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One-tank trips – Warrenton, Virginia

Historic Warrenton is a quaint place in Northern Virginia which retains much of its small town charm. Among the more popular stops for a history buff is the Old Jail Museum, the home of the Fauquier Historical Society located at 10 Ashby Street in downtown Warrenton. Free of charge (they do accept and encourage donations), the museum is open Tuesdays through Saturdays from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m. It is next door to the Old Courthouse, another fascinating glimpse into life in antebellum Virginia.

This interesting little sculpture honors the U.S. soldiers who took part in the Persian Gulf War in 1991.

This memorial shaft on the grounds of the Old Jail Museum commemorates the life of the Gray Ghost, Confederate Major John S. Mosby, who lived in Warrenton after the war and was a prominent attorney and Republican political leader (which made him quite controversial in the predominantly Democratic South). The John Singleton Mosby Museum is located at the Brentmoor estate, where the ex-Confederate partisan ranger lived from 1875-77.

A wayside marker delineates some of the historic buildings one can see while strolling along Warrenton’s pleasant walkways.

In the early 1850s, former Virginia governor William “Extra Billy” Smith returned from California to Warrenton. He had left in 1849 to work as an attorney filing 49ers’ mining claims, and he made “a snug fortune.” Smith spent some of the proceeds on his law office, which he appropriately named the California House. Smith lived outside of Warrenton on the Monterosa estate. During the Civil War, Extra Billy was the oldest general at the Battle of Gettysburg.

Extra Billy Smith’s Monterosa estate still stands, but has been heavily remodeled by a subsequent owner, who renamed it as “Monterose-Neptune Lodge.”

Across the street from the Old Jail Museum and Smith’s California House is the historic Warren Green Hotel. Union Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan delivered his farewell address to the Army of the Potomac at this site in the original hotel, which burned down after the war. This replacement building resembles Civil War sketches of the older hotel.

Sketch of “Little Mac” saying goodbye at the Warren Green Hotel.

This photo from the National Archives shows Warrenton during the mid-19th century, a scene familiar John Mosby and his political rival William Smith.

This display case in the Old Jail Museum commemorates the brief life of Captain John Quincy Marr of the Warrenton Rifles. He was the first Confederate officer to die in the Civil War / War Between the States, perishing at the Battle of Fairfax. During the fighting, 63-year-old civilian Extra Billy Smith took command of the Confederate forces and fought against the 2nd U.S. Cavalry.

Extra Billy’s horses lived in style! This sprawling Italianate building was the stables for Smith’s Piedmont Stage Coach Lines.

The Brentmoor estate, where John S. Mosby lived for a period after the war.

If you go:  Warrenton, Virginia, is off of U.S. Routes 15, 17, 29, and 211 a couple of hours south of Gettysburg, Pa. There is plenty to see and do in the town, so plan for a couple of hours (at the very least) to stroll through the streets and take in the Old Jail Museum and the Mosby Museum. There are a number of restaurants and boutiques in Old Warrenton as well. Here is a link to the city’s website.

Background reading: Pick up a copy of Scott Mingus’s new biography of Extra Billy Smith for much more information on Warrenton during the Civil War years and the old general’s role within the town.

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