Founded in 1749, Old Town Alexandria is one of the D.C. region’s oldest neighborhoods and the third oldest locally designated historic district in the U.S. The local newspaper, the Alexandria Gazette Packet, is even one of the oldest continually published newspapers in America, originally founded in 1784. With such a rich span of history, Alexandria is home to unique historical sites and discoveries, from Civil Rights landmark to lantern-lit cobblestoned streets. We’ve rounded up 12 of Old Town’s oldest spots you don’t want to miss.
1. Oldest Cobblestone Street: Captain’s Row
It’s impossible to think of Old Town’s rich history without picturing the beautiful cobblestone streets and alleyways that make you feel like you could be in a small European town. The iconic Captain’s Row, at the 100 block of Prince Street, is the oldest cobblestone block in the city, named for Captain John Harper who built many of these homes in the late 1700s. You can stroll through history on this picturesque, romantic block near the waterfront, a popular spot for wedding and family photo shoots.
2. Oldest Old Town Boutique: Gossypia
Located in a salmon and teal-hued shop on Cameron Street, Gossypia has been a hub for womenswear including eclectic, special-occasion dresses and colorful accessories for more than half a century since opening in 1969. In addition to the boutique’s clothing collection, Gossypia features an extensive array of Latin American folk art and nativities from around the world, along with jewelry crafted across the globe.
3. Oldest Restaurant: Gadsby’s Tavern Restaurant
Gadsby’s Tavern Restaurant is considered one of the oldest taverns in the United States and is the oldest restaurant in the City of Alexandria. Opened in 1792, the tavern was one of George Washington’s local haunts and hosted the first five presidents. Dining at the restaurant is like stepping into the past, with Colonial-clad servers and classic American and period-fare. Visit the adjacent Gadsby’s Tavern Museum for a look at how the tavern appeared historically while learning more about the site’s past. While touring the museum, you’ll learn how all social classes and people—free and enslaved, men and women, African American and white—were part of not just the tavern but the creation of Alexandria and the young nation.
4. Oldest Home: Murray-Dick-Fawcett House
Acquired by the City of Alexandria in 2017, The Murray-Dick-Fawcett House, located at 517 Prince Street, is one of the earliest and least-altered homes in Alexandria. The 244-year-old timber frame and brick dwelling was one of the few buildings in existence in the area during the American Revolution. The interior of the home remains a private residence, but visitors can view the exterior of the home as they enjoy the property’s park and garden, just off King Street.
5. Oldest Church Sanctuary: Christ Church
Stunning Christ Church on North Washington Street was built in 1773, making it older than the Declaration of Independence and one of the oldest churches in Virginia. Christ Church served as George Washington’s place of worship, saw a visit from President Franklin D. Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill in 1942, and welcomed President Harry Truman and Mrs. Truman for Thanksgiving service in 1946. It’s packed with history and open to visitors for tours Monday through Saturday. Get a 360-degree view of the interior of the church here.
6. Oldest Library and Earliest Civil Rights Sit-in: Kate Waller Barrett Branch
The first Alexandria Free Public Library opened at 717 Queen Street in 1937 with money donated by the family of Kate Waller Barrett. In 1939, Barrett Library served as the setting of one of the nation’s earliest recorded civil rights sit-ins, organized by then 26-year-old lawyer Samuel W. Tucker. Five young African American men separately entered the library and requested a card. When denied, they quietly sat and began to read. Once Tucker’s teenage lookout informed him that the police were en route, Tucker ensured that local press outlets were in place to photograph the young men leaving, unforced. The sit-in catalyzed the creation of the segregated Robert Robinson library, which Tucker refused to patronize in principle, now the site of Alexandria’s Black History Museum. Robinson Library remained in use until desegregation in the 1960’s.
7. Oldest Artifact: Clovis Point
The oldest feature on our list is the Clovis Point on display at the Alexandria Archaeology Museum, a Native American tool similar to an arrowhead that’s over 13,000 years old, making it the oldest artifact ever found in Alexandria. The Clovis Point, discovered in Alexandria’s Freedmen Cemetery site in 2007, is about four inches long and served as a multi-purpose tool like a Swiss-Army Knife. You can learn more about the Clovis Point and other artifacts at the Alexandria Archaeology Museum, located on the third floor of the Torpedo Factory Art Center.
8. Oldest Historically African American Congregation: Alfred Street Baptist Church
Alfred Street Baptist Church is the city’s oldest active historically African American congregation, dating to the early 19th century. Built in 1855, the brick Alfred Street Baptist Church was likely designed and built by free Black craftsmen. The site is significant for its major religious, educational and cultural role in Alexandria’s free Black community prior to the Civil War. The sanctuary was a landmark of the Bottoms neighborhood—the city’s earliest free Black community—and has been remodeled and expanded over the years. The church’s congregation today is one of the region’s largest with over 7,000 members.
9. Oldest Theater: The Little Theatre of Alexandria
Founded in 1934, The Little Theatre of Alexandria began as a small play-reading group. Early productions were held upstairs at Gadsby’s Tavern, and by the 1970s, the troupe formally purchased the land in South Old Town from the City of Alexandria. Today, The Little Theatre of Alexandria is the oldest award-winning theater in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area and one of the few community theaters in the country with its own building and an ambitious seven-show season.
10. Oldest Farmers’ Market: Old Town Farmers’ Market
One of Alexandria’s favorite traditions is the Old Town Farmers’ Market, which has been operating on Market Square since 1753. This means it’s not just the oldest Farmers’ Market in the D.C. region, but also one of the oldest continually operating markets in the nation. Today, the market offers visitors a way to reconnect to the past, while participating in an ongoing local and national tradition.
11. Oldest Operating Craft Brewery: Port City Brewing Company
Founded not-so-long-ago in 2011, Alexandria’s own Port City Brewing Company is the oldest operating packaging brewery in the D.C. region and was also named the Small Brewing Company of the Year at the Great American Beer Festival in 2015, followed by dozens of national and international accolades in the years following. You can visit the brewery in the West End for tours, tastings and special events like Beer Yoga, Pedals and Pints or Joggers and Lagers.
12. Oldest Bank: Burke & Herbert Bank
Burke & Herbert Bank was established in 1852 and opened its current location on the corner of King and Fairfax Streets in 1905, making it the oldest bank in Virginia. The family-run business takes its history seriously, maintaining some of the historical pieces inside the bank including the wallpaper, furniture, pictures and more. Burke & Herbert Bank is like a museum in its own right, filled with family relics, historical bank documents and other mementos.
Check out more on Alexandria’s historic sites and attractions here.
Header Image Credit: Kristian Summerer for Visit Alexandria