The Athenaeum is one of Alexandria’s two surviving examples of Greek revival neo-classic architecture open to the public. The elegant rooms have 24-foot high coved ceilings, enormous windows and beautiful woodwork. The exterior features four soaring Doric columns across the portico and walls of stucco over stone and brick.
Built in 1852 at the head of Captain’s Row, it was constructed to be the Bank of the Old Dominion. Robert E. Lee did his banking here. During the Civil War, the building was the Chief Commissary’s Office for the Union Army. Beginning in 1870, it was owned by the Citizens National Bank. The Stabler-Leadbeater Apothecary Shop bought it in 1907 for use as a factory, and in 1925 it became the area’s first Free Methodist Church. In 1964, the building was purchased by the Northern Virginia Fine Arts Association (NVFAA) repurposed it as an art center and renamed The Athenaeum, from the Greek word Athenaion, a temple of Athena (the Greek Goddess of wisdom).
This image, taken during the Union Army occupation of the Athenaeum, then the Bank of the Old Dominion, is attributed to Matthew Brady.
The Athenaeum is the only historic building in Old Town that is open to the public, free of charge, not owned by a government.