Huntley Meadows

Growing up I have fond memories of my parents taking us to Huntley Meadows Park. It’s a local nature preserve and wetland. Located in the southern end of Fairfax County, just south of Alexandria City, it’s a great location to head to for a few hours to get away from the busy life of the surrounding area. It had been years since I had visited and one spring weekend before the weather got too hot, I ventured out with my family. There is walking trails, boardwalk trails, a historical home, an observation tower, and plenty of wildlife. If you’re in town and enjoy nature, or live locally looking for a place to get away, or enjoy nature photography, I highly recommend a visit.

Huntley Meadows

Huntley Meadows

Huntley Meadows

Huntley Meadows

Huntley Meadows

Huntley Meadows

All of the thoughts and opinions are my own.

Interesting Links

Fairfax County Parks, Huntley Meadows

Friends of Huntley Meadows Park

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Lee-Fendall House

Lee-Fendall House, Alexandria, Virginia

For as historic as Old Town Alexandria, Virginia is, they only have two historic homes open to the public year round. Although in many ways, that doesn’t bother me, I like the idea that history lives on and new memories are filling the halls of the ghostly past.

Lee-Fendall House, Alexandria, Virginia

One of these two homes is the Lee-Fendall House. What makes this home historic aside from being family owned through many generations, is that the “Lee” in Lee-Fendall is Robert E. Lee’s family. From the time the home was built-in 1785 until 1903 when the house was sold to the Downham family, it was family owned. Eventually in 1937 John L. Lewis purchased the house and lived there until his death in 1969.

Lee-Fendall House, Alexandria, Virginia

This Victorian home was built-in a country side style, something unique for Alexandria City. Homes as large as this in a city were “urban plantations”. The garden would have been full of stables, laundries, a rabbit house, a pigeon-house. No space spared. Throughout time however, the garden turned into something peaceful and serene, for those who had leisure time. Today the half-acre lot is an award-winning garden maintained partially by the Alexandria Council of Garden Clubs. The council established an endowment fund which continues to support a portion of the garden’s ongoing maintenance and restoration costs since 1974.

Lee-Fendall House, Alexandria, Virginia

During the Civil War, the house, as many grand houses were, was turned into a medical hospital for union soldiers. It is believed this hospital was for the terminally ill men as a morgue had been built-in the garden at this time. This house is probably most historically known for the simple knowledge that the first, successful, blood transfusion in the US was performed here. Now, that is not to say it could be immediately repeated, however, it was finally understood that it could be done.

Lee-Fendall House, Alexandria, Virginia

All of the thoughts and opinions are my own.

Interesting Links

Lee-Fendall House Museum

Visit Alexandria

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The George Washington Masonic National Memorial

Disclaimer: The George Washington Masonic National Memorial will be referred to generically as the Masonic Temple throughout this article, as that is what the locals call it.

Masonic Temple

What does the Masonic Temple (Alexandria, Virginia) and the Empire State Building (New York, New York) have in common? They are both iconic buildings and locals rarely visit them! Being a relatively new homeowner my travel budget has shrunk, a lot! So I have been investing my time in local travel, as I like to call it. This time around I toured the Masonic Temple.

Masonic Temple

Growing up within a mile of Mount Vernon Estate, I feel as though I grew up in the shadow of George Washington. A lot is dedicated to his memory in the DC Metro area. To name a few, there is a monument downtown; there is a parkway in his name; an airport with his name; and a masonic temple. I never realized that the temple was a memorial to George Washington, mostly because never took time to think about it. Although masonry has been around a long time, a lot of people know little about it. The freemasons (aka masons) have been glorified by writers like Dan Brown (evidently the masons have very little that is secretive), and a lot of great American historical figures have been freemasons. However, the tour of the masonic temple has a lot less to do with masonry and a lot more to do with the memory of George Washington.

Masonic Temple

In 1910, the Grand Master of Virginia invited every Grand Master in The US to gather together for the purpose of “forming an association to plan and build a suitable Memorial”*. The building took decades to complete, largely due to not wanting to take out loans for the building. The construction began in 1922 with the interior being finalized in 1970. Today it proudly stands as the iconic landmark on Shutter’s Hill in Alexandria, Virginia fashioned after the ancient Lighthouse of Alexandria, Egypt.

Masonic Temple

Although the building stands tall and proud, it is not huge on the inside, and the elevators actually ascend and descend at an angle to compensate for the smaller space on the 9th floor, the observation floor, and the large bottom floor where meeting rooms and the mason museum is located. The tour starts in the great entrance hall at the top of the stairs and through the massive doors. The two-story rectangle room adorned with columns and portraits of important masons, also houses an amazing statute of good old G’Dub (the original)!

George Washington Statue

Off to the side of the great hall is a mock lodge room full of historical pieces, all items belonging to Washington’s lodge, used throughout time, including all of the chairs that line the walls, and the artifacts found in the display cases around the room. Most importantly, there is a chair that belonged to Washington and was gifted to the lodge from his home. In order to keep the chair from a fatefully end, it lives under a clear box where people and see it and not use it. Once a year the box is removed and the Grand Master takes his place briefly, long enough for a photograph.

Masonic Temple Lodge Room

As a non-mason, entry is only allowed to a few floors. Heading upstairs from the main floor takes us into a two-story museum filled with natural light and dedicated to the life and achievements of Washington. The walls are lined with stories of him as a mason, a landowner, and the president. It’s a wonderful piece of history. The tour then leads guests to the top floor to grasp the amazing view of the surrounding area. On a clear day, one can even see Mount Vernon, Washington’s home, located just south of Alexandria City.

Alexandria, Virginia. View from the masonic temple

The base of the tower holds a masonic museum. In this area the different degree’s and organizations of masonry are explained along with a display of costumes and tools of the trade. A degree is a level of membership. Although ultimately, only men become freemasons, there are female organizations, Eastern Star, as well as youth organizations for boys and girls. Two lodges currently use the Masonic Temple for their meetings, as well as some of the other masonic organizations. To become a mason, one must also believe in a higher power (God); although, they can be of any religion. The idea of a freemason, is that each person has a responsibility to make things better in the world. To help make life a little easier, they contribute a lot to their local area and sponsor charities and causes.

George Washington Statue

And one even cooler thing about this building–just to add that person twist–it’s the view I see every time I leave and arrive back home!

Masonic Temple

All of the thoughts and opinions are my own.

Interesting Links

*The George Washington Masonic National Memorial

Visit Alexandria

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Friendship Firehouse and a bit of local firefighting history

I know little about the early days of firefighting. I grew up in an area where our firefighters were full-time employees and responded within 3-5 minutes of any call. Arriving fully equipped with red fire engines and modern equipment! After the Great Fire of London in 1666, insurance companies formed fire brigades to help protect the properties they insured. If they didn’t insure a building, the fire brigade wouldn’t assist in fighting the fire. In the US although some of this existed by the 18th and 19th centuries, volunteer fire companies were more common; made up by citizens of the community they were helping to protect.

Friendship Firehouse Museum

The Friendship Fire Company was established in 1774 and fought fires actively through the phases of the early days of firefighting; from leather buckets the earliest hand-operated engines. They were one of many volunteer fire companies in the area. In those days, the idea was to keep the fire from spreading, rather than putting the fire out. The Civil War brought on new technology in fire fighting, the steam engine! In 1867 Friendship purchased an engine, but unhappy with the performance and unable to keep up payments they returned it. In 1871 Alexandria City acquired a steamer and instead of playing favorites between the different companies they did their best to convince the companies to merge into one company named Columbia Steam Engine Company.

Friendship Firehouse Museum
This is Friendship’s original hose carriage, it was built-in Alexandria City and drawn to the fire by the men.

Friendship Firehouse Museum
Friendship purchased this engine in 1851. It took 16-20 operators, men pumped the arms creating suction pressure in the domed condenser case which pushed the water out through the hose. Men took 2-3 minute turns and similar to the hose carriage, it was drawn to the fire by the men.

Friendship Fire Company discussed this topic long and hard. In the end it was decided their name was too important to them and they eventually stopped fighting fires in the 1880’s. As new technology became available and more expensive a lot of these volunteer organizations in general died out and was replaced my municipally run departments. Friendship has survived to this day as a Fraternal Organization. They are involved in the Alexandria City local community and assist the city’s fire department when there is a death and reach out to those families.

Friendship Firehouse Museum

The Friendship Firehouse Museum, is quietly located a half of block of the business of life. The building although not original from 1774, was built in 1885, remodeled in 1871 and a new edition was added in 1972. The museum is small, but contains original equipment, and is full of history. It’s only open a few days a week for a few hours at a time, but I think it’s a neat place for some local history!

Friendship Firehouse Museum

All of the thoughts and opinions are my own.

Interesting Links

Friendship Firehouse Museum

Visit Alexandria

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Local Film Festival

Several years ago I was really excited about the launch of a local film festival. They launch in the town square with an outside movie. And had several decent full length movies and talks in place, also several major technical difficulties. Sadly in the many years following, the festival seemed to never pop-up on the radar. I was very disappointed, being a big fan of film festivals.

Then, as it happens, I was sitting around not wanting to focus yesterday (saturday) wondering what might be going on in my town. And there is was, my beloved city’s film festival was this weekend! This year they seem to have a lot of shorts, and there was a grouping of them that evening. I was very impressed with the quality of the films. Two out of the three advertised directors were there (out of 7 films total). My only disappointment was the directors didn’t stay to watch the other films. As a matter of fact, one director walked in during another movie with 8 people, and being the room wasn’t that big, it was very distracting while they were moving back and forth looking for seats together.

I was really impressed with the quality of films. I do not know if the festival requests films (as many smaller film festivals do) or if they are solely individual submission based (as many of the really large film festivals are) or if they are a mix of both.

Film Reviews and Thoughts

Keep your eye’s peeled if you come across the opportunity to watch: “The Championship Rounds”. This short was incredibly powerful and my favorite of the evening. Focusing on a young deaf man, James (played by Michael Spady), whose father had been an up and coming boxer before his downfall due to drugs and alcohol. James, who appears to have also trained at some point in boxing (sadly I did miss the first 15-minutes of the movie), along with losing his father at a young age, has been handed a short straw in many other ways as well. James, a single father to an infant, comes across a man, Darryl (played by the ever amazing Harold Perrineau Jr.) who once knew his father, and through Darryl’s over the top persistent self, gets James back into the ring… right about when the short film ends. Thank’s to the discussion that quickly followed with the director, Daniel Stine, the writer’s intention is to create a full length movie. I cannot wait!

“Hearts and Minds” was another fantastically powerful short. Showing the difficulty of a man returning from war; and the decisions and motions he made and went through while deployed. This short follows a young man who struggles to find peace with his actions while struggling to return to the home and return to the life he once lived. This short also featured a discuss with the director, Charlie Guillen. The hope of this short, is to create a strong television series, focusing on a different soldier each episode.

“Do Not Enter” was a fun and hilarious short film, with no ulterior motive as the first two. A young man lets himself into an apartment to do some painting. The owners, who are out, leave him a note inviting him to eat or drink whats in the fridge, but request he does not enter the room with the locked doors… Does this really stop anyone? A sci-fi twist see’s this young man’s imagination go from curiosity to thinking the world belongs to him. Set at 17 minutes long, this film was enjoyable and almost slightly sad not to see a second person come onto the scene and what they might find beyond the door!

“Freefall” although not one of my favorites for the evening, was about a young girl whose mom was only half paying attention to her at the park, busily taking work photo calls. The short had some ballet dancers and the movie is basically summed up when the girl scraps her knee and her mom finally stops ignoring her. Well filmed, but could have worked as a 3 minute movie better than a 9 minute movie.

“Lines in the Sand” was a sad movie about two young sisters who lost everything and escaping their children’s home relived happy memories while near the shore in the English seaside town they lived in. Sadly the truth is that it’s more than just the sisters reliving their moments of joy, it’s also about reliving the horrors of life.

“Alice” seems like a classic short film, at less than 5 minutes it was the shortest film of the evening. It shows a classic case of a lonely elderly man who longs for his dead daughter. She befriends a young girl from a famous painting on the wall of the Art Gallery where he is a security guard.

A film festival would not be a film festival without a short about the German occupation somewhere! “Roter Schnee (Red Snow)” features a German officer in Serbia dealing with his own emotions about what he believes to be right and wrong, what his job tells him is right and wrong, and his own actions. Although he never falters in his position of an officer, he deals with his own emotions to what (many might call oddly) a fantastic ending to the movie.

I really am sad I found out about the four-day festival so late, as I would have really enjoyed seeing more films. Looking forward to next year! Short films although don’t make the theatres, and are hardly shown on television, are always worth the effort to see when they come to town.

Interesting Links

Alexandria Film Festival

The Championship Rounds


Port City Brewery, The New Local Staple…

Alexandria City, located in Virginia just a few miles downriver of Washington, D.C., at one time was a very important port. As generations have come and gone, our waterfront has made many changes. It is now largely made up of public parks and a small marina off the Torpedo factory. Even some of the last of the warehouses on the waterfront is out of use and plans are currently in motion for renewal of life for that piece of land to be returned to the community and local commerce.

What does this have to do with a brewery one might ask, in this case, it’s name. In 2011 Port City Brewery opened it’s doors, began pouring beer, and quickly became a regular site on every restaurants tap and in all beer fridges around town! By no means is Port City Alexandria’s first brewery. In the late 1860’s Alexandria saw the birth of what became one of the largest brewery in the southern part of the United States, Robert Portner Brewing Company, and was the city’s largest employer until going out of business due to the prohibition.

Port City Brewery

I will admit it’s hard pressed not to find decent beer in every restaurant in town. We tend to have good taste in this City and prefer our craft beer. I am so thrilled that a local brewery has arrived and makes a quality product. They carry 5 flavors year round a Pilsner, Pale Ale, IPA, Wit, and a Porter and numerous seasonal and limited beers including Stouts and Belgian Blondes. My favorite two, not surprising if one knows my beer preference are two of the seasonal’s the Scottish Ale and Oktoberfest.

Port City Brewery

Recently Port City launched their Revival Oyster Stout. In the last 15 minutes of the boil process they add around 1500 oysters, shell’s and all. The Revival Stout will only be available on draft and only at Port City’s Tasting Room and at selected oyster houses, restaurants and bars throughout the local region. Additionally, five percent of the sales of Revival Stout will be donated to the Oyster Recovery Partnership to support their efforts to revive the oyster population in the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries.

Port City Brewery

The Brewery is located in a small office park a few miles up the road from where I live. One knows when they are open (as they have limited hours Wed-Sun) by the friendly pineapple this sits on the sign out front. Why a pineapple you ask? The pineapple symbolizes hospitality, which eventually spread to Europe and Colonial America. Since pineapples are not a local fruit to these locations, they are very synonymous with ship captains as they would place pineapples on their fence post upon returning home from a long voyage.

Port City Brewery

Often live music can be heard on Sunday afternoons and usually there is a ball game of some sort on their TV. But Port City doesn’t just offer brew tours and sell taster, pints, and growlers. Most recently they have teamed up with Sniffing Butt Dog Bone Brewery. These are organic beer grain based treats (made from Port City’s spent beer grains) include no hops and are alcohol free. Flavors are name creatively such as Pug Porter and India Puppy Ale.

Sniffing Butt Dog Bone Brewery

All of the thoughts and opinions are my own.

Interesting Links

Port City Brewing Company

Sniffing Butt Dog Bone Brewery

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