There is a particular house in Old Town that I've mentioned on a few occasions in previous Open Housing posts. This house is not the largest, smallest, most expensive, or even most significant in Alexandria, but it is thought to represent the oldest and most historically accurate/unaltered home in the historic district. And though the open house was unexpectedly cancelled a few weekends ago...

...we've walked through the interior of the house on various tours enough times that we can share the home with you based on the real estate photos.

Yep, I took this photo due to the Ferrari parked on the street.

The Fawcett-Reeder House (previously the Murray-Dick-Fawcett house or the John Douglas Brown house) located at 517 Prince Street is a four bedroom, three bath home of about 3,000 square feet, centrally located in Old Town. Though the home's size/stats I just provided paint a brief picture of what the home can hold, it does nothing to communicate the uniqueness and interest this property offers.

The home is situated on a large corner lot and fronts two streets, Prince and St. Asaph. The location of the house lends itself to ample yard (for an urban setting) and the brick wall surrounding the property ensures a bit of privacy.

The reports of when the home was built vary between 1750 and 1774, but it was originally constructed as a small two room house with an attic space and a kitchen outbuilding. At some point between when Patrick Murray purchased the land in 1774 and 1792, it had become a house with a four room and three fireplace first floor with two bedrooms on the second floor. At that point it also had a kitchen outbuilding. In 1816 it was purchased by John Douglas Brown and added onto, connecting the main house with the outbuilding and adding a slave quarters. The house was lived in by only two families since that 1816 purchase until the late 1970s. 

After the current owner purchased the house in 2000, he undertook a full restoration/renovation that included the removal of the white clapboards that had long covered the home's extremely wide width wood sheathing. With the siding removed, you can actually see where the original structure was turned into a salt box when it was added onto. Do you see where the red colored wood turns to dark brown on the side of the house?

The various additions and alterations have been applied to house over the course of a hundred years or more and consist of a mishmash of connected rooms or miniature buildings that make up the whole structure. It is almost like several outbuildings connected by simple hallways. Here's the very interesting first level floor plan for the house I found on the Historic Map Works site. This floor plan was recorded during a Department of Interior 1956 historic structure assessment.

When you enter the home through the front door (actually a side entrance with enclosed front facing porch) on the right side of the house (towards the top of the drawing above)... feel like you've stepped back in time. This is as much due to the structure of the house as it is for the manner in which the current owner has chosen to decorate.

Historic and significant antiques and artifacts adorn the original plaster walls, wide plank flooring, and period moldings. Mr. Reeder, the current owner, is an avid collector of important Americana.

For comparison's sake, here's a photo I found online on the Historic Map Works site from the 1956 assessment.

Do you see the similarities in the fireplace, doors, and candle holders with reflectors? Yep, the same stuff is still there, just with the cabinet doors open and a wood burning fireplace.

The main and original portion of the house has both a second floor bedroom and bathroom (finished attic space), and access to the partially finished basement with brick floor that is primarily used for storage.

Winding back down the stairs and through the various hallways and into the newer (though still significantly older than our house) spaces, you consistently run into unexpected rooms tucked behind thin paneled walls that makes efficient use of limited space.

There are also unexpected areas, like this once-outdoor-but-now-indoor space that was enclosed when the latest kitchen addition was added.

Throughout the house there are unexpected rooms with amazing period details. Many of the rooms are currently configured as bedrooms, but how great could this be as a home office? The room is just off the porch, so expect great breezes in the summer, and look at that amazing door!

There are so many interesting angles, details, and quirks. It's just a great place!

Though the home gets "younger" the further back you go, you'd never know it by looking. The rear of the structure houses an updated and large kitchen that was expanded during the 2000 renovation. However, the owner attempted to do the addition with as much integrity as possible by choosing period post and beam construction in the addition.

What you are left with is a rustic and colonial addition with soaring ceilings, large hearth, lots of exposed reclaimed lumber, and a room that easily belongs with the rest of the home.

One of the key features of the interior of the home are the many functional and large 18 and 19th century fireplaces. Rumor has it that the current owner, Mr. Reeder, lights a fire in October and pretty much keeps them stoked through April or May. Talk about sticking with the period of the home.

Did you catch the current owner's name that I just mentioned? Yep, Mr. Reeder, who purchased and restored the home in 2000. As far as I know, he's the first of his family to live in the "Fawcett-Reeder House", so I have to believe he adorned the home with his own name for the time and effort he put into it. We've actually met and spoken with Mr. Reeder before and he seems to be a good guy. He was the one who renovated the subject of our first Open Housing posts from the Captain's Row section of Old Town. I'd say this very historic home was fortunate to get an owner that cared so much for the fabric of our history that homes like this represent.

Exiting the kitchen from the large double door onto the patio brings you to a quaint porch and patio that is just begging for hours and hours of porch settin' with iced tea, lemonade, beer, wine, or whatever other libation you prefer.

Off to the right of the porch is a two car garage as an outbuilding. I don't know about you, but I think that place is just screaming to be turned into a nice little wood shop. Hey, you can still park you car on the pad in front of the garage.

But the absolute coolest (because of how unique it is) feature of the house are the original privies and the fact they still stand towards the back of the property. Sadly I have no photos to share of this interesting facet of the home. There were none included in the virtual tour and the open house cancellation squashed my hopes of 18th century toilet photography. Oh well, can't win them all.

On account of the history and size of the home, the size of the lot, and the various features it has going for it, it is not cheap in the least bit. At the same time, I can see why it may command the high price it may actually go for. There are few, if any, houses in all of Old Town that are as unique as the quaint house on the corner of Prince and St. Asaph. If you're interested, here's the home's listing.

If anyone has some burning desire to see how Wendy and I would restore, decorate, and live in this house, and you have a few spare million dollars laying around, feel free to float them our way, and we'll gladly snap this place up. Or if you're the home's listing agent and can convince Mr. Reader of our good intentions to carry on his legacy, I think we'd gladly trade him our house for that one, even swap.

And now for our game...

Would you trade?

Alex: This is a no brainer -- I'd trade in a second! It is exactly the place I wish we could have. It's age is perfect, quirkiness is ideal, and potential for continued renovation and upkeep is what I absolutely desire in a home. I would be sensitive to the historic elements while tastefully updating what's necessary (like in bathrooms). Forget the price tag and size, even if it were half as big and cost less than half what it does, I'd still want it. I want a house that was around during the Revolutionary War and was already "old" by the time of the Civil War.

Wendy: Due to the age of the property, the architectural interest, the great location, and the amount of outdoor living space, I would definitely trade. It would be an adjustment though, as our 125 year old home feels like "modern living" compared to this property. With some updates on our end, as well as a fresher and lighter design scheme, I'm confident we could make it feel like home.

Interested in reading about other interesting homes for sale? Want to offer your take on "would you trade"? Check out the Open Housing section of Old Town Home.

Photo Credits: Listing agent, McEnearney Associates Inc., Realtors where "2011 MRIS" is noted.

Comments 4


11/21/2011 at 7:08 PM
This is a great house; I like everything about it except the large, modern building hulking over it. That would take some getting used to! I agree with you that the "added on over time" aspect imparts so much charm and interest. Quite the labor of love on Mr. Reedy's part.

When was Alexandria founded? I'm surprised, actually, that this is the oldest house still standing.
8/2/2015 at 12:18 AM

Couldn't do it. I would feel like the hulking building was going to have the home for a snack. Ideal kitchen.

11/22/2011 at 7:51 AM
That is a great house. Right around the same age as mine, but much bigger. Always have liked Old Town Alexandria, but don't know if I could take living there day to day. Great place to visit, but once you get used to living where you can't see another house from yours, just fields and woods, Old Town would be a big adjustment. But again, a truly great house, and a very good location, if you can deal with that urban an area, just not sure if I could anymore.
I know what you mean. It would be a big adjustment going from a very private and quiet location to urban living. We like to think of Alexandria as "urban light" - it has the conveniences of city living, is extremely walkable, and boasts the charm, entertainment, and history that we love, but it comes without extreme parking challenges and amount of crime you might see in some neighborhoods of DC for example.
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