Historic Garden Week Tour: From 19th century to cutting-edge

Historic Garden Week Tour: From 19th century to cutting-edge
Renovations have transformed this 19th century home into a modern gem. (Photo/Kim Davis)

By Kim Davis

A few blocks west of the Potomac River in the 200 block of North Fairfax Street stands a remarkable home constructed in 1815 by Thomas Cruse, a distiller of Irish whiskey. Little is known of Cruse, but he undoubtedly would be pleased with the beautiful bespoke renovations recently completed by the current property owners.

On April 20, history buffs and tour goers alike will be privy to 213 North Fairfax St. in addition to five other centuries-old properties in Old Town, many of which have been lovingly renovated as envisioned by a new generation during the celebrated 91st annual Garden Club of Virginia’s Historic Home and Garden Tour.

The additional four properties that are available for tours will be 410 South Fairfax St., 417 South Fairfax St., 513 Queen St. and 611 Queen St.

The property, like others throughout the city, has a rich history of ownership and updates. Eighteen years after Cruse occupied the property, it was sold to Robert Jamieson, who added an adjoining lot to the north. In 1851, Jamieson bought yet another lot to the north and constructed what today is neighboring 215 South Fairfax St. His son inherited both houses in 1863 and sold them 10 years later to Frank Corbett, who subdivided the properties in 1882, which currently remains under separate ownership.

When the current owners acquired the home in 2016, they envisioned a top-to-bottom renovation that would bring this grand lady into the 21st century, incorporating state of the art technology, tasteful design and exquisite materials, resulting in 6,000 square feet of meticulously restored living space.

The couple worked with an accomplished team of professionals to create a beautifully updated showplace: A stunning new kitchen addition, styled with banks of classic walnut cabinetry, is paired with a sophisticated backsplash of striking Persian green and white marble, subzero refrigerators and Thermador ovens to create a stylish space. Numerous rooms contain discrete built in cooler drawers providing easy access to beverage and snack options. A sitting room between the kitchen and living room features custom cabinetry lacquered in teal blue with gold handles.

The new kitchen addition overlooks a walled patio featuring a half-moon black fountain and beautiful garden plantings. Adjacent Thompson’s Alley, which provides owner parking, was cleared of debris, weeds and moss, and each cobblestone reset by hand.

Damaged historic windows, staircases, railings, mantels and woodwork were professionally sanded and refinished to pristine condition. No space was untouched as artisans created storage drawers and closets for every available nook and cranny.

The entire home is fully automated with a total of 24 heating and air conditioning zones with much of the flooring heated. Touch panels are conveniently located throughout the home providing state of the art technology access throughout, including settings for privacy, security, television and streaming apps, whole house audio, whole house video intercom, heating and cooling.

A lovely second floor master suite is filled with natural light. Adjoining his-and-her custom closets, a large bath and dressing room provide ample space for the couple. A custom shower doubles as a steam room and a luxurious bathtub overlooks the Potomac River. Two additional levels provide lovely bedrooms and baths for children and guests.

The owners – who’ve requested anonymity – excavated the basement to make room for a children’s play area, outdoor fireplace and entertaining. A wine cellar will soon be installed.

“We put a lot of thought into the renovations,” the owner said. “It is a wonderful house in a superb location, and we anticipate enjoying it for years to come. As custodians of this home, we wanted to preserve the history and discretely introduce modern amenities into the home.”

The Garden Club of Virginia’s Old Town Historic Garden Week Tour kicks off a week-long tour showcasing a carefully curated selection of our state’s most gracious historic homes and gardens. Expertly updated, tastefully furnished and filled with spectacular floral arrangements designed by blue ribbon garden club members, each property features lovely gardens filled with bountiful Spring flowers timed to bloom in concert with the tour.

Tickets include admission to five private Old Town homes and gardens, Lee-Fendall House Museum and Gardens and six nearby public properties, including Mount Vernon, River Farm, Carlyle House, Gunston Hall and Green Spring Gardens. Advance tickets are $55 online at vagardenweek.org and may be purchased day-of at the Alexandria Visitor’s Center located at 221 King St. The tour is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

The event also includes a special pop-up Marketplace Boutique located in the Atheneum at 201 Prince St. The boutique features a curated collection of beautiful clothing, gifts and jewelry. Offerings include soft cashmere scarves, linen dresses and Scottish woven sweaters by Heidi Wynne; elegant personalized stationery, invitations and gifts from Georgetown Paperie; exquisitely handmade, timeless designs by Deo duPont Jewelry; hand painted art featuring flowers and animals by the talented and gifted artist Virginia Donelson; a beautiful selection of children’s clothing, toys and personalized gifts from Old Town’s Monday’s Child boutique; Indo-Chic women’s classic silk blouses, jackets and skirts; Sarah Bray Bermuda Hats made of sea grass and palm leaf, adorned with beautiful vintage floral and grosgrain ribbon; A Shirt Story offering preloved, 100% cotton men’s oxford shirts reworked for women; and an extensive inventory of stunning peony bulbs from Peony’s Envy. The Marketplace is open from 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Refreshments will be available for tour goers throughout the day at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church at 228 South Pitt St. from 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. and the historic church will be open for touring.

The Garden Club of Virginia’s eight-day statewide tour from April 20 to 27 includes 170 private properties throughout Virginia, including stately manors, renovated farmhouses, private homes and waterfront villas. Proceeds fund restoration and preservation of nearly 50 Virginia historic public gardens. The annual event also funds a historic landscape research fellowship program that is building a comprehensive library documenting the Commonwealth’s important gardens and landscapes. The tour was the brainchild of a group of women with a love of gardens in 1929.

The Old Town tour is hosted by the GCV’s two local garden clubs, Hunting Creek Garden Club and the Garden Club of Alexandria. For more information, visit vagardenweek. org online, @historicgardenweekoldtownalexandria on Facebook or @historicgardenweekoldtown on Instagram.

The writer is a member of the Hunting Creek Garden Club and formerly served as both president and vice president of the club.