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Warren County, Virginia

The Warren County Courthouse is located at 220 North Commerce Avenue, Front Royal VA 22630; phone: 540‑636‑4600.


Setting and History [1]

Warren County is located in the Shenandoah Valley of northwestern Virginia. It is bounded by Frederick and Clarke Counties on the north, by Fauquier and Rappahannock Counties on the east, by Page County on the south, and by Shenandoah County on the west. The Shenandoah Valley is part of a 1,200 mile long valley extending from southern Canada to Alabama.

Warren County has a total land area of 217 square miles, or 141,215 acres. The County' s rural area contains 207.49 square miles, or 135,318 acres. The Town of Front Royal has 9.51 square miles, or 5,897 acres.

Three major factors have greatly influenced the County's growth and development its beauty, its location, and its proximity to major cities. For more than a century the Shenandoah Valley has been noted for its beautiful mountains and clear streams which have attracted many tourists and seasonal guests. Because of the ease of travel along its length, the Valley has been an important North-South transportation route since Indian times.

The County's location, bordering two low passes over the Blue Ridge Mountains, has facilitated travel. Much pioneer commerce from the Richmond and Hampton Roads areas passed through Chester and Manassas Gaps, across Warren County to distant markets. The early retail and industrial economy sector developed from the trans-shipping of manufactured goods and agricultural produce through the County.

The third factor is Warren County's proximity to major cities. The distance to Washington, D.C., is 69 miles; to Baltimore, 107 miles, and to Richmond, 129 miles. These and other eastern cities have been major markets for the County' s produce, products, and for major suppliers of manufactured goods.

Warren County's history is unique because it can be traced to prehistoric times The Thunderbird archeological complex consisting of 1,800 acres of prehistoric sites cover the entire range of human prehistory in eastern North America, roughly a 12,000 year period from approximately 10,000 B.C. to 1600 A.D. The Thunderbird site and the Fifty site, are stratified (layers of artifacts indicating human occupancy over 12,000 years) and are two of the most significant and important sites in North America. Thunderbird is the only stratified base camp of the paleoindian period known in the Western Hemisphere and contains evidence of the earliest known buildings in the New World.

The Blue Ridge Mountains served as a natural barrier to the settlement of the Shenandoah Valley for about 120 years after the founding of Jamestown. In 1669, John Lederer climbed the Blue Ridge and first viewed the beautiful valley and meandering river that lie below. In the following year he crossed the mountains two more times at Manassas Gap (Linden) and explored the valley. This exploration was commissioned by Governor Berkeley to explore the part of Virginia then called the "Far West" and to initiate a fur trade with the Indians. In 1673, Cadwallader Jones explored the origins of the Shenandoah and Rappahannock Rivers. He went through a pass believed to be Chester Gap and descended to a point near the present site of Front Royal.

The first settlers of the valley were Germans (especially in Warren County), as well as Scotch-Irish and English Quakers who migrated from Pennsylvania. A Scotch Quaker, named Robert McKay, who arrived in 1731, was the first settler in what is now Warren County. From the beginning, there was much real estate speculation as men secured large amounts of land and sold them in smaller parcels at a profit.

Warren County was situated at the intersection of land and water trade routes. Supplies and manufactured goods came in through Chester and Manassas Gaps from the seacoast, traveling through the County on an old Indian trail later known as the "Valley Pike" and currently known as U.S. 11. Upon reaching the trace, the merchandise was sent north and south to the frontier forts and settlements of the Shenandoah Valley, western Maryland, and Pennsylvania. Locally, one such early trade route extended over Manassas Gap, through Dismal Hollow, and over Morgan's Ford to Winchester. A second trail went from Manassas Run along what is now Happy Creek Road, then by Ferry to Riverton, and on to Strasburg and points north and south. A third trail ran over Chester Gap, along the current U.S. Route 522, to Riverton.

At the confluence of the North and South Forks of the Shenandoah River, many of the valley' s early agricultural products were trans-shipped by flatboat river barges for the long trip down the Shenandoah and Potomac Rivers to the seaports at Georgetown and Alexandria. A river port soon sprang up. This early port, now the Town of Front Royal, is the County seat and the only incorporated municipality in the County.

  1. Warren County Planning Commission, Warren County Comprehensive Plan, 2004


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