Alexandria History

May Is National Preservation Month, a Time to Spotlight Alexandria’s Historic Treasures

Gadsby’s Tavern Museum. (Courtesy of Historic Alexandria, by Anna Frame)

Alexandria, VA – National Preservation Month started as National Preservation Week in 1973. In 2005, the National Trust expanded the celebration from a week to the entire month of May to allow for a fuller exploration of buildings and spaces of historical significance to a larger American history. This year, Historic Alexandria invites you to three Historic Preservation Events.

The highlight is the opening of the Lewis Cass White: Preserving the Legacy of Fort Stevens Exhibit at Fort Ward. This exhibition commemorates the 160th anniversary of the Battle of Fort Stevens and the work of Lewis Cass White, a veteran of that battle, to preserve the Defenses of Washington. Next, Gadsby’s Tavern Museum offers a Peeling Back the Layers tour Every Sunday in May. Finally, fans of antique firefighting equipment have a rare chance to see a muster of over 15 antique, hand-drawn firefighting equipment on May 18 at Friendship Firehouse Museum.

Diagram drawn by Dr. Cornelius Crawford, who was injured during the incident known as ‘Lincoln Under Fire.’ The diagram includes locations of Fort Stevens, Seventh Street Road, President Lincoln, Dr. Crawford, and Union and Confederate positions. (Fort Ward Museum Collection)

Long before the designation of National Preservation Week, historic preservation has been a priority in Alexandria. Alexandria has the third-oldest designated district in the nation, behind only Charleston and New Orleans. The Old and Historic District was designated in 1946.

Historically African American Uptown was designated as the Parker-Gray Historic District in 1984. The establishment of the Alexandria Archaeological Commission in 1975 and the Archaeological Resource Protection Code, passed in 1989, were the first of their kind nationally and reinforced historic preservation as a priority in Alexandria through the guidance of city staff.

A major 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 as a tavern and hotel until the late 19th century, these buildings underwent various commercial uses and fell into disrepair.

In 1929, American Legion Post 24 purchased the buildings, saving them from demolition. In 1972, the buildings were given to the City of Alexandria, restored, and reopened for the 1976 Bicentennial celebration. Today, visitors can tour the historic rooms of both buildings, restored to their eighteenth-century appearance.

Archaeological excavation, paint analysis, and research of surviving documents have provided an accurate picture of the furnishings and use of the buildings in the period 1785 to 1808. Every Sunday in May from 10:30-11:30, Gadsby’s Tavern Museum offers a specialty tour, “Peeling Back the Layers,” providing visitors the chance to go behind the scenes in spaces not normally open to the public to see how the buildings have changed over time.

Carlyle House Museum. (Courtesy of NoVa Parks)

Our friends at Carlyle House Museum are hosting two events to celebrate Historic Preservation Month. Every Saturday in May, Carlyle House and Lee-Fendall House Museums jointly offer a tour of “Lost Alexandria,” focusing on the historic neighborhoods of The Berg and Parker-Gray.

Carlyle House Museum also offers a tour on Sunday, May 19, that explores the restoration of the Carlyle House following the demolition of the Mansion House Hotel in the 1970s. The self-guided tour allows visitors to see photographs of the restoration, learn about the museum’s early years, and view some of the objects found during the restoration.

This May provides residents and visitors unique opportunities to further Alexandria’s legacy of Historic Preservation. We hope you will join us!

ICYMI: Archaeologists Discover Two Intact, Sealed 18th Century Glass Bottles During Mansion Revitalization at George Washington’s Mount Vernon

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