former office of the largest domestic slave trading firm, and

– restoration of the Murray-Dick-Fawcett House at 517 Prince Street.

Historic Alexandria also highlights the work of the Alexandria Historical Restoration and Preservation Commission in increasing the number of interior easements in Alexandria’s buildings Historic preservation was an Alexandria priority long before the designation of National Preservation Week. When our Old and Historic District was designated in 1946, it became the third-oldest historic district in the nation, behind only Charleston and New Orleans. Historically African American Uptown was designated as the Parker-Gray Historic District in 1984. The Alexandria Archaeological Commission was established in 1975, and the Archaeological Resource Protection Code passed in 1989. They were the first of their kind nationally, reinforcing historic preservation as a priority in Alexandria through the guidance of city staff.

The completed center of the 1858 Prettyman Fire Hose Reel (Photo: Historic Alexandria)

The return of the 1858 Prettyman Fire Hose Reel is the culmination of years of fundraising to restore the 2019 Top Virginia Museums Endangered Artifact. Thanks to efforts led by the Friendship Veterans Fire Engine Association, this made-in-Alexandria piece of firefighting history will return to Alexandria in its original multi-colored form. The carriage will be available for residents to view for free on April 30 and May 14 at the Friendship Fire House museum at 107 S Alfred Street.

With one restoration project complete, another continues at the Murray-Dick-Fawcett House at 517 Prince Street. Purchased by the City in 2017, the house recently underwent restoration of its roof. Conservators will soon begin work on the house’s siding, enabling it to withstand water flow better and returning its appearance to what experts say it looked like throughout most of its life. During May, visitors will have the unique opportunity to talk to the architect or the siding restorer once a week. Please check alexandriava.gov/historic for specific times.

A central aspect of preserving the Murray-Dick-Fawcett House while privately owned was maintaining its interior and exterior architectural elements through preservation easements. An example of an interior easement is the transom window inside the former Lord Fairfax House at 607 Cameron Street.

Many homeowners are intimidated by having an interior easement on their house. They perhaps are unaware that easements can be put on individual elements of an interior while still allowing for standard renovations of the kitchen, bathrooms, etc. The City of Alexandria operates most of its easements through the stewardship of the Alexandria Historical Restoration and Preservation Commission. They are accepting nominations for new easements, especially on interior architectural elements. If you want to nominate an element for an easement, contact the commission at (703) 746-4554.

A transom window at 607 Cameron St. (Photo: Alexandria Historical Restoration and Preservation Commission)

Last month’s article on ponding the ship timbers found at the Robinson Landing Site highlighted Alexandria Archaeology’s role in preserving our city’s historic treasures. This month, Alexandria Archaeology hosts a family-friendly public event to explain how ship timbers are conserved by submerging them in water.

Alexandria Archaeology Museum also offers three-dimensional models of three historic vessels from the Robinson Landing Site in the new SeeWorthy exhibit in Suite 9 of the Torpedo Factory. Visitors find out how archaeologists use digital and physical models to compare ship construction. The models help answer questions about the age and use of the vessels.

Alexandria’s intentional effort to sustain historic treasures long predates the formal declaration of National Preservation Month. We hope you take advantage of the unique opportunities available this month. Whether seeing the restored hose reel carriage, attending a talk at the Murray-Dick-Fawcett House, applying for a preservation easement, or learning about ponding ship timbers, you can be part of Alexandria’s decades-long preservation of our shared history.

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