The number of houses on the market in and around Old Town has seemingly skyrocketed lately. It feels like every time we check the latest listings we are excitedly saying to each other, "hey, look at which house is on the market!" To which the other person usually responds, "oh, cool, is it open?" We're so predictable.

There's one particular part of Old Town that we absolutely love and we've written about before on an Open Housing post. The area is called "Captain's Row" and represents the 100 block of Prince Street. It was named for the sea captains that built homes along the block. Most notably, Captain John Harper purchased several lots and then built each of his daughters houses as they were married. Captain Harper is credited with owning and building as many as 15 homes on the street. Today, the block is quite historic, and is one of the few remaining cobblestone streets in Alexandria. It's often used in imagery when touting the quaint and cozy small town atmosphere Old Town typically offers.

Photo Credit: Historic Map Works

Our last open housing post on Captain's Row came as our blog's very first "Open Housing" post. It detailed an 18th century house we'd long admired and finally were able to get a glimpse of the inside. The house we're looking at today is also an 18th century home on Captain's Row, but it is quite different in its presentation.

Situated on the opposite side of the street, and at the other end of the block, the home, known as the Francis Harper house (notice the name of Harper), is a small masonry structure with a rather large front door and three 2 over 2 windows. Though it states the house was built in 1769, this is rather unlikely, as the area is very near the Potomac, and this part of the street was actually under water until roughly 1782. The home was probably built sometime between 1782 and 1793, and has obviously served many different purposes over the years, from residence to rental, and many years as mixed use commercial and living space.

Immediately upon entering the space, it feels old. I don't mean this in even the slightest bit of a derogatory manner, I actually mean this in the best possible way. The house has all of the irregular angles, nooks, crannies, and crevices to make it feel like a true Old Town house.

But uncharacteristic of 18th century homes, the ceiling in the front room of the house is really rather tall. Most homes in this size and age range have lower ceilings, but this home's ceilings in the front room are at least 10 feet tall.

Also in the front room of the house and looking into the dining room, there is a very large 15 over 15 window with lots of original wavy glass. I can't even imagine glazing something like that!

Whenever I'm in homes like this, I like to try and figure out what is original, and what was added on. Obviously, in a house that's over 200 years old, there's been a lot of opportunity for change, so it's sometimes hard to figure out. But after much thought on this house I think I have an idea that might be about right.

The story the realtor told is that the home's builder ran a store of some sort in the front of the house, and somehow used the large interior window as part of the shop. She seemed to believe it was Something along the lines of a security system to keep an eye on the shop even when he was home. However, this doesn't sound right to me, especially since it is believed that the builder was Captain Harper. What I believe is that the home was originally constructed as a very small home, just one room downstairs and one room upstairs. I believe this large window on an interior wall was actually the home's original front window. In the photo above, you can see a step up as you go through the door. This looks very much the way I would assume the front door entry stoop would look coming in off the street. 

When it was built, the house was probably set back from the street and sidewalk a bit, and had a small front yard area. The second room of the home, which is the dining room, has the home's staircase and an original fireplace.

The ceilings in this room are much lower than the front room, which is far more expected in an 18th century home. So my thought is that the original one room and two story structure of the original house was significantly added onto with a new two story addition on the front of the house, as well as an expanded attic area to give the home a third floor. Here's a look at the fireplace side of the dining room to show another original window of the 12 over 8 variety, which probably didn't always look out on a brick wall of the house next door.

This encapsulating addition may have been built by a shop keeper looking to build a shop on the front of his home, there's really no telling, but I'm pretty confident in my assessment. The windows on the front of the house look quite original as well, but original to the mid to late 1800s, and not the late 1700s.

Beyond my boring home sleuthing ramblings, the house itself is very interesting. The kitchen at the rear of the first floor was added on more recently, and it is well appointed for such a tight space.

There's also a small powder room on the first floor, which just goes to show you how much you can pack into a very small space.

Upstairs, the mystery of the high ceilings (though I think I solved it) continues. The front bedroom's ceilings are also at least 10 feet tall. The rest of the floor has much lower ceilings, so it makes this room feel huge compared to the rest of the house.

There are so many extremely efficient uses of space throughout this home. It seems like every available inch has been leveraged, such as making built-ins or custom sized doors for irregular openings at every turn.

Just to the top of the stairs is a sort of sitting area that I assume you would use as a family room or a bedroom, depending on your preferred configuration.

Beyond this bedroom/family room to the rear of the second floor is a large full bath. This sits above the kitchen and feels like a modern addition.

Tucked between the front bedroom and second room of the second floor are a small set of winding stairs that go to the finished third floor. It's a tight space with a steep climb, but very cool without a doubt.

The third floor offers ample room for a bedroom with plenty of tucked away storage.

There's also a nice sized (for a third floor) bathroom on the third floor, off of the back of the room.

Back down to the first floor, and out of the door on the dining room, there is a small backyard patio area that is sort of tucked between several buildings. It's very closed in by the rest of the houses around it, so it doesn't get a ton of sun, but it is an outdoor space.

And one of my favorite features of houses that are roughly around this age, this home has a horse pass so that you can take your horses from the street to the back stables without needing to walk around to the alley.

This horse pass is another clue that many of these items were added on much later. Since the original dining room window probably wouldn't have looked out on another home's brick wall, the horse pass didn't always exist. The hose pass was most likely included at roughly the same time the house next door was built, which may have been closed to the time the whole front addition was put on this home. But like the question of how many licks it takes to get to the center of a Tootsie Roll Pop...the answer to when this home was expanded...the world may never know.

Though the home is billed as a three bedroom house with two and a half baths, using it as three beds would mean one of the bedrooms doesn't have access to a bathroom. But I must say, it makes quite efficient use of the space available. If you're interested in the listing, be sure to check it out.

And now for our game

Would You Trade?

Alex: Though I love the age of the home, and all of the added character the journey it's gone on from a small one room place to what it is now, there's no way I can trade. No backyard, no parking, tight floor plan, and it's in the area that has flooded in the past. I love the street it's on, and I'd love to live in that block, but I just don't think this is the house for me. I'd be giving up too much from where we live now. But I do like the 18th centuryness about it.

Wendy: Nope, I don't think I can. Like Alex, I love the Captain's Row block, and I really like many of the houses along both sides of that block, but this house would be far too much of a sacrifice to trade. The finishes of the house are nice, but the amenities we'd sacrifice are too many. With how much we use our backyard space, and how much I appreciate parking, it's just a deal breaker. And honestly, I can't believe that Alex didn't immediately disqualify it because it has a cellar and not a true basement. There's definitely not enough space down there for a full wood shop. 

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: McEnearney Associates, Inc and listing agent, Sue Goodhart, where MRIS 2012 noted.

Comments 10


7/21/2012 at 12:53 AM
Love Captains Row! Friends of mine lived next door to that house (in the house with the blue shutters in the first listing photo) for several years. They used the second floor sitting area as a bedroom. And, yeah, the cellar was only big enough to store some firewood, but not a lot. Maybe half a cord.

The house on their other side (in other words, two houses up Prince from the listing house) was rented by another group of our friends, and it had quite a large back patio, that edged up to the back area of Union Street Public House, so it wasn't unusual to stop by to find bartenders from Union Street taking a break there after having hopped over the wall.
Great stories, and what a coincidence, I know someone (named Shane) that rented and lived in the place two doors to the left of the house we wrote about.

I would love to live on Captain's Row, but I think it's well outside of our price range at this point. There was another house on this same side that was for sale a few years back for north of $2.5 million, but we can dream. :-)
7/21/2012 at 9:39 PM
One of the friends I knew who lived there was named Sean. This was mid- to late '90s...a bunch of post-college guys.
7/21/2012 at 12:57 PM
I love the old portions of the house. I totally agree with your conclusion about the original layout. The dining room with the old windows and fireplace is just fantastic. I also love the old fireplace in the bedroom.

I also love that tight little staircase. The use of a white rope as a handrail is neat and fun.

I do, however, hate both bathrooms (they are WAY too modern for the rest of the house/style) and the kitchen doesn't do much for me either. It looks like it came out of a catalog.

Alex: quick side note: there were a few confusing spelling/editing boo-boos in there. Like: "in a house that's over nearly years old". I'm guessing that you type things like I do, and re-write sentences that end up like this, haha.
JC, thanks for the heads up on the editing. As you know, we're typically a two blogger team here. One primarily writes a post, then the other typically edits. Well, my better half is out of town this week, so it's up to me to proof my own stuff (thus begins "Week of Alex").

It was really tough to get photos of cool things with our camera since the house was so tight, but there are quite a few cool and interesting angles that really make the house interesting and comfortable. I definitely think you could take the kitchen and bathroom out and do something that is completely custom that both plays to the home's history and looks like it really belongs. And like you, I did enjoy the rope railing.
Gah, I just looked through the post and it was atrocious. I think I used the wrong version or something, it was even missing a photo (of the first floor bath). Thanks for letting me know, otherwise I never would have seen it.
7/21/2012 at 1:32 PM
I'm glad you didn't mind me telling you about the spelling and editing. I'm always worried people will be pissed, since most people don't like to be corrected. I've noticed the odd mistake here and there in the past (I'm quite the grammar/spelling Nazi), but nothing major. It's still very legible and cohesive.
7/21/2012 at 5:56 PM
Thanks so much for sharing this beautiful home in your lovely city. I especially enjoyed seeing the horse pass. Wicked cool! Your sleuthing was fun to read and I agree with you about the original rooms and the ceiling heights. Do realtors mind if you are just looking to look since there are place near me that I would have so much fun exploring. I live about 15 to 20 miles from Kennebunk and Kennebunkport and I would totally be out of my element going to an open house. I don't know if I have the nerve...
(By the way, "wicked" is Maine speak for very cool.)
Hi Sue, and thanks for the comment. This is an excellent question, and one that we get often from friends who know of our Open Housing ways.

At least in our area, it's perfectly acceptable to just walk into an open house. Our whole neighborhood is so walkable that the majority of people stopping in on open houses in Old Town are actually just out for a walk and see the sign. We've been called "Nosy Neighbors," "Lookie Loos," or "House Tourists," but we really don't mind at all. At the end of the day, a real estate agent holding the open house has had their house seen, was able to meet several new people, and if all works out well, possibly has the house sold or another lead in the works.

Early on I was a little intimidated, but as I've done it more and more, it's sort of old hat now.

I bet there are some really great places up around your area that would be very cool to check out.
7/23/2012 at 9:38 AM
I love the weird shaped little door in the sitting room - I wonder if it leads to storage. At my parents' house, there are two short little doors that lead into under eaves storage areas. We called them "hobbit holes" when we were little.

As far as the 'trade' - if it only had parking and a basement, I'd do it. But I'd have to put the bathrooms back to something more period appropriate. They got it right in the powder room - what happened upstairs?????
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