Historic Old Town Alexandria Home and Garden Tour

Historic Old Town Alexandria Home and Garden Tour

Tour kicks off Garden Club of Virginia statewide tour

A 91-year-old treasured Spring tradition returns this Saturday, April 20, when the Garden Club of Virginia hosts its Historic Old Town Home and Garden Tour. This year’s tour is a must see, showcasing five of the city’s most spectacular homes and gardens and one public property, Lee-Fendall House. 

The walking tour features a behind-the-scenes glimpse into centuries-old homes including four properties clustered in North Old Town on Queen, North Fairfax and Oronoco Streets as well as two a few blocks away on South Fairfax Street. 

The North Old Town section features a home first owned by an Irish whiskey distiller in 1815 on 213 North Fairfax Street. Current owners purchased the property in 2016, and embarked on a significant renovation and addition, resulting in 6,000 square feet of meticulously restored living space. A stunning new kitchen addition includes classic walnut cabinetry with a sophisticated backsplash of striking Persian green and white marble. Discrete built in cooler drawers provide easy access to beverage and snack options in numerous rooms. And a sitting room between the kitchen and living room features beautifully lacquered custom cabinetry in teal blue with gold handles. The kitchen addition overlooks a walled patio featuring a black half-moon fountain and tasteful but simple garden plantings. 

The home is fully automated with the most up-to-date technology. Featuring a total of 24 heating and air conditioning zones, most of the home’s flooring is heated. Touch panels provide state of the art technology access, including settings for privacy, security, television and streaming apps, whole house audio, whole house video intercom, heating, and cooling. 

Another home located around the corner at 611 Queen Street was purchased in 1803 and sold twice before it was acquired in 1807 for $250. In 1815, the property sold for $4,000 to the president of the Common Council of Alexandria who along with then Alexandria Mayor John Roberts met the Marquis de Lafayette during a visit to Alexandria in 1824. Current owners Dominique and Dorn Wenninger purchased the home in 2021 and undertook significant renovations. This charming home has an eclectic vibe and a significant collection of artwork and furnishings from the Wenningers’ travels in Asia, South America, and Africa. The beautiful garden has been replanted and the patio expanded to create “a whimsical secret garden with cozy spaces and quirky corners of interest, complete with Mexican stone carvings and an antique bench from Mexico,” Dominique said.

A block away sits 513 Queen Street, dating back 234 years. Records from 1789 describe a one-room, one-story log and frame structure. The property is a garden-only tour featuring a mature Kwanzan cherry and a majestic Natchez crepe myrtle which creates an intimate patio retreat in the heart of the city.

Owners describe an interesting anecdote about the home. “Apparently, as the story goes, in 1946 the homeowner permitted chickens inside the house in defiance of a new law banning farm animals within yards. As would be expected, this resulted in deplorable conditions at the time within the house,” he said. 

The current owners fell in love with the gardens, so they “bought the garden and took the house,” he said. The couple unearthed an old milk bottle in the garden, likely a gift from the former neighboring dairy bottling company. 

A featured property on the tour in North Old Town is Lee-Fendall House Museum & Garden. This year marks the 50th anniversary of its opening as a museum and garden, providing insight into American history through the experiences of those who lived and worked on the property for two centuries. A newly designed garden incorporates the bones of a pleasure garden created in the 1850s, a Bicentennial Project of the Garden Clubs of Northern Virginia.

The properties situated on South Fairfax Street are both lovely and add historic interest. 410 South Fairfax Street was purchased in 1795 and the home was built in 1870 or earlier. Current owners Lauren and Christopher Bishop bought the property in 2016, also undertaking a renovation in 2019 that included a mudroom, kitchen, and family room in keeping with the character of the home. The living room features its original 12-foot ceilings and plaster moldings. In 2021, the couple excavated the basement and converted it into a finished space. The home features elegant furnishings, beautiful abstract art and a charming garden filled with spring flowers.

Across the street is 417 Fairfax, purchased in 1796 by a cooper, a crafter of wooden containers. The back portion of the parcel possessed two dwellings that were homes to free black tenants as early as 1823. Current owners purchased the property in 2022 from the estate of Richard Simmons, former president of The Washington Post. Throughout the years, owners added a kitchen, baths, flooring, lighting, slate, stone, and brick patios as well as a stone wall. An early 19th-century carriage house is now a pool house. During renovations, beautiful interior brick work and exposed beams were revealed. In the garden, a beautiful, large magnolia and a crepe myrtle anchor the patios, where extensive new landscaping provides space for entertaining.

Tickets also include admission to six nearby public properties, including: Mount Vernon, River Farm, Carlyle House, Gunston Hall and Green Spring Gardens. Advance tickets are $55 online at www.vagardenweek.org and may be purchased tour day at the Alexandria Visitor’s Center located at 221 King Street.

The Garden Club of Virginia’s beloved statewide tour is the only one of its kind in the nation. It includes an eight-day statewide tour from April 20 to 27 including 170 private properties throughout Virginia, including stately manors, renovated farmhouses, private homes, and waterfront villas. Proceeds fund restoration and preservation of nearly 50 Virginia historic public gardens. The annual event also funds a historic landscape research fellowship program that is building a comprehensive library documenting the Commonwealth’s important gardens and landscapes. The tour draws approximately 25,000 tourists annually and dates to 1929.  

The Old Town Alexandria tour is hosted by the GCV’s two local garden clubs, Hunting Creek Garden Club and Garden Club of Alexandria. For more information, visit www.vagardenweek.org, online, @historicgardenweekoldtownalexandria on Facebook 

and @historicgardenweekoldtown on Instagram. 

The event also features a special pop-up Marketplace Boutique located in the Atheneum at 201 Prince Street. The boutique features a curated collection of beautiful clothing, gifts, and jewelry. Offerings include soft cashmere scarves, linen dresses, and Scottish woven sweaters by Heidi Wynne; elegant personalized stationery, invitations and gifts from Georgetown Paperie; exquisitely handmade, timeless designs by Deo duPont Jewelry; hand painted art featuring flowers and animals by the talented and gifted artist Virginia Donelson; a beautiful selection of children’s clothing, toys and personalized gifts from Old Town’s Monday’s Child boutique; Indo-Chic women’s classic silk blouses, jackets, and skirts; Sarah Bray Bermuda Hats made of sea grass and palm leaf, adorned with beautiful vintage floral and grosgrain ribbon; A Shirt Story offering pre-loved 100% cotton men’s oxford shirts reworked for women; and, an extensive inventory of stunning peony bulbs from Peony’s Envy. The Marketplace is open from 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. 

Refreshments will be available for tourgoers throughout the day at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church at 228 South Pitt Street from 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. and the historic church will be open for touring.