Growing Up in Old Town
By Olivia Morton, Goodhart Group Intern
Growing up in Old Town, the world is your oyster. There is a new adventure around every corner, and no shortage of friends, fun, freedom, and an overwhelming feeling of home. Back when fourth graders didn’t have cell phones, my friends and I were let loose into our ever-so-familiar streets; we learned to look both ways before we crossed the street before we could walk, and meandered from house to house, friend to friend, on weekends and after school. We knew the Saint Bernard that sat on the corner and would go pet him every day after school, and we learned how to walk the block to the Safeway whenever we ran out of milk. You are safe but independent, and there is no better place to call home.
An Old Town Childhood
The children of the neighborhood gathered multiple times a week at what we call Lee Street Park (though its proper name is Windmill Hill Park), where every Friday my closest friends fathers taught our rec soccer team, made up of various kids from the neighborhood (many of whom I am still close with today), to pass and score in Pug goals. Lee Street Park was the center of our childhoods: when we were too young for school, we spent hours running in the grass, rolling down the hill, playing hide and seek. I said my first word (frog) as my mother pushed me in the baby swings. As we grew older, we came on weekends and after school, learning how to use the monkey bars and how to ride a bike, seeing who could go the highest on the swings. We ruled over our kingdom, walking along the stone wall that runs across the entirety of the park, sitting atop the castle that lies in the sandbox, and making up stories and games in the bushes atop the hill, where we created our own paths from such frequent crawling through and where we were convinced no one would ever find us. We had lemonade stands at the park, in front of our homes, after school, sometimes on a very special Saturday in May to raise funds for local Alexandria kids in need, other times just for the heck of it.
We went sledding on the big hill every snow day, flying through the powder in our garbage can lids, shrieking with excitement when our friend appeared with a brand new sled. The basketball hoop lay directly in the path of the fast and furious sledders, but it never presented an issue — every single time we arrived — gloves, hats, snow pants, boots, and all — the large metal pole had been wrapped in a foldable, rainbow gymnastics mat. I never knew which parent or guardian angel neighbor did that, but they certainly prevented endless amounts of head injuries.
On weekends, King Street was a magical place to escape to in the throes of elementary school. I walked every Saturday with my dad and younger sister to the Books-A-Million (now closed), where I would pick a book of my choice before we went to meet my mom and grandparents at the Farmer’s Market. At the Farmer’s Market, we had country ham biscuits and cookies, and the flower man would let me pick out a bouquet for free if I answered a math question correctly. Even though I was absolutely terrified of her high school age son as a four-year-old, Sherry, the owner of a fruit and vegetable stand, always let me pick out a piece of fruit for free. Now her son is in his thirties and I am going to college, but I still go see her and she still lets me and my sister grab an apple on the go. We are on a first-name basis with our friends at Maribeth’s Bakery, and sometimes they’ll save the last pumpkin pop-tart for my mom because nowadays she is almost always on the late end. (Pro-tip: get to the market by 9 or 10 a.m. to make sure that you can get everything you want before it’s gone!)
Halloween in Old Town
Halloween is particularly unique in Old Town, and I was lucky enough to be right in the heart of it. My grandparents lived on Lee Street, which is closed off to cars every year and fills with children in costumes trick-or-treating. We decorated a week before with spiderwebs and huge monsters hanging above the wall. Not only did I get to run off and get candy myself with my neighborhood friends, but I also passed out over 3,000 pieces of candy sitting on my grandparents’ stoop. Halloween night, my younger cousins and their friends would set up shop in the crate myrtle tree that hangs just over the sidewalk, hanging on a branch and pretending to be dead. They are surprisingly convincing. The scariest part of the night is at Senator Warner’s house, where there is always some sort of haunted house happening on the patio. I have only worked up the courage to go in a few times, and the only time I can remember I stuck my hand in a bowl of “eyeballs” and was so grossed out I ran all the way home.
Being an Old Town Teen
Once we hit middle school we had memorized the streets of Old Town, and our parents unleashed us and our flip-phones into the world. We sat at the Safeway on Royal Street every morning together and waited for the yellow school bus to round the corner. Then we would all disperse at our new school, where there were as many kids in our grade as there had been in our entire elementary school. Though we made new friends and broadened our horizons after having been exposed to new neighborhoods like Del Ray, we remained bonded from our time growing up in our close community. We went to get cupcakes at Lavender Moon every Friday after school and walked between friends’ houses, in awe of our newfound freedom. We spent an unreasonable amount of hours in Paper Source and walked up and down the waterfront chattering and gossiping like middle schoolers do.
Now, in high school, we wander the streets like adults, grabbing brunch at Fontaine on a weekend and stopping by Sweetgreen for dinner on a Wednesday, because why not? We are masters of public transportation. Though we live in the center of town, we are out of the way for our Del Ray, Rosemont, Beverly Hills, and Seminary Ridge friends, so we know how to use the DASH bus. I love riding the Metro into the city and finding new nooks and crannies, art museums, coffee shops, and book stores to explore, but I am always perfectly content in Old Town, roaming the streets of my childhood.
The Bottom Line
Growing up in Old Town prepped me incredibly well for anything and everything a city-dweller could ever need to know. Living in Old Town is like living in your own personal playground with the friendliest faces and endless spaces to explore. I wouldn’t change my Old Town childhood for the world, and I hope that you find a place that you love living in as much as I do.
Can we help you love where you live? Please reach out.