Alexandria's George Washington Masonic National Memorial, home to my most cherished memory in the D.C. area.
I have always been one to push the boundaries, and now I'm glad.
I knew from move-in day of my freshman year in college that Washington would be my home. And while I may not be exactly where I envisioned that day, I love the twists and turns that make the story of my life - and have allowed me to make this my home. That day, my life was in the Foggy Bottom neighborhood where George Washington University is located. Today, my husband and I call Alexandria, Virginia home. And it's so much more than the shopping and foodie destination you might know it for.
How can I claim to still live in Washington, you might ask, when Alexandria is located across the river in the Commonwealth of Virginia? By sleight of history's hand. In 1789, Alexandria and a portion of two neighboring counties were ceded to become part of the newly created 10-square-mile District of Columbia. Formally accepted by Congress in 1801, Alexandria remained under the control of the newly established federal government until it was retroceded to Virginia in 1847. You can still visit 14 boundary stones of the District of Columbia located in the Commonwealth of Virginia today.
Now, if you know me, you know that there are a few quirks to my personality. And I want to take three of those - the historic, the monumental and the military - to explain my love for this place.
The Historic: Nearly 50 years older than the city of Washington, Alexandria is one of America's most historic communities. It began its historic preservation and urban renewal projects in the 1960s, achieved through the cooperation of citizen activists and the local government. Gadsby's Tavern Museum, on North Royal Street, was a central part of the social, economic, political and educational life of the city of Alexandria. Today, it's where the 18th century comes to life, from guided tours to tavern balls. It's also where I've attended Jane Austen birthday balls to honor my favorite authoress.
The Monumental: One mile from the riverfront, the 333-foot George Washington Masonic National Memorial is the prominent point of Alexandria's skyline. Dedicated in 1932 to the memory of George Washington - patriot, president and Mason - it serves as a built expression of the Masonic fraternity's faith in the principles of civil and religious liberty and orderly government. Touring it with my grandfather, a Mason, is one of my most cherished memories. It's also the local landmark that welcomes me home each time I land at Reagan National Airport.
The Military: From their earliest days, Alexandrians have known war. As the wife, daughter, granddaughter, sister, niece and cousin of military members, the same is true for me. The Torpedo Factory was built during World War I and was used as a munitions factory in World War II. Prior to its 1970-1980 renovation, the ten heavy industrial buildings dominated Alexandria's waterfront. Today, it is an award-winning example of adaptive reuse, serving as working studios for over 160 professional artists. Perhaps best of all, it's the centerpiece of a lively waterfront that includes a marina, shops, public parks and walkways, restaurants, residences, and offices. It was where my college roommate made her wedding vows - and hosted a fabulous reception!
But it really comes down to the fact that this is my community now - my Saturday farmers' market on Market Square, one of the oldest continuously operated market places in the country; my restaurant where we celebrated our wedding rehearsal dinner; my spot on the street for our many hometown holiday parades.
It is, in short, one of the best words there is: home. I hope you'll come visit.
– Susan Neumann
Susan Neumann is the director of member engagement for the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Stay tuned leading up to the inauguration as more National Trust staffers share their stories about the greater D.C. area. Coming to town for the historic event? Be sure to visit our new Preservationist’s Guide to Washington.
The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.
The National Trust for Historic Preservation, a privately funded non-profit organization, works to save America's historic places.