VOF’s first easement in Alexandria ensures public access to historic property

  • Joseph C. Reeder, VOF's Leslie Grayson and Kristin Jones, and Office of Historic Alexandria Director Lance Mallamo.

The Murray-Dick-Fawcett House in Old Town Alexandria is now permanently protected for the public by historic preservation and open-space easements held by the Virginia Board of Historic Resources and the Virginia Outdoors Foundation (VOF).

The easements were acquired thanks to $1.25 million in grants from the Virginia Land Conservation Foundation and VOF’s Preservation Trust Fund.

The easement held by the Board of Historic Resources protects the historic house and garden and will be administered by staff of the Virginia Department of Historic Resources (VDHR). The Board of Historic Resources holds 19 other historic preservation easements in Old Town.

VOF’s easement ensures that the garden will be permanently open to the public, and is the foundation’s first open-space easement in the City of Alexandria.

The completion of the easements comes approximately one year after the City of Alexandria acquired the property from its owner, Joseph Reeder, using the grants and an equity donation from Mr. Reeder. The city granted Mr. Reeder a lifetime tenancy as part of the acquisition, and he will open the house to the public for special events several times a year. Eventually, the house will be converted into an educational center focused on domestic life in the 18th and 19th centuries.

“This project has been a perfect partnership with VDHR,” says VOF Executive Director Brett Glymph. “Together we are protecting the fascinating historic structure and its adjoining open space. Most importantly, we are helping the City of Alexandria make this treasure accessible to the public for generations to come.”

Built circa 1775 for Patrick Murray, with distinct building campaigns in 1785 and 1796, the Murray-Dick-Fawcett House has long been recognized as worthy of preservation. In 1936 the Historic American Buildings Survey documented the property for its architectural and historic significance, and in 1966 the property was designated as a contributing resource to the Alexandria National Historic Landmark District. The district, now known as Old Town, is a destination for an estimated 3 million visitors a year.

Even within the historic context of Old Town, the house is unique. It is the only existing vernacular, middle-class frame dwelling of its period, and one of the few remaining examples of such a dwelling in any urban setting in Virginia.

The adjacent open-space garden area is also significant. From 1775 until 1970, it served a variety of commercial uses. It was the site of the original owner’s commercial livery, and later re-purposed as a grocery, a laundry, and finally a two-story school/office building used by a nearby church. Preserving the space enhances the historic setting of the house and maintains the historic Old Town streetscape.

The garden is currently open to the public, providing a welcome respite along busy Prince and S. St. Asaph streets. The house will be open to the public on a limited basis at first, with expanded access to follow. Together, VDHR and VOF will steward the house and its open-space, and the City of Alexandria will maintain the house as required by the terms of the easements. The Office of Historic Alexandria will operate the site as part of the city-owned museum system.

Anita Angelone
Anita Angelone is an ex-academic finding a second life outdoors. She assists easement, stewardship and communications staff at VOF.