Friday, September 19, 2014

The Carlyle House Museum - Alexandria

During our recent trip to Alexandria, VA, a town full of rich US culture and fun, one of the historical tours we took advantage of was the Carlyle House Museum (1753).  This Georgian Palladian manor house was established in 1753 by John Carlyle, a Scottish merchant. If you want a glimpse into Revolutionary Era elegance in both home and garden, this tour is for you!

Carlyle House
The Carlyle House is a fine example of what happens when an 18th century merchant agent settles in the Virginia Colony of North America, marries a resident rich man's daughter (Sarah Fairfax), and capitalizes on his assets (both land and servant purchases) in the new land of opportunity. Those calculated moves by John Carlyle resulted in building the most stately manor home in the most prime of locations in what would become the future United States.
Carlyle House front entry, viewed from outside and inside
The Carlyle House was the first home built of stone, in a time when homes were only made of wood.
Entryway to the Carlyle House displays 18th Century vibrancy in its decor and color schemes.  The "undertaker", as the greeter at the door was called, stands at back door of entryway.  Notice the low height of the doorway as compared to today's standards.
John Carlyle honored his family from Scotland throughout the building of both his life and home in the new colony. Letters sent were discovered in a country home in Scotland nearly 250 years after the home was built (now in the possession of the Virginia Historical Society). John's wife, Sarah Fairfax Carlyle, gave birth to their first child, a son (William Carlyle), on the eve of their move into the grand home in August, 1753.
Parlor Room (adjacent to DR): Portrait of John Carlyle's brother (George) hangs above fireplace. Walls are covered in green enameled wallpaper. Valuables kept in closet (as in bedrooms). Map on right is from the family game room, showing the Virginia Colony being much of what is present-day eastern US.
Portraits of John Carlyle's family are hung throughout the museum home - his mother Rachel in the master BR, father Dr, William Carlyle in the DR, brother George in the parlor, and one of John himself in the family game room.

John was politically connected, and appointed major and commissary to the Virginia military forces during the French-Indian War (1754-1763). During this time, British Major-General Edward Braddock made the Carlyle House his headquarters. The Congress of Alexandria (the five established British colonies in North America) convened at the Carlyle House, headed by Braddock. George Washington, as a personal assistant to Braddock's field operations, was among those present.
The Dining / Meeting Hall.  Mirrors were covered in cotton muslin during summer months to prevent insects from sticking to surfaces. Original period furniture. Portrait of Dr. William Carlyle, John's father, hangs above fireplace. Reproduction period clothing.
It was in the dining room pictured above that the meetings held by Braddock convened, and where he planned an expedition to Ft. Duquesne (present-day Pittsburgh) that would result in his death in the French-Indian War.
Second floor public passage space: central to the private hallways, this space served as a gathering area for map viewing, game playing, and afternoon tea (as staged here, with original furniture and serveware).

While John acquired much prestige and wealth, he also suffered much tragedy, including the death of his first wife, and 7 of his 10 children. John Carlyle died in 1780 after a debilitating nervous breakdown and stressful career as military store keeper.
Master BR: original furniture (bedding, walls fashioned with period reproduction textiles, paper), portrait of John Carlyle's mother, Rachel, hangs above fireplace. Closets held valuables, including books and china.
John's only living son, George William, inherited the house at the young age of 14.  Sadly, he lost his life one year later (1781) in a Revolutionary battle in present-day South Carolina.
George William Carlyle's bedroom, with artifacts relevant to a young man's position at the time: bed, desk, dressing table, and facsimile of uniform worn in Revolutionary War.
In 1781, Carlyle House was inherited by John Carlyle's grandson (John Carlyle Herbert) through his daughter Sarah Carlyle Herbert. When Sarah died in 1827, the house passed from the family's possession.
Servants' importance:  servants assisted in maintaining the home and its residents in everything from home construction and repair, cooking, serving, cleaning & laundering, dressing and mending.
During the mid 19th century, the Carlyle House began its demise, as the Mansion House Hotel was built on Fairfax Street, completely blocking the view of the Carlyle House from the street.  During the Civil War, both were seized by Union forces.
Architectural study:  original glass, stone, keystone, wood, brick, plaster,and glass - preserved remnants of the Carlyle House original construction
During the early 1970s, significant efforts to restore Carlyle House were undertaken, and the Mansion House Hotel (also called the Braddock Hotel) was demolished as part of those efforts. Today, the house serves as a museum, preserving the rich history during a time in which the making of our great nation was in the embryonic phase.
The gardens, as viewed from the first floor house terrace. In photo on left, a small gazebo is centrally camouflaged among the magnolia branches. Photo on right shows hardscape design., extending toward next city block. 
Here's a side-by-side view of the Carlyle House, as viewed from the past (prior to the early 1970s efforts of restoration), and the present:
Carlyle House: (L, prior to restoration; R; 2014)
The Carlyle House is located at 121 N. Fairfax Street, Alexandria, VA 22314 (Phone: 703.549.2997). The museum tour does have a published schedule and entry fee, but there is quite a savings if you purchase a museum pass for $10 if you visit Alexandria and plan on at least two of the nine (9) historic sites in the city. More information can be found on the link provided.

I was not compensated for writing this post; however, I did win a trip (via random drawing) to the town from The Alexandria Convention & Visitors Association, which included a "Key to the City" museum passes. All opinions and photos are my own.

Related posts:
Stabler-Leadbeater Apothecary Museum - Alexandria
Visiting Old Town Alexandria - on the town!
Treasures from the Trip to Alexandria


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