The John Douglass Brown House stands apart from the rest of the houses you see in Alexandria because of the choice of its building material: wood. (Most of the houses in that part of the town are brick.) The simple, rustic architecture talks of an early, more modest beginning as a farmhouse, not a townhome for a wealthy trader, like the rest of the places around it.
Built in the 1700s, the house was owned and occupied by the descendants of the John Douglass Brown and Mary Goulding Gretter from 1816 until the 1970s-80s. When we visited it (it’s not open to the public), not knowing anything about it, we realized something was different nonetheless, and began to look at its exterior more closely.
The neighbors came out, and we talked to them. They graciously offered to introduce us to its current owner, Mr. Charles J. Reeder, who couldn’t have been nicer. We got to talking, and asked if we could come inside the interior courtyard to photograph it. He allowed us in.
The city of Alexandria (Virginia, USA) began its life in 1749, as a port for Scottish and English merchants. Alexandria is located in Northern Virginia, across the Potomac River from southern Washington D.C. The city encompasses 15.75 square miles at an average elevation of 30 feet above sea level.
It was named in honor of John Alexander, the Scott who purchased the land in 1669, for 6,000 pounds of tobacco and cask, from Robert Howson, an English ship merchant. Howson had received it as a land grant from Sir William Berkeley, the Governor of Virginia, for bringing over 120 settlers from England.
The town was incorporated in 1779, and by that time it had become a bustling port, filled with brigs, schooners and ships who came there to trade in flour, hemp and tobacco. In 1789, the town was ceded to the Federal Government, to become part of the new District of Columbia. It was retroceded to Virginia in 1847. In 1852, it gained city status and a new charter.
By the time of the American Revolution, it was one of the principal colonial trading centers and ports. George Washington, America’s first president, maintained a town house in Alexandria, and was on its Board of Trustees. During the Civil War, it was occupied by the Union Army and was a major logistical supply centers for the federal army.
Last Saturday morning, Ligia and I met up with Keith McCammon and held our first DC area photowalk, as announced last week. Even though rain was predicted for that day, the weather was fantastic. We got there around 7:30 am and had a wonderful time walking on the docks and through the streets, photographing all things of interest to us.
Ligia carried my tripod for me. What a trooper!
We received an amazing gift during our photowalk. We stumbled onto a really old home on Prince Street, built in the 1700s, called the John Douglass Brown House. As we were taking photos outside, the neighbors happened by, and we started talking. They were really nice and offered to introduce us to the owner of the house, Mr. Charles J. Reeder. He not only came out and started talking with us, but allowed us to come into the gated courtyard. We learned how he purchased the home, restored it, and made some additions to it.
While we snapped away at the amazing collection of fascinating things he had around the home and talked, I guess he saw something in us that engendered some trust, because he invited us inside and gave us a tour of his home. He does not normally do this, and he told us that as he let us in. I cannot even begin to tell you how many amazing old antiques he has in there, and how much he knows about each of them. My mind reels when I try to remember the experience. Thankfully I took plenty of photos. I’m not sure how many of them I’ll make public, because I do not want to invade Mr. Reeder’s privacy. Just because he allowed us into his home doesn’t mean he wants it shown on the internet. I’ll have to choose carefully what I publish online.
In the end, it worked out better than we could have imagined. If a larger group got together for the photowalk, I doubt we would have been able to visit inside Mr. Reeder’s home. This way, we formed a nice photowalking nucleus, and we’ll try to expand the group with future photowalks in the DC area. What a great start we had!
I’m going to a photowalk organized by Keith McCammon this Saturday morning. It’ll be in downtown Alexandria by the docks. We’re going to meet up at 7:30 am near the Torpedo Factory. It should be really fun. I love early morning shoots, and if it won’t rain, the weather will be nice and cool. The added bonus is that we’ll avoid the afternoon and evening crowds. Alexandria is a beautiful place with lots of great restaurants, and it gets pretty crowded during the weekends.
If you like photography or would like to learn more about it, come join us! We’ll talk about cameras, lenses, tripods, filters, etc. and swap tips and other advice while we take some (hopefully) great photos.
Here’s a Google map of the meeting place. The original posts from Photowalking.org are here and here.
Hope to see you there!