Old Town Alexandria . . . my artistic beginnings
I have great affection and nostalgia for Old Town Alexandria. It is where I launched my art career 11 years ago and I loved being part of the community and was honored to serve on the board of the Alexandria Arts Commission.
Old Town Alexandria is a walkable historic district in the heart of the city of Alexandria, just south of Washington, D.C. Founded in 1749 when Alexandria was a thriving tobacco port in a British colony, it is renowned as George Washington’s hometown (his Mount Vernon estate is located just a few miles away) and still has a wide array of pre-Revolutionary War houses.
The main historic styles found in Old Town Alexandria are Georgian, Federal, Victorian, Second Empire and a few Colonial style homes and cottages. Some of the larger structures, were built in other designs as noted below.
Please join me in taking a stroll through some of the delightful cobbled street of Old Town. The collection of homes and buildings below is by far not all the paintings I have created in this area, but they include most of my favorites and certainly give a good overview. Please enjoy this feast of historic architectural styles in beautiful Old Town!
My First Home and Art Studio
In 2009, my husband and I left California and embarked on a road trip across America to find a new place to settle. When we were near Washington D.C., we took a wrong turn and found ourselves in an enchanting historic district called Old Town Alexandria. It was love at first sight and we both agreed immediately that it would be our new home. The third floor of the 1789 Federal style building (left) is where we lived and I had my studio. My passion was always historic architecture and Old Town proved to be the perfect spot to re-launch my art career.
We lived in Old Town Alexandria for some years and I will always have a special attachment to this area. I loved being involved in the community and was honored to serve on the Alexandria Commission of the Arts. However my calling to create paintings of homes and historic buildings in all 50 states, led me away to further adventure. I have now documented this pen and watercolor journey across America with a recently released COFFEE TABLE BOOK and Old Town is well featured of course!
Federal Style Homes and Buildings
Old Town Alexandria is home to many Federal style homes and buildings dating to the 1780 to 1820 period. Federal style was the first home and building style of the United States. This style is based on the English Adamesque style that used many elements of ancient Roman architecture. The style has a symmetrical facade, windows with shutters, and a paneled door with a highly decorative surround and sometimes designs were added to the facade. Federal style homes and row-houses are especially popular in US East Coast areas.
Georgian Style Homes and Buildings
Old Town Alexandria has many old homes in the American Georgian style from years 1700 to 1780. This style is based upon earlier European styles that emphasized classical Greek and Roman shapes. A symmetrical facade, windows with 9 or 12 separate glass panes (called lites), paneled doors with designs at the top of door pillars (called pilasters) are some of the distinctive characteristics of the George home or building. Homes constructed of both brick and clapboards are common around Alexandria, sometimes including designed block moldings for extra detail.
Victorian Style Homes and Buildings
Another popular Old Town Alexandria home and building style is the Victorian home dating from around 1880 to 1910. This period includes a wide range of style types including the Queen Anne and the Victorian Stick style. The majority of Victorian era homes in Old Town Alexandria are row-houses. Due to improvements made during the American Industrial Age, after the Civil War the ammunition factories converted to making metal house parts and machinery to fashion mass-produced decorative elements. The result was the birth of the Victorian home period which soon moved from the cities into other areas of the United States via railroad delivery of parts and home kits.
The use of newly developed forced air heating made it possible to shape rooms in a variety of ways starting in the Victorian period, so stoves and fireplaces took on a lesser design usage. New paint technologies allowed homeowners to boldly paint their new Victorian homes making the Painted Lady trend a look still celebrated 100+ years later. The Victorian home frequently makes use of asymmetrical home shapes with turrets, bay windows, a large first floor front porch, patterned shingles and much decorative trim work.
Second Empire Style Homes and Buildings
Another popular architectural form in Old Town Alexandria is the Second Empire style. This term refers to France’s Second Empire or the reign of Napoleon III. The popularity of this design style follows the approximate reign of this leader as well and extends a bit beyond, approximately 1855 to 1885. Second Empire style closely follows the Italianate design but includes a Mansard roof with dormers, deep eaves with decorative brackets and elaborate windows with hoods.
Colonial Style Homes
Another favorite style of older and newer builds in Old Town Alexandria is the American Colonial style. This style made a resurgence as the US celebrated its Centennial year of 1876. The Colonial style came back into vogue from 1880 to 1955 as a celebration of times past. The Colonial style is characterized by a large entry way, columns and a symmetrical facade.
A variety of cottage homes came into vogue around the 1930’s – 1940’s as the Old Town neighborhood grew and they can be found tucked away in various part of Old Town Alexandria. The cottage style is an American classic whose form varies by location due to weather conditions and materials available for building. These one story or 1 1/2 story structures frequently have small porches, gable roofs and bay windows to add charm to this varied home definition.
Other Special Places and Memories of Old Town Alexandria
A Trilogy of Old Town Alexandria Memories
When my clients left their much-loved house in Old Town Alexandria, there were so many aspects of the home and fond memories they asked me to capture them in the series of paintings below. Their brick rowhouse overlooked a peaceful tree-filled courtyard and walkway which my clients and their neighbors referred to as “the mews”. The name comes from humble beginnings, referring to structures built in England in the 18th and 19th centuries to stable horses. The servant living quarters were above the stables. Today, most English mews houses have been tastefully restored to provide everything required for a modern 21st century lifestyle. Meanwhile, the development of these private communities continues to grow in popularity today.
Please enjoy this three-part series of paintings depicting aspects my clients loved most about their Old Town home in “the mews”.
Alexandria City Hall and Community Spirit
The site of Alexandria City Hall dates back to 1749 when it was established as a market. In 1752, a town hall and courthouse were built on the site and George Washington served as a justice in this court.
When living in Old Town, I used to love going to the Saturday Farmer’s Market which is held in the Town Hall Market Square plaza. It’s the oldest farmers’ market in the country which has been held continuously at the same site and it offers an array of fresh produce as well as arts and crafts.
I created the painting below to commemorate Spring for Alexandria, an annual four-day celebration of giving and service in Alexandria. The event brings together more than 3,000 community members, provides thousands of hours of labor and skills for community improvement projects and raises funds for Alexandria charities. If you look closely, with a little imagination you can see me presenting the painting to the Mayor of Alexandria on a stage area with a brightly colored Spring for Alexandria backdrop which I painted with the help of a team of youth as part of the activities.
St. Mary’s Church
The cornerstone of the Basilica of St. Mary (below) was laid in 1826, and it is the oldest Roman Catholic church in the Commonwealth of Virginia. St. Mary’s is a well-known landmark in Old Town Alexandria, and one I was honored to paint. The Church was built in the Gothic Revival style.
I hope you have enjoyed this stroll down memory lane. Without a doubt, Old Town Alexandria has a magic all of its own and I trust you found this tour both enjoyable and informative.
Prints of some of the most iconic street scenes and buildings in my Old Town Alexandria Series can be purchased as prints on my website art store.
As always, I love getting your feedback and don’t hesitate to get in touch with any questions.
Cheers and happy summer!