Old Town Warrenton VA: Where the Legendary John Mosby Once Lived
Old Town Warrenton VA is a lovely combination of history and hospitality, and was the chosen hometown of the legendary Colonel John Mosby of Mosby’s Ranger after the Civil War.
It’s been a few years, but I used to do a lot of book signings in this beautiful community in Fauquier County and spent many hours walking the streets of Old Town Warrenton VA.
Come along on this tour of Old Town Warrenton VA and discover its link to the legendary John Mosby and other notable Civil War figures. If you don’t know what you’re looking for, you will miss these hidden historical gems.
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Warrenton VA History
Warrenton originated at the junction of the Falmouth-Winchester and Alexandria-Culpeper roads, where a trading post known as the Red Store was established.
At the time of the American Revolution a settlement had begun, and by 1790, the first courthouse was built.
(There have actually been seven courthouses in Warrenton. Since 1795, four have stood on the same site on Main Street as the existing Old Courthouse, which was built in 1890. Fire destroyed some of the earlier structures).
A jail was then erected and an academy named for General Joseph Warren, a Revolutionary War hero, was founded.
Richard Henry Lee donated 71 acres of land for the county seat, which became the Town of Warrenton in 1810.
During the Civil War, the town was near the scene of battles and skirmishes during which the churches and schools were used as hospitals. The town was frequently occupied by Federal troops, and was the object of raids by Colonel John Mosby, known as the “Gray Ghost.”
Who Was John Mosby?
If you’re not from Virginia, you many not recognize the name of John Mosby. (Other than perhaps you’ve driven on the John Mosby Highway/Route 50).
John Mosby was a larger-than-life Confederate cavalry commander who operated mostly in Fauquier and Loudoun counties in Virginia.
If you’ve seen the movie The Patriot with Mel Gibson, then you get an idea of the type of man he was. He used the same type of fighting tactics in the Civil War that the Mel Gibson character used in the Revolutionary War.
John Mosby is also the real-life officer upon which the main character in my historical fiction novel Shades of Gray is based.
His exploits prove the old saying that “truth is stranger than fiction.” If I would have used his actual raids in my book, readers would have said it was not fathomable.
Mosby In Warrenton VA After The Civil War
This classic Italian Villa-style house was completed in 1861 for Fauquier County Jduge Edward M. Spilman.
James Keith, who later served as president of the Virginia Supreme Courte of Appeals acquired it in 1869, and then John Mosby, purchased the house in 1875. Mosby walked to his law practice in the California Building across the street from the courthouse.
A monument to Mosby stands beside the Old Courthouse,
Eppa Hutton, a Confederate brigadier general, lawyer and member of Congress, bought the house in 1877 and owned it until 1902. He is buried in Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond, Va.
Walking In John Mosby’s Footsteps
There are other buildings in Warrenton related to John Mosby besides the house he lived in. In fact, they are from his war-time exploits.
One of the them is the stately Warren Greene Hotel where he stopped to eat with 15 of his men on Jan. 18, 1863, the beginning of his partisan career. He also frequently ate there when he was a practicing attorney in Warrenton after the Civil War.
Another house that is related to the famous Civil War officer is the Beckham house on Culpeper Street.
This is where John Mosby took Union General Stoughton on the morning of March 9, 1863, after capturing him from his bed during the famous Fairfax Courthouse Raid. (I told you his exploits were unbelievable).
Even though he was an enemy officer, General Stoughton was welcomed by the Beckham family because the owner’s son was a graduate of West Point and Stoughton had been a classmate.
From this house in Warrenton, Mosby then took Stoughton to Culpeper, where he was turned over to another friend, General Fitzhugh Lee.
As a side note, Robert F. Beckham, the son who knew Stoughton, assumed command of the Stuart Horse Artillery following the death of the gallant John Pelham at Kelly’s Ford. He was later transferred and died in the Battle of Franklin, Tenn.
Just a few doors up from the Beckham house is another historic house that was a barbershop during the Civil War.
In the book Gray Ghosts and Rebel Raiders, Virgil Carrington Jones describes an incident in which Mosby was being shaved while Union troops occupied the town.
(Actually, they were not only occupying the town, they were turning it upside down searching for him.)
As the story goes, a Union officer came into the barbershop and questioned Mosby himself while he was sitting in the barber’s chair. He acted unconcerned, made up a fictitious name and story, and escaped capture once again!
John Mosby Buried in Warrenton Cemetery
John Mosby died in 1916 and is buried in the Warrenton Cemetery with his wife and children.
This cemetery began began as a family burial ground in the early 19th century and was sold to the Town in 1828.
It is now an 18 acre walkable timeline of history with more than 8,000 known burial sites including prominent political, military, and cultural figures.
A few of Mosby’s men are also buried in the Warrenton Cemetery, and there is a beautiful monument to the Confederate fallen near Mosby’s grave.
Best Things To Do In Warrenton VA
I think the best thing to do in Warrenton is visit the the Fauquier History Museum at the Old Jail on Main Street. Built in 1808, it was rescued from demolition before being turned into a museum.
The jail houses historical artifacts from throughout Warrenton’s history (including some John Mosby artifacts) and is open year around, but with limited hours so check ahead.
When it was built, the front portion of the jail contained four cells, each of which was approved to house 40 prisoners. In 1823, after only 15 years of use, the 1808 jail was deemed insufficient and a new stone jail was built just to the rear of the older structure.
The old jail was then converted into a house for the jailor with a kitchen made of the leftover stones from the “New Jail” added in 1823. The rear structure contains original cells as well as an exercise yard, which was also used as a hanging yard.
Hangings took place in the yard until 1896!
This is one of the most perfectly preserved old jails in Virginia, and it’s amazing that it operated as a jail until 1966! The cells look like something from out of a movie. (Not someplace you’d like to stay)
Monument To John Mosby
The Mosby Monument stands in the yard of the courthouse.
The monument states: “He has left a name that will live till honor, virtue, courage all shall cease to claim the homage of the heart. John Singleton Mosby, lawyer, soldier, patriot.
Famous People Who Lived In Warrenton VA
Other famous people who lived in Warrenton VA include William “Extra Billy” Smith, who was twice Governor of Virginia.
Austine McDonnell Hearst, wife of William Randolph Hearst Jr., and John Marshall, First Chief Justice of the United States were also Warrenton notables.
Others include: James Deruyter Blackwell, Civil War Era Poet; Samuel Chilton, Attorney for famed Abolitionist John Brown; Bonnie Zacharle, Creator of My Little Pony; and Benita Fitzgerald, Olympic Gold Medalist
Old Town Warrenton Restaurants
Claire’s At The Depot: You must eat here! It’s an old train depot where John Mosby was shot at by Union soldiers.
Denim and Pearls Restaurant: Lunch, brunch, drinks. Italian and American. Vegetarian and gluten free.
Cafe Torino: Italian cafe and bakery. Great reviews.
Warrenton VA Hotels: Where To Stay
Arlie Hotel: Beautiful hotel with high ratings and a nice pool.
Baymont by Wyndham: Budget hotel. No frills. Close to Warrenton.
Red Fox Inn: 4-star historical Tavern and Inn (visited by John Mosby)! Located in the heart of beautiful Middleburg, about 18 miles away.
Related Post: Read about things to do in Middleburg, VA.
Salamander Resort and Spa: Near Middleburg, Va. Splurge and treat yourself to luxury! Resort with two restaurants and a spa.
Wrap-Up of Old Town Warrenton VA
If you ever have the opportunity to visit Old Town Warrenton VA I highly recommend it. This quaint, historic town still has within it the tradition and charm of a bygone era.
Warrenton is located about an hour south and west of Washington DC.