Did you know you’re invited to one of the biggest birthday parties in America? On February 19, 2018, thousands of people (plus some dogs and horses) will march through the streets of Old Town Alexandria to celebrate the 286th anniversary of George Washington’s birthday.
On top of the parade, Alexandria will host more than a dozen festive events throughout February, kicking off with the Cherry Challenge among Alexandria restaurants, and joined by free weekly walking tours plus festivities throughout parade weekend including an 18th-century ball and more. Alexandria is a “best of” when it comes to the spectrum of sites and special events associated with General Washington, with George Washington’s Mount Vernon just eight miles south of historic Old Town and more than 140 locations in present-day Alexandria are associated with the nation’s first president. Read on to learn what makes Alexandria the perfect place to celebrate American history and our country’s founding father and get a look at some of the month’s top events.
What did George Washington see when he walked the streets of Alexandria?
Image credit: Steve Muth for Visit Alexandria
It wouldn’t have taken George Washington very long to walk Alexandria’s streets—in his day, Alexandria was really just a small town, with only 10 streets in 1749. Apart from the cobblestone blocks on Prince and Princess, the streets were made of dirt, and King Street had yet to become a major thoroughfare.
One sight for sore eyes in Washington’s Alexandria? Taverns—and lots of them. In fact, by 1760 there were at least eight taverns, or ordinaries as they were known back then (that’s almost as many pubs as there were streets!).
What parts of Washington’s Alexandria still exist today?
Image credit: Visit Alexandria
Washington likely knocked on the doors of some of the most iconic structures in Old Town today. The 100 and 200 blocks of Prince Street, known as Captain’s Row and Gentry Row, bear the most resemblance to what our founding father knew as Alexandria. He frequented 200 Prince Street—home to Alexandria’s first mayor—for dinner on several occasions, and the doctors who lived at 209 and 211 Prince Street treated Washington on his deathbed.
In addition to Christ Church, where Washington worshiped and owned a pew, our first president also would have traded goods at Market Square, the heart of commerce in Alexandria since 1749. At Market Square, Alexandria’s bustling harbor and inside the busy warehouses on the 100 and 200 blocks of King Street and on Duke Street, Washington would have observed and engaged in trade, shipping wheat, weighing Mount Vernon-grown tobacco and buying and selling slaves.
Where did Washington stay when he came to Alexandria from Mount Vernon?
George Washington actually owned a townhouse in Alexandria where he maintained an office and a secretary. The eight mile journey from Mount Vernon to Alexandria proper was no easy trip on horseback, so it made good business sense for Washington to keep a residence in the city. In 1763, he purchased a quarter-acre lot in Alexandria and built his townhouse at what is now 508 Cameron Street, the city’s main drag at that time.
Today the townhouse is no longer standing, but pieces of it were used in the 1960 construction of the current residence, which was built over the original foundation. You can also read about the townhouse at the historic marker on-site.
Where did Washington hang out (i.e., drink)?
Image credit: Visit Alexandria
A better question might be where didn’t Washington drink, given that there was no shortage of pubs. Gadsby’s Tavern was one of the most popular places to sip on a pint, and Washington certainly stopped by Gadsby’s for dinner and a drink many times, but he also patronized other establishments, including Wise’s Tavern at the corner of Cameron and Fairfax streets, where Alexandria residents joined Washington in celebrating his election as president of the United States. Today the building is still standing, with some renovations and additions.
Before Washington’s townhouse was completed, he was often an overnight guest at Carlyle House, the home of his good friend and business associate John Carlyle. Carlyle’s stately home was located conveniently at Alexandria’s main crossroads (Cameron and Fairfax), offering some of the fanciest digs in Alexandria for balls and parties.
Another one of Washington’s top hangout spots was Alexandria’s Masonic Lodge. In 1788, he became the Charter Master of the Lodge. Today you can see one of Washington’s Masonic aprons dating from 1782 in the George Washington Masonic National Memorial as well as replicas of other Washington artifacts.
Top George Washington Birthday Celebration Events
George Washington Birthday Parade
February 19, 2018, 1-3 p.m.
A must-see, the nation’s largest George Washington Birthday parade marches a one-mile route through the streets of Old Town. And they’ve got it all: dogs, horses, community groups, marching bands, fife and drum, and more.
January 28- February 11, 2018
I cannot tell a lie—this event is the cherry on top of all the fun events honoring our first president. Restaurants from throughout Alexandria compete to create the most unique cherry-centric dishes, and you get to rate your favorite. Participants include Lena’s Wood-Fired Pizza & Tap, Junction Bakery & Bistro, Jackson 20 and more.
Walking with Washington Tours
Every Sunday in February 2018 (4th, 11th, 18th & 25th), 2 p.m.
It’s one thing to read about Washington’s Alexandria, but it’s another to walk in Washington’s footsteps. Want to know where Washington filled his prescriptions or wined and dined with important Alexandrians? Find out on this free tour through historic Old Town.
Washington’s Birthday Celebration at George Washington’s Mount Vernon
February 17 & 18, 2018, 9 a.m.-4 p.m.; February 19, 2018, 9 a.m.-5 p.m.; and February 22, 2018, 9 a.m.-4 p.m.
On February 17-18, wish the General a happy birthday while enjoying hoecakes made over the open fire, #PoseLikeThePrez in the Education Center Lobby and observe wreathlayings at Washington’s Tomb. Across the estate, listen to members of the Washington family recount stories about the General, visit with George and Martha Washington at the Interpretive Center and watch dancing demonstrations on the bowling green. On February 19, enjoy free admission to Mount Vernon, witness a presidential tribute featuring honored guests, a wreathlaying at Washington’s tomb, watch Continental soldiers conduct a marching drill, and enjoy character performances around the estate. From 10 a.m.-4 p.m. greet author Jeff Finegan who will sign books from his series, I Knew George Washington. For more information, visit www.mountvernon.org/birthday or call 703-780-2000.
George Washington’s Birthnight Banquet & Ball
February 17, 2018, 5:30-11 p.m.
Put on your dancing shoes and get ready to party like it’s 1799 at Gadsby’s Tavern Museum, where an 18th century banquet, English country dancing and character re-enactors take you back in time to Washington’s Alexandria.
Revolutionary War Reenactment at Fort Ward Museum & Historic Site
February 18, 2018, 10 a.m.-3 p.m.
Historic camp and tactical demonstrations throughout the day, including a Revolutionary War skirmish at 2 p.m. between the Redcoats and the Colonial Army. Participants include renowned reenactment units from around the United States dressed in authentic period costumes and demonstrating authentic 18th-century weaponry.
Historic Alexandria Open Houses
February 19, 2018
The day of the parade, admission is free at several sites at varying times:
- Gadsby’s Tavern Museum
- Stabler-Leadbeater Apothecary Museum
- Friendship Firehouse Museum
- The Lyceum: Alexandria’s History Museum
For more George Washington Birthday celebration events in Alexandria, click here.
Header image credit: Tisara Photography