In a town once called home by George Washington, tourists and residents alike know they're in for a history lesson at practically every turn. Luckily, Alexandria, VA has some historic monuments that are as fascinating as they are educational. With hundreds of locations that commemorate our nation's early beginnings, here are the top monuments that no one should miss, whether they're in Alexandria for a day or a decade.
In the 1700s, John Carlyle completed this incredible mansion in Old Town Alexandria, complete with gorgeous gardens and grounds. This stone masterpiece is pure Georgian architecture and it played a pivotal role in the French and Indian War. Today, the park is owned and operated by NOVA Parks, and visitors are welcome to get a taste of 18th Century life via tours, lectures, and special events. Carlyle saw a lot of change in the community as he became an ex-patriot of the British realm, and his experiences shed light on the turmoil and the urgency of the times.
Torpedo Factory Art Center
The Torpedo Factory Art Center is a way to absorb several pieces of history in one sitting. Housed in an old factory that once made WWII munitions, the center is now home to numerous studios and galleries for artists. After the building went through several iterations after the end of the war, it welcomed artists in the 1970s who were so passionate that they didn't mind the building didn't have a working ventilation system. Celebrating creation over destruction without tearing down the facility is a beautiful way for visitors to see just how far the country has come. (And thankfully, visitors won't have to deal with the extreme temperatures like the artists did.)
Contrabands and Freedmen Cemetery
This cemetery was the final resting place of former slaves who traveled to Alexandria to escape the oppression in the South during the Civil War. Visitors will find a memorial on site to learn more about the heroic fight and daily lives as these African-Americans made their way in a new place. Some of them served as soldiers, but most were everyday citizens. Many were able to find employment in Alexandria and their contributions can be found in practically every corner of the city. The cemetery itself has gone through a rich history and was once thought to be lost to the ravages of time. It is now restored and an excellent place to learn more about some of the more forgotten heroes of the past few centuries.
City Hall and Market House
First built in 1752, this monument is one of the oldest functioning farmer's market in the entire country. This building was carefully constructed with the utmost of attention to the technology of the day, conserving the strength of the structure so it could withstand the more destructive elements it might face. The Baroque detailing adds a certain sense of nostalgia and beauty to the historic building. While the marketplace has undergone several alterations over time, renovators have gone to great lengths to preserve the features that have made it such an attractive place to visit, work, and live.
It's difficult to go wrong in Alexandria VA, no matter which historic monuments a visitor chooses. The key is to go into each one prepared to learn something new and to experience the past in a very different way than cracking up a history book.