Front Royal developed along three major travel routes that intersected her. Today’s Chester Street was the main route from Chester’s Gap in the Blue Ridge to Thomas Chester’s ferry that crossed the Shenandoah River near present day Riverton, north of Front Royal. The road continued northwest of the ferry crossing, until it reached Winchester, the valley’s main trade center. Today’s South Royal Avenue follows the age-old path along the eastern shore of the South Fork of the Shenandoah River before crossing both branches of the Shenandoah River and linking with the Valley’s foremost travel route, the Great Wagon Road. Today’s East Main Street connected the other two routes with Rappahanncock County and the population and trade centers in central Virginia.
Industrious settlers and hard-working teamsters were not the only ones plying pre-Revolutionary War roads, however. Enough shady characters, rough-hewn mountaineers and unsavory river travelers congregated here that it was commonly known as “Helltown.” In 1788 the frontier settlement was incorporated as Front Royal, although the murky origins of the name are lost to history.
Industry came to the town in the 1820s when Joseph Tuley put a tannery into operation. The next decade when Warren County was carved out of the political landscape, Front Royal was chosen as the seat of government. With its blend of small industry and civic duties Front Royal was better able to withstand the ravages of the Civil War than some of its plantation-based neighbors. In fact, by 1880, Front Royal’s population doubled from 1870. The town’s economy ticked along with breweries, flour milling, small manufacturing and other goods and services. Into the 20th century just as the Great Depression was suffocating the country, Shenandoah National Park and Skyline Drive were opening in Front Royal’s backyard. It’s position at Mile Marker 0.6 has brought the town full circle back to its influential position on a major travel route.
The Front Royal Historic District comprises 170 acres that blanket the commercial core of the town and, appropriately, we will begin our walking tour at the downtown remnant of Front Royal’s transportation past...
Passenger Station/Visitor Center
414 East Main Street
The first trains steamed into Front Royal in 1854 when the Manassas Gap Railroad joined the Orange & Alexandria Railroad. The iron tracks barely had time to cool, however, before they were torn up in the Civil War. Service would not be restored until the 1870s and grew steadily until by World War I six trains a day were chugging into this frame depot, constructed around 1915 by the Southern Railway. The last passenger boarded in 1946 and freight service was discontinued in 1954. The passenger station was refurbished in the 1980s and now tourist brochures are displayed in place of railroad timetables.
WALK THROUGH THE COMMONS IN FRONT OF THE VISITOR CENTER OVER TO THE DIAGONAL INTERSECTION OF CHESTER STREET AND MAIN STREET. TURN RIGHT ON CHESTER STREET.
12 Chester Street
Thomas Mullan built this three-bay Federal-style house between 1806 and 1815. Methodist preacher David Trout acquired the property in 1853 when he was 58 years old and lived the final 16 years of his life here. Two of his three maiden daughters remained here through the First World War. One of them, Catherine “Brucie” Trout, was remembered in journals from the 1st Virginia Cavalry kept during the Civil War: “Some of us got a girl at the big mill near Luray to make us some real coffee. Very fine. Brucie Trout was the girl and she was very pretty and kind to us.” In her later years she was a well-known local poet and wrote the dedicatory poem for the 1899 unveiling of the stone monument in Prospect Hill Cemetery that honors the seven members of Mosby’s Rangers who were illegally executed as spies by the Federals in 1864 in Front Royal.
15 Chester Street
This well-proportioned brick house was constructed in the Italianate style in 1882 with tall windows and bracketed cornice. The roofline is augmented by a Gothic-influenced central peak. It was constructed for Confederate Army surgeon Manly Littleton Garrison who practiced family medicine for 50 years in a small office that once stood in the yard.
29 Chester Street
The core of this building was constructed by a co-founding father of Front Royal, Henry Trout around 1800. Trout was a well-respected wheelwright on the western frontier and lived here until 1817. Beloved town doctor Anderson Brown was a long-time occupant until his death in 1869. Bernard Samuels converted the property into apartments in the mid-1920s. The brick sidewalk out front is the original pavement from the 1800s.
231 Peyton Street at Chester Street
This simple brick Greek Revival building, dating to about 1845, originally housed a small Presbyterian congregation in town. It stands as the only surviving antebellum church in Front Royal. During the first year of the Civil War, it served as the seat of county government when the courthouse was pressed into duty as a hospital. The Presbyterians stayed until 1885 when they left for more commodious quarters at the northwest corner of South Royal Avenue and West Jackson Street. In 1899 the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church purchased the building and named it for a prominent church bishop, R.S. Williams. The chapel soldiers on today, minus much of its original ornamentation.
55 Chester Street
Begun as early as 1787, before the town was even chartered, this is considered to be the oldest surviving building in the Front Royal historic district. In its original form, as constructed by James Moore, one of the town’s founders, the house was a simple two-story, three-bay wide structure with a side chimney. Over the years the building was added on to and stylized. William Balthis was a village blacksmith whose family lived here from 1838 to 1908.
64 Chester Street
This late Queen Anne-style Victorian house was constructed for Lucy and Laura Buck in 1905. Lucy Rebecca Buck was born on September 25, 1842 the third of what would be thirteen children to William and Elizabeth Buck. Buck was a leading merchant in town and the family lived in an elegant home known as Bel Air, built in 1795 by Captain Thomas Buck. Lucy kept a diary of the events she witnessed from Bel Air during the Civil War that would be published as Sad Earth, Sweet Heaven in 1973. The Buck sisters moved here after they were forced to sell their ancestral home.
Warren Rifles Confederate Museum
95 Chester Street
Captain Robert H. Simpson, a teacher, organized the Warren Rifles in Front Royal. In early 1860, he attached the Rifles to the 149th Regiment Virginia Militia. The company marched to Winchester on April 18, 1861 to enroll for active service. Their story is told in this small museum, set up in a 1959 brick building. Their collection of Confederate memorabilia is one of the finest in the country with artifacts of such Southern heroes as Lee, Jackson, Early and Mosby on display.
101 Chester Street (front)
This building has its origins in the Federal period of architecture in the 1920s and picked up Greek Revival detailing later in the 1850s when it was owned briefly by George Tyler. Known as Ivy Lodge, it served as a frequent meeting location for several local groups. In 1868, the Warren Ladies’ Memorial Association was founded here and in 1904 the Warren Rifles Chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy was established in the same house. The building also did duty as the town library before becoming home to the Warren Heritage society that was established in 1971.
Belle Boyd Cottage
101 Chester Street (rear)
Front Royal was once known as “Hell Town” for the unsavory characters who gathered here. The temptress Boyd Belle invited Union general Nathaniel Banks and his officers to a ball here, then sneaked away on horseback to tell Stonewall Jackson of the loose-lipped Federals’ plans. The next morning Jackson captured 750 of Banks’s 1,000 men. Boyd, born in Martinsburg, West Virginia, in 1843, was arrested twice and released twice. She escaped to England in 1863, where she became a stage performer. She eventually married a Union officer and died in Kilbourne, Wisconsin, in 1900. Her house, now a museum depicting the Civil War era, stood at 317 East Main Street, and was moved here in 1982.
106 Chester Street
This beautifully proportioned Italianate manor house was constructed in 1870 for Gideon Jones. After losing his parents at a young age Jones began his lot in life as an apprentice to become a militia captain, post master, ferry operator and wealthy proprietor of a general store in town. Well-respected in the Methodist church, he served as Sunday School Superintendent for 50 years.
123 Chester Street
This log structure, lovingly restored, is believed to have been constructed by George Cheek in 1788. It used to reside across the street. Henry Petty, a local pastor, purchased he house in 1873 for his parents to live out their lives in.
144 Chester Street
This five-bay brick building was constructed around 1845 and known as a ‘hospitable center of social and religious life” after the Glasscock family acquired it in 1858. So many single men found lodging here it was known as “Bachelor Hall” in the early 1900s.
TURN LEFT ON 2ND STREET AND TURN LEFT. TURN LEFT ONTO UNION STREET THAT ANGLES BACK TOWARDS THE CENTER OF TOWN. FOLLOW IT TO THE END AND TURN LEFT ON NORTH ROYAL AVENUE.
35 North Royal Avenue
Aubrey Weaver was born in Front Royal in 1882 and earned his law degree before he was twenty-one. He gained a reputation as a skilled jury lawyer and served in the Virginia General Assembly from 1912 until 1916. About that time this Colonial Revival brick house with its imposing Doric portico was erected. The Weaver house has danced around fame through the years - Aubrey Weaver secured the first divorce for Wallis Simpson, the Baltimore woman for whom King Edward VII abdicated the throne of England in 1938 and it is reported that Shirley Maclaine and Warren Beatty played here as children while visiting relatives in Front Royal.
First Baptist Church
14 West First Street at North Royal Avenue
James Ireland was a distinguished Baptist preacher living in the Front Royal area as early as the 1780s and this congregation dates to the 1850s. This spire-less brick church with Gothic elements is a 20th century creation.
16 North Royal Street
The Front Royal municipal building was erected in the 1930s using Public Works Administration funds designed to stir the nation from its Depression doldrums. Architects Bascom J. Rowlett and Allen J. Saville of Richmond contributed the Colonial Revival design that was executed using native Shenandoah Valley stone. The garage bays to the side were occupied by the Front Royal Volunteer Fire Department.
Front Royal United Methodist Church
1 West Main Street at Royal Avenue
Architect Benjamin D. Price designed the town’s most elaborate church for this prominent corner in 1904 using native gray stone. Price incorporated Richardsonian Romanesque hallmarks such as arched windows in triplicate, multi-hued stone trim and a square tower.
northeast corner of Main Street and Royal Avenue
Having developed along busy transportation routes into the American frontier, hotels and inns have a long history in Front Royal. During the 19th century, weary travelers enjoyed the hospitality in at least three hotels along the length of East Main Street, referred to as the upper, middle and lower hotels. This is the only remaining hotel structure in the historic district known as the Montview Hotel and later as the Afton Inn. The oldest sections date back to circa 1868; in its boarded-up state it retains its detailed Italianate cornice.
TURN LEFT ON MAIN STREET.
Warren County Courthouse
southeast corner of Main Street and Royal Avenue
On May 23, 1862 Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson surprised the Federal garrison in Front Royal, capturing many prisoners and army supplies and forcing the Union Army to flee in disorder out of the Shenandoah Valley into Maryland. This was the first move in Jackson’s celebrated “Valley Campaign.” The street fighting grew especially hot in this location where one of three Confederate hospitals in town had been built. The Confederate monument stands as a reminder to “to those who fought and lived and to those who fought and died. To those who gave much, and those who gave all.” It was dedicated in 1911 and features a sculpture of a Confederate soldier standing at attention by the McNeel Marble Company of Marietta, Georgia.
Warren County Courthouse
southeast corner of Main Street and Royal Avenue
This is the second courthouse to stand on this site, constructed in 1936, 100 years after the brick, two-story antebellum original was erected. Funded by Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal funds, the building of native stone was given an early Colonial appearance.
105 East Main Street
This tiny elaborately designed brick building was originally the property of the Methodist church when it was erected in the 1890s. It features a Federal-style treatment to the doorway with sidelights and transom and Gothic woodwork in the gable. Through the decades it has done duty as a bank, law offices, restaurant, gift shop and tattoo parlor.
117 East Main Street
Constructed around 1920, this is the first building in town built purposely for the screening of movies. Opened as the Park Theater, in its original form the building graced the streetscape with a restrained Colonial Revival style.
131 East Main Street
This building was originally constructed as a meetinghouse for the Front Royal United Methodist Church in 1879. In 1909 the building was transformed into a vaudeville and silent motion picture stage known as the Murphy Theater. The original arched, nave windows are still visible on what is now the second story of the brick building that has served many masters since the screen went dark.
201 East Main Street
Isaac Trout constructed this Queen Anne-flavored commercial building in 1900 with a curved corner facade, tall second story windows to accommodate a photographer’s studio and a mansard roof. The Turner and Trout Pharmacy operated on this corner for 82 years.
Bank of Warren
222 East Main Street
The Bank of Manassas was the first financial institution to organize in Warren County but it did not emerge from the Civil War. This was the second, erected in 1868 for the Bank of Warren, established by Isaac Newton King.
First Citizens Bank
305 East Main Street
With nearly a half-century of success behind it, the Bank of Warren moved into this Neoclassical vault, designed by John Sloan, in 1914. It features engaged fluted columns of the Corinthian order supporting a richly decorated frieze and triangular pediment.
WALK A FEW MORE STEPS ON MAIN STREET TO RETURN TO THE TOUR STARTING POINT.