Alexandria and Arlington

In 2008, we started our Virginian travels in Alexandria and in 2014 we ended them there, so I knew I’d been twice. However, when looking for old pictures of Arlington for the second part of this post, I found one solitary picture of Alexandria so I now discover that my first visit was in 1995. We even took a picture of the same house in 2008! Carlyle House was built in 1753 by Scottish merchant John Carlyle, for his bride, Sarah Fairfax. I think you can visit it, but it looks closed in both photos below and I have no idea whether we went inside on either occasion.

In 2008 we spent more time exploring Old Alexandria and the historic houses nearby, whereas this time we used it as a base to visit Washington (which will have a separate post). We stayed in the Morrison House Hotel which was just off King Street, the main thoroughfare, and very handy for a wide choice of restaurants.

The gallery below is from 2008. As you drive into Alexandria, the view is dominated by the imposing edifice of the George Washington Memorial, top left. The red-roofed house at the bottom is Mount Vernon, home of George and Martha Washington. Nearby is Woodlawn (top right), given by Washington as a wedding gift to his adopted daughter, Martha’s granddaughter Nelly Parke Custis. The other two pictures show Pope-Leighey House – just across the parking lot from Woodlawn, but 150 years ahead architecturally. This is the only Frank Lloyd Wright house I’ve visited, and I’d love to see more. Built in 1940, it was intended as a prototype for a house of good design and moderate cost ($7000 at the time).

Flights back to the UK from Dulles leave late at night, and in both 1995 and 2014 we used the day we were leaving to visit Arlington National Cemetery which commemorates the lives of America’s armed forces. As we came out of the metro station at Arlington this year I expressed surprise that it was right next to the cemetery – I was sure we had walked up a main street to reach it on our first visit. Now that I know that we also visited Alexandria that day, I realise I am remembering walking up King Street. Mystery solved, the old memory has been playing tricks. That’s me in 1995 at the top left – it was close to Memorial Day so every grave had a miniature Stars and Stripes.

We spent hours there this time, and still didn’t visit all the areas. One of the highlights was Arlington House (the last picture in the gallery) which sits on a ridge above JFK’s grave. It was built by George Washington Parke Custis, the grandson of Martha, adopted son of George Washington and sister of Nelly of Woodlawn, mentioned above. His daughter, Mary Anna, married a young Virginian named Robert E. Lee, and the couple lived at Arlington House for 30 years before General Lee joined the Confederates in 1861. Federal troops occupied the estate after the family left and turned it first into a camp and headquarters, then later into a cemetery for Union soldiers, partly to ensure that Lee could never return. (When Virginia seceded from the Union in April 1861, Lee was conflicted, but chose not to fight against his home state, even though he wanted the country to remain intact, and despite an offer of a senior Union command. This, presumably, explains the act of spite.) Today, the house has been restored as a memorial to him. As with the Stonewall Jackson house in Winchester, you really got a flavour of the man from the guides and, even though they were both on the “wrong” side, Jackson and Lee came across as fundamentally honourable.

So this was our last excursion of our 2014 Virginian / West Virginian trip – though my holiday diary is not yet complete. Coming soon: Washington DC.


  1. Well, all of these are close to home for me, Anabel. I still haven’t seen the Pope-Leighey House, but I’ve been too many times to count to Old Town Alexandria, and I’ve seen the George Washington Masonic National Memorial ( and Mt. Vernon. My father-in-law and mother-in-law are both buried at Arlington National Cemetery, so we’ve been there often; I’ve also been for funerals for both of them and other friends who have died. Thanks for sharing this post. If you ever make it back this way again, you must come to visit. 🙂


  2. Arlington National Cemetery is a fascinating place. From 1990-1999 (in my prior career) I went to DC every March for a conference. I always stayed until Sunday to get a day to explore the city. One year I spent most of the day at the cemetery. My great uncle is buried there and it took a while to find his grave. We only managed to ride past it this year.


  3. I visited Arlington cemetary and Mount Vernon in 1982 when I was 18. It was sobering to see all the white stones-it seemed to go on and on. I was so moved to see JFK’s site as well. I can also say I was there at the opening of the Vietnam memorial. I was so happy to be there but the school kids I was with needed a few more brain cells and they wanted to go shopping instead so me, and one other student, voted to stay but we were over-ruled