Carlyle House Historic Park

Keeping It All in the Family

Friday, February 15, 2008

Info:121 N. Fairfax St., Alexandria. 703-549-2997.

Historical importance: George Washington really did sleep at this 1753 Georgian Palladian mansion and probably quite often (although it can't be proved that he used the bed that is on display). Several of the reenactments staged at Carlyle House throughout the year are based on details from Washington's diaries.

John Carlyle, a Scottish immigrant, was a highly successful merchant and one of the City of Alexandria's original trustees. The Carlyles and Washingtons were related by marriage, and they spent a lot of time at each others' homes. Gen. Edward Braddock, head of the British forces during the French and Indian War, used it as his headquarters.

Tour highlights: The cornices and molding in the ornate blue dining room are original; the vivid green canvas wallcovering in the parlor isn't, but it has been taken from Carlyle's description. In one of the smaller bedrooms, the architectural elements, including the dovetailed beams, are exposed.

Bring the kids? Probably best for middle school students and older.

Tour information: Open Monday for Presidents' Day; free. Regularly open for guided tours (about 45 minutes) Tuesday-Saturday on the hour and half-hour from 10 to 4, Sundays from noon to 4. $4, ages 11-17 $2, age 10 and younger free.

Wheelchair access: Limited to the ground floor (unfurnished but with accessible restrooms and gift shop); there are a few steps to the first floor. The second floor is not accessible.

While in the neighborhood: Washington's pew at Christ Church (118 N. Washington St.), which he purchased in 1773, has been preserved. The Stabler-Leadbeater Apothecary Museum (105-107 S. Fairfax St.; 703-838-3852) has old receipts showing that Martha Washington and James Monroe were among clients.

Fun fact: When John Carlyle bought the land to build the house, the Potomac River came up to what is now Lee Street; landfill extended the city, and Carlyle's property, two blocks.

© 2008 The Washington Post Company