During the year 2001, were making our way around Virginia, each
issue visiting a small town and meeting some of the folks who make up the heart of
electric co-op country. On this years sixth stop, well be...
Down Home in Warrenton by Peter J. Fakoury,
in PDF Format
This Northern Virginia community
offers a simplerlife in the
shadow of thenation’s
On a muggy summer Saturday night in downtown
Warrenton, a few hundred people lounge on the grass outside the old Warren
Green Hotel. Moms and dads relax on blankets, eat pasta salad and sip iced
tea, while their children dance to the music of a Caribbean steel band.
historic district has many well-restored homes, representing several
different architectural styles from the 1800s.
As Calypso music drifts around the corner and down
Main Street, friends visit, laugh, and chat about what’s new in
Warrenton. By the end of the evening even the adults are dancing in the
middle of Culpeper Street. Many will return each Saturday night for Cajun,
folk, rockabilly or classical music. Most will tell you there is no better
way to spend a Saturday night.
Warrenton is the seat of Fauquier County, a rural
community about 40 miles southwest of Washington, DC. It is home to about
7,000 people, old timers and new residents alike. Most were drawn to the
little town either by fate or in search of a simpler life.
remembers the day in 1976 when she and her husband first discovered
Warrenton. Their first-born child was a few months old, and parenthood had
brought about a strong instinct — they wanted to own some property,
something for their new family.
With just $6,000 to invest, there wasn’t much they
could afford in the Washington, DC area, where they made their home. So a
realtor took them to Warrenton. And it was there that they came face to
face with their destiny, a dilapidated old train station a few blocks down
from Main Street. They bought it and moved to Warrenton.
Rain or shine,
the Warrenton Spring Festival is a May tradition in Warrenton. More than 10,000 people flock to this street festival to shop for
crafts and unusual gifts.
Today, Karen Dorbayan owns one of Warrenton’s
oldest and most picturesque dining spots — the Depot. Restored to its
mid-19th-century grandeur, the Depot has served a unique blend of original
recipes with a Mediterranean flair for the past 25 years.
“The mayor owned a furniture store on Main
Street,” Dorbayan recalls. “I started talking to him about how he
would feel if I opened a restaurant in Warrenton. He was all excited and
took me around to meet people. The day we opened, he went up and down Main
Street telling people. We were packed.”
It’s that kind of down-home hospitality that made
Dorbayan fall in love with Warrenton. Today, it still is the kind of town
where people know your name, a place where there is a strong sense of
The appeal of the town seems to be universal. People
say they love living in a small community with old-fashioned charm, but
also being close enough to Washington, DC, to take advantage of all it has
to offer. Like the rest of Fauquier County, more than half of Warrenton
residents are commuters who work in the DC area.
A Blessing and a Curse
came to Warrenton in 1976 to establish one of the town’s best
restaurants, the Depot.
In a way, the blessing of Warrenton’s location is
also its curse. It is just close enough to the sprawling metropolitan area
to feel an ever-encroaching wave of expansion. It is a community that
fears what growth may do to its storybook way of life.
“It’s such a charming town, especially during the
Christmas season,” says Dorbayan. “You can go back to your childhood
dreams when you go up to Main Street and see what the folks here have
Indeed, Christmas is a popular time in Warrenton.
Every Friday night in December the merchants stay open late, and people
wander beneath the twinkling lights that adorn the trees along Main
Street. There is a palpable spirit of Christmas that fills the air, as
residents enjoy visiting, shopping, and listening to local choirs and
bands perform holiday music. There’s also the annual Christmas Parade,
and Gumdrop Square, a place where children can shop for Christmas gifts
without mom or dad.
There are probably few towns that close down Main
Street for parades or other events as often as Warrenton. There are
parades for the 4th of July and Halloween, and a horseless carriage show
on Father’s Day. Last September, Warrenton hosted a Lafayette festival
to remember the Revolutionary War hero’s visit to Warrenton in 1825.
Once again there was a parade, with a smiling, waving Lafayette.
Within a few
miles’ drive of historic downtown Warrenton, visitors can discover
Fauquier County’s spectacular rural scenery.
Each fall, Main Street becomes a dance floor for a
huge event called “Evening Under the Stars.” As a big band plays,
local residents and visitors in evening dresses and suits dance the night
away in the street. In the spring, the same street is shut down again for
the annual Warrenton Spring Festival, which brings more than 10,000 people
to Main Street to buy from craft vendors and enjoy the entertainment.
Situated in the Virginia Piedmont, Warrenton sits in
the center of Fauquier, a 660-square-mile county with a population of
55,000. Fauquier is known as “hunt country,” with many large estates,
purebred horse farms and champion hunt clubs. Not far from Warrenton is
Great Meadow, the home of both the Virginia and International Gold Cup
steeplechases, which draws thousands each year.
At the crossroads of most of the county’s major
highways, Warrenton is the gateway to the central section of ever-popular
Skyline Drive, 30 miles to its west.
Downtown Warrenton is a place that feels like home
even to visitors. Most of the commercial district centers on a half-mile
section of Main Street. At one end is the original courthouse, built in
1790. At the other end of the street are several churches that served as
hospitals during the Civil War.
With its boutiques, antique shops and galleries,
it’s easy to forget that Warrenton’s origins were strictly practical.
Established in 1759 as “Red Store,” because of its most prominent
building, a trading post, the town quickly became the hub of commerce in
Fauquier County. In 1810 it was renamed Warrenton, in honor of General
Joseph Warren, the Revolutionary War hero who sent Paul Revere on his
Stan Haworth prunes a tree at Warrenton Nursery, a
business he founded in 1963. He’s seen a lot of growth in the town since
he settled there in 1948.
During the Civil War, Warrenton changed hands 67
times. It was the home of the Warrenton Rifles, commanded by Captain John
Quincy Marr, the first Confederate officer killed in the conflict. It was
the stomping grounds of Col. John S. Mosby, known as the “Gray Ghost.”
His band of rangers raided Union supply lines throughout the area, earning
him a reputation as a modern-day Robin Hood. He is buried in Warrenton
Cemetery, a few feet from a mass grave of 600 Confederate troops killed at
the battle of Manassas.
History Draws Tourism
“Heritage tourism” is becoming an increasingly
important part of Warrenton’s appeal. People come to see its lovely
historic district, with many different forms of architecture. They visit
Warrenton for its Civil War history, to see the hometown of John Marshall,
fourth Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, and to tour the “Old
Gaol.” Built in 1778, it is one of the oldest original jails in
Virginia, and is reported to be haunted.
has been Warrenton’s town manager since 1989. When not busy keeping
Warrenton a pleasant small community, his passion is refereeing high
school and college football.
The town hopes to build on its historic tradition,
and is in the process of converting Col. John S. Mosby’s Main Street
home into a Civil War museum.
Still, it may be the search for small-town America
that attracts people to Warrenton more than anything else.
“Warrenton is a real slice of Americana,” says Angela
Denson, former director of the Fauquier County Chamber of Commerce.
“It’s the kind of place where you feel you can go to visit your
grandparents. It’s traditional and authentic. It represents so many
things that aren’t around anymore.”
Maintaining that small community feel is the job of Warrenton’s
Town Manager, John Anzivino. The town’s population has grown quickly
in recent years, and he expects another 2,000-3,000 residents will move to
Warrenton in the next five years. In the past, his major challenge was
transportation planning. Today, quality-of-life issues seem to be most
crucial — recreation, beautification, pedestrian walkways, and
maintaining a sense of community.
“Growth does have a tendency to dilute the
tightness of a community,” says Anzivino. “Our challenge is to find a
way to reach out to new citizens and solicit their ideas to maintain what
we have. We need to make them feel part of the community and foster the
same spirit that other longer-term residents have.”
Many of those long-term residents knew a long time
ago that growth would come.
“You can’t stop the growth, so you might as well
just make up your mind you’re going to get it,” says Stan
Haworth, who came to Warrenton in 1948. “All we can do it make it as
orderly and attractive as possible.”
Haworth came to Warrenton to work for a national
livestock magazine that was being published there. Later he started his
own livestock auction business. Today he owns Warrenton Nursery, which
supplies locally grown trees and shrubs to area residents. He donated some
of the trees that line Main Street in old-town Warrenton.
September, Warrentonians celebrated the 175th anniversary of the visit of
the Marquis de Lafayette to Warrenton in 1825. It was the last stop on his
two-year tour of the United States as a Revolutionary War hero before
returning home to France.
Haworth remembers that in the old days people still
liked to come to Warrenton, even though there wasn’t much to do. Pasty
Cline came to Warrenton to buy cars. Oral Roberts took time off from a
Washington crusade to spend time with Haworth out in the country. Haworth
knew the famous preacher from the cattle business, and had developed a
friendship with him.
There still isn’t much to do in Warrenton, by
Washington-area standards. But that’s the appeal of the place, say many
residents and visitors. It’s a place where many come to find a slower
pace for a lifetime or just a weekend.
Karen Dorbayan recently moved to Fairfax to be closer
to her family, but still enjoys coming to work in Warrenton. After 25
years of long hours and hard work, she’s ready to slow down a bit, and
is hoping to find a partner to share the responsibility of the Depot. But
Warrenton will always hold a special place in her heart.
“It’s a happy feeling to know that people
recognize you, and that you know the president of your bank and the
pharmacist,” she says. “I think a part of me will always love
Warrenton. Even after I moved I felt myself fantasizing about coming here.
There’s something here that I believe will always be here.”
Discover Warrenton’s fascinating history at the Old
Jail Museum. Volunteers from the Fauquier
Historical Society are full of facts and stories, and love to share.
Also a great spot to pick up a brochure on a self-guided historic walking
tour of Warrenton, and information on a guided ghost tour of the town.
Open Tuesday-Sunday, 10 a.m.-4 p.m. (540-347-5525).
Find fresh produce, baked goods, herbs, and flowers
at the Warrenton Farmer’s Market.
Open through October, Wednesdays
7 a.m.-noon on Court Street, and Saturdays at 5th and
Restaurant is a popular night spot in Warrenton, featuring an interesting
menu for lunch and dinner, and entertainment on the weekends.
Dance the night away under a canopy of stars at Evening
Under the Stars, Saturday, Sept. 22, on Main Street. Great music and
dancing in the street, and a chance to sample the tasty talents of
Warrenton’s finest chefs and caterers (540-349-8606).
Any Saturday night during the summer it’s the Bluemont
Concert Series, a big hit in Warrenton. For a $3 donation, enjoy
wonderful music on the Warren Green, located at the corner of Culpeper and
Hotel Streets. Styles featured include everything from bluegrass to jazz
to country to ethnic. See this summer’s line-up at www.bluemont.org
One of Warrenton’s dining treasures is the Depot
Restaurant, located at 65 3rd Street. Housed in the fully restored
Warrenton train station, it serves Mediterranean and American cuisine.
Great crab cakes, pasta dishes and fresh seafood. Outdoor garden dining
available. Open Tuesday-Saturday for lunch and dinner (540-347-1212).
Another fun spot to grab something casual or fancy is
located at 67 Waterloo Street. It offers a continental-style menu, an
outside terrace, or fireplace dining in small, cozy rooms. Live
entertainment Friday and Saturday. Open daily for lunch and dinner
Horse Show is a great way to take in some of the area’s equestrian
sports. It runs Aug. 29-Sept. 2 at the Warrenton Horse Show Grounds.
Admission is $5 (540-347-9442).
A good old-fashioned county fair is always a lot of
fun, and the Fauquier County Fair is a nice one with lots of farm flair.
Pig races, livestock exhibits, games, entertainment, and a local food
show. It runs July 27-29 at the Fairgrounds in Warrenton. $10 per car
For holiday shopping, Santa’s
Arts and Crafts Village is hard to beat. It’s a juried craft show
with plenty of vendors. Sponsored by the local Optimist Club, it runs Nov.
17 and 18 at Fauquier High School (540-347-4414).