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


Spite House

In the 1800’s two neighbors in Alexandria Virginia fought tirelessly over an alley between their homes. As the story goes, when one neighbor went out-of-town, the other took that opportunity to build a house on the ally to stake his claim. In the end, the city decided neither neighbor owned that alley and the house belonged to them. Wikipedia’s version is slightly different and not half as fun (but probably closer to fact)! Built in 1830, today the Spite House in Alexandria Virginia, is privately owned. At 7 feet wide it is one of the narrowest homes in the world.

Spite House, Alexandria, Virginia

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Why I love Alexandria, Virginia

I have done a fair amount of travelling over the years, but there is one city that I always love returning to. It is also the city I have called home on and off over the years. Alexandria, Virginia. To be fair, my love of this city covers mostly Old Town and Del Rey, a bit further west the city become more modern and not as fun! Many people are surprised by this fact. But Alexandria has it all: charm, history, character, the arts, great bars & restaurants, public transportation, parking. Although admittedly they no longer have a book store. It’s singles friendly, professional’s friendly, family friendly, dog friendly and even tourist friendly!

Located just south of Washington DC on the west banks of the Potomac River, the historic town of Alexandria has held its ground through war, weather and generations of people from all walks of life. A lot of people say “you never meet local’s” but that’s not true, so many of us haven’t ever strayed far, or have often returned after years away. It’s just that we are located outside of DC and near the pentagon so people are always coming and going, transplants as I enjoy calling them. For as many times as I have left, and as far away as I have lived, something continuously draws me back, and not just my family, the city itself.

One of the things I love most about the town is its history. Without even knowing anything about the area or much on the history of the states, just walking the streets one can feel the essence of another generation. We even have a couple of cobble stone streets left! Our city isn’t huge, and has nowhere to sprawl, but it has plenty of character.

Prince Street, Alexandria, Virginia

Disclaimer: Admittedly, I grew up just south of the city, although my mailing address was still Alexandria, I grew up in Fairfax County (Lord Fairfax and Alexandria City had a long history of arguing over land!) I actually grew up a mile from Mount Vernon Estate, home of our first president, George Washington. Fairfax County offer’s a wide-spread area of townships, great shopping locations, restaurants, history and park land as well, but doesn’t offer any of the charm and character of Alexandria City itself!

The Torpedo Factory

The Torpedo Factory is our local arts center, and it gets its name from actually being a naval torpedo factory from the early part of the twentieth century through the end of the second World War. Eventually in 1969, the city purchased it, renovated it, and it became the current form of an Art’s center (although not overnight! the official opening to the public as an arts center was in 1974.) The Torpedo Factory’s website has a full history.

This is a must see. Most artist studio’s are open with small galleries, some have large windows where you can watch them work, and plenty have work for sale. This amazing complex looks out over the pier on the Potomac River. On the street side, at the corner of King and Union Street’s is a stone support column with height markings. This measuring device is because the river often floods. These day’s the flooding rarely gets as far as the curb, but I have plenty of memories of not being able to access those bottom blocks of King Street (The main East/West road though the city).

While on the topic of art, Old Town offer’s an Alexandria Festival of the Art’s where they close off the first 6 or 8 blocks of King Street and open stalls for people to display and sell their Art. This usually runs on a Saturday and Sunday in late summer/early fall and has free admission. The community just North of Old Town known as Del Rey also hold’s an art’s festival called Art on the Avenue, and contains music and community involvement. This festival is held the first Saturday of every October rain or shine.

Misha’s

Local coffee-house. These seem to be scarcer to come by as large name coffee house’s seem to move in on every street corner. In 17 blocks between the river and the metro station, I can think of 3 Starbucks on King Street alone. This city only covers 15.2 square miles, and Old Town, is only as wide as those 17 blocks, if you expand to the north and south of King Street by 2 blocks in either direction, you can find at least 2 more Starbucks… we are not that big of a city. But thankfully, we have our pride and joy, our own old town coffee shop known as Misha’s where they even roast their own bean’s. So if you’re a coffee fan, this is the place to stop. They generally have 3-4 brew’s a day and you can purchase coffee whole bean or ground bean. The roaster is in a large room off to the side with a huge wooden table for guests to sit around and socialize. It’s likely to find a few people working remotely for the day as they also offer free WiFi.

Misha's Coffee Shop

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PX

Not the military store, the speakeasy. What? Right. I realize speakeasy’s are a thing from the past. But we have this fabulous local restaurant chain around town, and when I say fabulous… I mean out of my budget. Although they have been spreading their wings and attempting to bring a little bit of everything to our city. They own the Irish Fish & Chip’s shop Eamon’s which has been a huge success since they opened, and upstairs they opened a speakeasy.

For those of you not sure what I mean as speakeasy’s are establishments that illegally sells alcoholic beverages, and it’s perfectly legal to sell them in the state of Virginia. It’s an upper class bar. Beautiful on the inside, but plain on the outside. One only knows they are open because of the blue lamp on outside. You must ring the bell and someone will come down and open the door just wide enough to speak to you. If you have a reservation (and these are almost nearly always required) then they will have you wait, make sure your table is ready, then come back and let you in. All very ominous, but I promise a great fun experience.

PX, Alexandria, Virginia

It’s by no means a cheap bar to drink at, and they do have a dress code, but the ambiance was well worth the adventure. Our adventure the evening I visited this awesome bar, was that we (three of us) were slightly under-dressed and had no reservation. As it turned out, someone hadn’t showed up for their reservation yet, and they had a spare seat or two we could occupy until the following reservation showed up. Worked out great for us, but the we did have to wait in the cold for almost 15 minutes! The group who arrive just about the same time we did, had tried on three separate occasions to be walk ins before they finally broke down and made reservations.

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The Waterfront

Old town has some beautiful water front parks, with benches, and green space, and running trails. Even during the cold winter days these green area’s are full of life. If you walk out far enough on one of the piers, you can actually get a glimpse of DC in the distance! My favorite walk is heading all the way to North Old Town, near the Canal center, there is a “face fountain”. As I said we have arts! Most people don’t understand what I mean by face fountain. We literally have a fountain/water feature, that is made up of stone face pieces, I am unsure of the artist, but it’s a beautiful location. The fountain itself faces the river and a marble sculpture of the Washington Monument.

Alexandria, Virginia

Face Fountain, Canal Center, Alexandria, Virginia Face Fountain, Canal Center, Alexandria, Virginia

Marble Washington Monument, Canal Center, Alexandria, Virginia

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Irish Pubs

I am pretty sure I have been to an Irish pub in almost every country I have ever visited. Old Town offer’s three Irish pub’s to choose from and Eamon’s, our local Fish and Chip shop. My favorite of the three pubs would be O’Connell’s. Located a block from the water front, this pub has amazing wooded decor from an old pharmacy to a pulpit. All items having been shipped from Ireland! They even have a few Irish accents working behind the bar. Out of all the Irish pub’s in town, O’Connell’s is the classy one. They have four bars and decent dinning area. I wouldn’t rank their food any higher than most other popular eats in town, but the atmosphere is always upbeat. I have never not felt welcome here.

OC Irish Pub, Alexandria, Virginia OC Irish Pub, Alexandria, Virginia

However, if you are the type of person that prefers to drink in an Irish pub with a man playing the guitar singing bar songs, I would suggest moving on to Pat Troy’s or Murphy’s. Pat Troy is named for his owner, this elderly gentleman has been around town probably 2-3 times as long as he ever lived in Ireland! But his accent still hold thick. He own’s an Irish shop next door to his pub. Over the years he has attempted to get into local politics with no such luck, although his pub is highly decorated. Images of Ronald Reagan for starters, everywhere! He is also a huge support of armed forces and has a section dedicated to each branch as well as patches from untold amount of police forces around the US. One factor to take in about this pub, is that it’s one of the cheapest waterholes in town. My advice however, don’t eat here, they have never been known for quality food. On the upside, they do sell green beer around St. Patrick’s day. Pat Troy actually runs the St. Patrick’s Day parade on the first Saturday of March every year. My favorite aspect of this pub is their large (and dog friendly) beer garden. They have tables out front and out back of the pub in the square, this is one of Old Town’s few establishment that offer’s this outdoor dog friendly luxury!

Murphy’s tends to be my least favorite of the three. It is always packed, and always hot. It is one of Old Town’s only smoking bar’s left (the upstairs bar, only open in the evenings). Similar to Pat Troy’s, they offer live Irish music in the evenings, in both the upstairs and the downstairs bar. One great feature of this establishment is their fireplace, located in the center of the dining area. The upstairs bar also boasts a dart board, I recommend you to bring your own as the bar often tends to not always get their’s returned.

Bilbo Baggins

Not the character from Lord of the Rings, but named for him, the restaurant bar has been around for more than 30 years. I would highly recommend everything on their menu. They offer an extensive beer and wine list. They also have a fireplace near the bar and a large room with high table’s and bad stools with TV’s if you’re looking for a good place to catch the game somewhere that will not likely be overly crowded. They also offer a large dining area upstairs with plenty of space for large parties. Really, I just had to list this place because of its name!

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Ghost Tours

Actually, I am not sure I have ever been on a ghost tour, in any city, which I find sad, I will need to start adding those to my list of things to do upon travelling to different places! But Alexandria has plenty of Ghost Stories, and the tours are extremely popular. All guides are dressed in proper colonial outfits and lead groups around town with a lantern. Seeing as our city dates back to the late 1600’s when the British started settling in the area, history and ghosts are not in short supply!

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