If you're just joining the "Magical History Tour" you might want to take a few minutes and check out where we have already been in the DC and Northern Virginia area.
Today our tour is just a short train ride from Union Station to Old Town Alexandria. We wanted to leave you plenty of time to take in the sights of our stops and enjoy a leisurely afternoon explore Old Town Alexandria. So All Aboard and away we go.
If we are going to start in Union Station then you first have to take a look around this magnificent piece of architecture which opened in 1907. When it was built it was the largest train station in the world. The arrival of Union Station in DC was the start of a transformation of the city and its gold leaf coffered ceilings, white granite block construction and neo-classic lines are amazing. The same theme used for Union Station can be seen at the Lincoln Memorial, the Jefferson Memorial and the Supreme Court Building a few blocks away.
As with so many train stations as air travel became the preferred mode of transportation the station fell into disrepair in the late 1960's and 1970's. Congress determined that this piece of Washington history should not be ignored and after 160 million dollars of renovation the station was returned to its original stature. Today Union Station is a regular stop for tourists visiting the city. The station plays host to 130 shops and restaurants, major cultural events and Presidential Inaugural Balls. So now lets ride the rails and go check out our nemesis Reagan National Airport.
As we pull out of the station we are headed south to Gravelly Point and Regan National Airport. If you are an avid airplane watcher then then Gravely Park is the place to go. Planes taking off and landing are right overhead and for kids they feel as if they can reach up and touch them. In 1938 when the south end of Gravelly Point was picked for the airport the area was underwater. Engineers had to build a dike around the perimeter of the site, pump out the water and the silt and then fill it with gravel and sand for a stable level base. Once the site was prepared the four original runways for the airport were built. Over the years there have been political battles as to whether the airport was officially in Washington DC or in Virginia. In 1946 congress decreed that the airport physically was in Virginia but turned over the jurisdiction of the airport to Federal Authorities.
In 1997 after years of millions of travelers traipsing through the original building new terminals were opened featuring 54 Jeffersonian domes in keeping with the tradition of the neo-classic style seen throughout the area. The "nation's hall" as the main area of the terminal is called provides a great view of the DC skyline and was designed featuring works from 30 different artists works seen throughout the terminal. Often busy travelers forget to take a look down at the amazing art under their feet! The original terminal is undergoing restoration to return it to its original splendor.
So we haven't gotten very far but there is one last place we should take a look at as we head south. As we pull into the station in Old Town Alexandria you can't help but notice the tall building sitting on a hill opposite of the station. This imposing building is the George Washington Masonic National Memorial. Dedicated in 1932 the entrance to the museum was inspired by the Parthenon of Athens with its 6 Doric columns. Designed in three sections the tower rises to an Egyptian Pyramid at the top. The inspiration for the monument came from the Lighthouse of Alexandria, Egypt one of the Seven Wonders of the World.
Inside the memorial you will find a number of historic artifacts belong to George Washington and also history and artifacts relating to the Freemasons, including the Shriners. The view from the observation deck on the ninth floor has an incredible view of Old Town Alexandria, the Potomac River and the remains of Fort Ellsworth, an original Fort built to protect Alexandria during the civil war. The hill on which the memorial is built was originally known as Shutters Hill.
We could keep riding the rails but I suspect everyone would like to spend a little time exploring Old Town Alexandria. Don't miss the amazing fused glass at Arts Afire wander down King Street to the Torpedo Arts Center and by all means put up your feet at the Chart House and enjoy the view and a great meal.
See you next time when the magical history tour takes another look at interesting things to do around our area.
©2008 Cindy Jones. All rights reserved.
Photos from IStock Photos and Flickr