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 some unique historical sites and discoveries, including old traditions that are worth a new look. We’ve rounded up 10 of Old Town’s oldest spots you don’t want to miss.
1. Oldest Cobblestone Street: Captain’s Row
Image Credit: W. Connett for Visit Alexandria
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 Farmers’ Market: Old Town Farmers’ Market
Image Credit: C. Martin for Visit Alexandria
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. George Washington even sent his produce from his farms at Mount Vernon to be sold at the Old Town Farmers’ Market. Today, the market offers visitors a way to reconnect to the past, while participating in an ongoing local and national tradition.
3. Oldest Old Town Boutique: La Cuisine
Image Credit: La Cuisine
One of Old Town’s oldest independently-owned boutiques is La Cuisine, fittingly located inside a historic pink building on Cameron Street. Since 1970, the shop has been a local staple for amateur and professional chefs looking for the best equipment and ingredients. Owner Nancy Pollard has had decades to perfect its craft, carrying the best products from artisans and manufacturers to give cooks everything they could ever need. They also offer regular classes, workshops and special seasonal events that are worth exploring.
4. Oldest Church: Christ Church
Image Credit: Geoff Livingston
The 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. Through the 21st-century, attending a service at Christ Church was a tradition for sitting presidents. 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.
5. Oldest Sailing Vessel: 18th-Century Ship
Image Credit: Eric Kieley for Hotel Indigo
In January 2016 during the construction of the new Hotel Indigo on Alexandria’s waterfront, workers unearthed the remains of a mid-18th-century ship, including parts of the vessel’s hull, making it one of the most exciting archaeological discoveries in the city’s recent history. The ship was carefully excavated and is currently being preserved by conservation experts, but was believed to be one of many older ships used to fill in the shoreline on the Potomac River in the 18th century. Follow the ship’s process from discovery through conservation through a special website which includes 360-degree views of ship timbers. Visitors can actually stay on the site of the ship discovery at the newly-opened Hotel Indigo, with wallpaper, prints and other nods to the 18th-century ship discovered on its grounds.
6. Oldest Craft Brewery: Port City Brewing Company
Oldest Recipe Beer: Portner Brewhouse
Image Credit: Mike Pak/BeerlyinFocus
Founded not-so-long-ago in 2011, Alexandria’s own Port City Brewing Company is the oldest 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. 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. Beer lovers will also want to try the oldest beer recipe in the region at Portner Brewhouse, also in the West End. Sisters Catherine and Margaret Portner have honored their great-great grandfather’s legacy 100 years later by brewing up historic family recipes from Alexandria’s Robert Portner Brewing Co., the largest pre-Prohibition brewery in the south.
7. Oldest Restaurant: Gadsby’s Tavern Restaurant
Image Credit: M. Enriquez for Visit Alexandria
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. It’s a one-of-a-kind dining experience you don’t want to miss. Visit the adjacent Gadsby’s Tavern Museum for a look at how the tavern appeared historically while learning more about the site’s past.
8. Oldest Home: Murray-Dick-Fawcett House
Image Credit: Jeff Hancock
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.
9. Oldest Artifact: Clovis Point
Image Credit: M. Enriquez for Visit Alexandria
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. The Clovis Point is about four inches long and served as a multi-purpose tool like a Swiss-Army Knife, and one was discovered in Alexandria’s Freedmen Cemetery site in 2007, making it the oldest artifact ever found in Alexandria. 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.
10. Oldest Bank: Burke & Herbert Bank
Image Credit: C. Davidson for Visit Alexandria
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.