Alexandria History

Celebrate Historic Preservation Month With A Rare Look into Old Town’s Past

A team from Alexandria Archaeology during an excavation. (All images courtesy of OHA)

Alexandria, VA – Happy Preservation Month! The National Trust held its first National Preservation Week in 1973 and expanded to a month-long celebration in 2005. Today, Preservation Month celebrates the buildings and spaces significant to American history.

Historic Alexandria is excited to announce events highlighting two historic preservation projects in our city: Behind-the-scenes tours of Gadsby’s Tavern and a lecture on the restoration of the Murray-Dick-Fawcett House at 517 Prince Street. Historic Alexandria also recognizes the work of the Alexandria Historical Restoration and Preservation Commission in increasing the number of interior easements in Alexandria buildings.

Historic preservation was a priority in Alexandria long before the designation of National Preservation Week. The City designated its Old and Historic District in 1946, making it the third-oldest established district in the nation, behind only Charleston and New Orleans. In 1984, it designated historically African American Uptown as the Parker-Gray Historic District. In 1962, the Virginia Assembly established the Alexandria Historical Restoration and Preservation Commission to preserve and acquire historic buildings and easements in Alexandria City.

The Alexandria Archaeological Commission established in 1975 and the Archaeological Resource Protection Code passed in 1989 were the first of their kind nationally. They reinforced historic preservation as a priority in Alexandria through the guidance of City staff.

Alexandria Archaeology has received national awards for its leadership in archaeology and preservation. It serves as a model for jurisdictions across the nation. Through investigating and preserving numerous sites that would have been lost to development, the code has enabled the recovery of information about the full range of human activity in Alexandria, from Native American occupation through the early 20th century.

A cross-section of Gadsby’s Tavern

A significant driver for historic preservation in Alexandria was the Bicentennial Celebration of 1976. Some of the buildings restored for the commemoration were The Lyceum, Carlyle House, and the two buildings that compose Gadsby’s Tavern Museum.

After serving until the late 19th century as a tavern and hotel, the Gadsby’s buildings went through various commercial uses and fell into disrepair. In 1929, American Legion Post 24 bought them, which saved them from demolition. In 1972, the buildings were gifted to the City of Alexandria, restored, and reopened for the 1976 Bicentennial celebration.

The shingle installation of the Murray-Dick-Fawcett House.

Today, visitors can tour the historic rooms restored to their 18th century appearance. Archaeological excavation, paint analysis, and research of surviving documents produced an accurate picture of the furnishings and use of the buildings in the period 1785 to 1808. Every Saturday in May from 9:30-10:30, Gadsby’s Tavern Museum offers a specialty tour, “Peeling Back the Layers,” which will allow visitors to go behind the scenes in spaces not usually open to the public to see how the buildings have changed over time.

Specialty Tour: Peeling Back the Layers, 9:30 am $15 with a reduced price for OHA members

Murray-Dick-Fawcett House Restoration First Phase (The Lyceum), 45 minutes starting at 7:00 pm

Historic Alexandria is also offering a lecture on the first phase of the restoration of the Murray-Dick-Fawcett House with former City Preservation Architect Al Cox. The original house was built in 1772, with additions in 1784, 1797, and 1854. It is among the oldest, least-altered wood-frame buildings in Northern Virginia. The City acquired the property in 2017 as a historic site and vest pocket park.

Al Cox will explain the physical and archival research that preceded the restoration of the exterior building envelope, show discoveries made during this construction phase, and discuss the next steps for documentation and interpretation.

You can register in advance for the tour and the lecture at Click on EVENTS and scroll down to Specialty Tour: Peeling Back the Layers and Murray-Dick-Fawcett House Restoration First Phase (The Lyceum). There is a $15 charge for the Gadsby’s Tour (with a reduced price for OHA members); the Murray-Dick-Fawcett House lecture is free, but space is limited for both.

You can get involved in historic preservation by helping the Office of Planning and Zoning’s Historic Preservation Office. Did you know you can help complete a digital architectural survey with the National Park Service and the National Alliance of Preservation Commissions?

The Historic Preservation Office is recruiting volunteers to assist with the digital architectural study of the nearly 4000 buildings in the Old and Historic Alexandria District. Volunteers are needed to take photographs, research buildings, and write architectural descriptions, both in the field and remotely.

The survey utilizes a GIS-based mobile application that can be accessed from a smartphone, tablet, or desktop computer designed to streamline the survey process and facilitate data sharing among the City of Alexandria, the Virginia Department of Historic Resources, and the National Park Service. If you’re interested in joining the project, please email [email protected].

If you take a tour, go to a lecture, or volunteer, you can contribute to Alexandria’s long legacy of historic preservation during Historic Preservation Month 2023.

ICYMI: Community Invited: 126th Anniversary Of Joseph McCoy’s Lamp Post Lynching To Be Marked In Alexandria, Sunday, April 23

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