Tuesday, February 17, 2009

President's Day Adventures!

It had been so long since Kelleen and I had had a chance to hang out together that I thought spending President's Day together would be the perfect solution for catching up. It also happened that many historic homes and sites in the area were open and free that day and there were many I had never been to or seen before. So, we packed up the girls and headed off to Old Town Alexandria to cram in as many adventures as possible. And did we ever have adventures!
Our first obstacle was parking as we saw that they were having a parade in Old Town and had blocked off many of the streets and places to park. We got lucky and found a place on the street and Kelleen expertly parallel parked her minivan.Our first stop was the Lee-Fendall House on Oronoco Street. In November 1784, Maj. Gen. Henry "Light Horse Harry" Lee (1756-1818) purchased 3 one-half acre lots in Alexandria from Baldwin Dade (1716-1783), a merchant. On December 4, 1784, he sold one of these tracts to Philip Richard Fendall I, Esq. (1734-1805), for three hundred pounds, and Philip began building the Lee-Fendall House, for his second wife, Elizabeth (Steptoe) Lee (1743-1789), spring or early summer of 1785. The lot was located on the southeast corner of Washington and Oronoko Street, then the edge of the city. At the time, very few structures were near, and the Fendall’s enjoyed a spectacular view of Oronoko Bay and the ships which docked there. To the north and west lay verdant fields of grass and clover. Alexandria was an up and coming thriving social and political center in Northern Virginia. The house was completed by November 1785, when George Washington wrote in his diary dated November 10th 1785: "Went to Alexandria to meet the Directors of the Potomack Company and dined at Mr. Fendall's (who was from home) and returned in the evening with Mrs. Washington." The Fendalls are mentioned in Washington's 1785-1786 diaries more than anyone outside his own family, and Washington dined here at least seven times in those years. Elizabeth was a favorite of George and Martha Washington, a frequent visitor to Mount Vernon, and frequent hostess to the Washingtons. Philip was one of the few men who were close friends with Washington and participated in his social coterie.
The girls did well while we all went on the tour and it was neat to see the house decorated in a Victorian style with some period furniture and clothing. They also had an amazing dollhouse in one of the rooms upstairs which seemed to catch the girls attention for a few minutes.
On our way to try and find Carlyle House, we happened upon a man dressed in colonial dress who was fixing a snare drum so he could play in the parade that was to happen in the next few hours and he allowed us to go inside the building he was sitting in front of and see the collection of drums they had. It was really neat but a challenge to get the girls not to touch anything! That was an unexpected perk of the day and I for one found it fascinating!After seeing the drums, we kept walking and bumped into the Carlyle House. The historic Carlyle House was completed in 1753 by Scottish merchant John Carlyle for his bride, Sarah Fairfax of Belvoir, member of one of the most prestigious families in colonial Virginia. Their home quickly became a center of social and political life in Alexandria and gained a foothold in history when British General Braddock made the mansion his headquarters in 1755. Braddock summoned five colonial governors to meet there to plan the early campaigns of the French and Indian War.
On the National Register of Historic Places, Carlyle House is architecturally unique in Alexandria as the only stone, 18th-century Palladian-style house.The tour in this house started in the basement and we weren't allowed to take pictures. Go to their website to see pics of the inside. The girls did fairly well during this tour but were getting hungry so after the tour we went in search for food.
We decided to eat at my favorite pizza place called Bugsy's and since it was lunchtime they had a pizza buffet and salad bar for $5.99 - what a deal. The kids were cheaper and we were happy that Lorne could join us for lunch. It was nice to relax and chat and get the girls tummies full as they had been complaining about being hungry for a while!After lunch, Kelleen had to move the car as we only had 2 hour parking and so I stayed with Jasmine and Kirsten watching the President's Day Parade (which by this tie had started) while she took Marin to find a new spot to park. It didn't take long and when she got back, we watched the parade a bit longer and then decided to duck into the Apothecary Museum which was having an open house too!Founded in 1792 by Edward Stabler, a Quaker minister and an abolitionist, The Apothecary Shop occupied these two town houses until 1933. Martha Washington ordered Castor oil shortly before her death in 1802, and Robert E. Lee was shopping here in 1859 when he received orders to quash John Brown's rebellion at Harpers Ferry, West Virginia. It was more than a drugstore, however, for in addition to tinctures, elixirs, and potions such as Dragon's Blood, it also sold other products such as paint (Lee bought a few gallons for Arlington House, his mansion at what is now Arlington National Cemetery). Although the building was renovated recently, the shop still looks like it did when the Stabler-Leadbeater family closed its doors for the last time, leaving behind a collection of more than 8,000 original objects.It was cool to see the bottles that had original medicines in them that had been left behind when the business closed the doors. We saw the original letter Martha wrote requesting the caster oil and some other neat things. We didn't get to see the second floor on this visit but I totally want to come back and see the whole thing with the guided tour.After the Apothecary Museum, we walked down toward the waterfront to a new little activity center museum place where the girls made birthday cards to George Washington and dressed in Colonial outfits and made tricorn hats. They had a great time and it is always fun to see children happy and truly enjoying themselves.After this point, the girls (especially the 3 year olds) started getting a bit fussy and so we decided we had packed the day full and we should head home. I decided to treat the girls to ice cream and so on our way home we stopped at Coldstone and enjoyed some ice cream. I love that place and it is fun to see what the kids come up with when they create flavors for themselves to eat. Jasmine had chocolate ice cream with marshmallows mixed in and I had marshmallow ice cream with raspberries and brownie pieces...YUM!
Thus ended our day of adventures and we were happy and tired! I loved that we got to see so many places I had never been to that were a stone's throw away from my home and having lived here all my life I had never been. I also loved that everything we did (minus the food) was free and went well with the President's Day theme. I loved having a full day to hang out with Kelleen, which I had been missing for a while. The last thing I loved was that despite the fact that there was a parade, it was not crowded at all and we were able to do so much without having to navigate through seas of people. From what I understand the same cannot be said of Mount Vernon - they too offered free admission that day and the crowds were unbelievable!