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Front Royal Historic District


The Front Royal Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2002. Portions of the text below were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. [1] Adaptation copyright © 2010, The Gombach Group.

Description

The Town of Front Royal Historic District extends over the 170 acres that comprise the core of the town. Located in Warren County, Virginia in the northern or lower Shenandoah Valley, the district encompasses three forms of development: a main commercial core, a small industrial section, and the surrounding residential neighborhoods. The buildings found within the district comprise a representative cross section of vernacular and high style architecture and building forms that spans the late 18th century through the middle of the 20th century. The town's main commercial thoroughfare, East Main Street, reveals a representative collection of late-19th century and early-20th century commercial styles. Front Royal's residential buildings display a well-preserved and diverse compilation of building forms, construction materials, and architectural styles that include examples from the early founding of the town in 1788 to the end of the period of significance in 1953. The town's domestic architecture includes excellent examples of several popular national styles, along with many examples of local, vernacular building forms.

The Front Royal Historic District includes 523 individual resources of domestic and commercial structures, the vast majority of which (nearly 90%) contribute to the architectural and historic significance of the town. Only one resource, the 1936 Warren County Courthouse is currently listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Setting and Layout

Located in Warren County, Virginia in the northern (lower) Shenandoah Valley, the Town of Front Royal stands within a crescent of land that is defined on the north, west and south by the curve of the South Fork of the Shenandoah River, and by Happy Creek on the east. Less than one and a half miles north of the town, the North and South Forks of the Shenandoah River converge to form the main stem of the Shenandoah River. Happy Creek, a Shenandoah River tributary, empties into the South Fork at the north end of the town. Front Royal's grid of streets occupies a small, bowl-shaped valley that is surrounded on three sides by hills that comprise the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains to the east and the Massanutten range to the west. The district contains approximately 170 acres. Most of the land in the district is relatively flat, however, the west-central and southwestern sections of the town are characterized by steep topography where the streets rise as they ascend the hills that separate the town from the South Branch of the Shenandoah River to the west.

During its first three decades of existence, the town developed organically from a frontier crossroad into a formal courthouse town. Since the first decades of growth occurred without an organized town plan, the Front Royal Historic District exhibits an irregular plan of streets. The original core of the town includes present-day Chester, Crescent, Peyton, and Main streets, and exhibits an irregular layout of diagonal roadways of various widths. By contrast, the portions of the town that were built after the original fifty-acre town was re-platted in 1816, exhibit a more traditional rectilinear street plan. For much of the 19th century, Front Royal's main road approaches were Chester Street from the north, East Main Street from the east, and South Royal Avenue (formerly Court Street or Manor Avenue) on the south. After construction of North Royal Avenue and Commerce Street (located outside of the district), the main northern approaches to Front Royal shifted to these two roads.

Three, major 18th-century travel routes that intersected at the site of Front Royal determined the layout of the town. 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. This important route was one of several migratory and trade routes that the early settlers of the valley used. The road continued northwest of the ferry crossing, until it reached Winchester, the valley's main trade center. South Royal Avenue is another modern road that follows the path of an early main travel route. Its right-of-way originally led south along the eastern shore of the South Fork of the Shenandoah River. It crossed both branches of the Shenandoah River and connected with the Valley's foremost travel route, the Great Wagon Road, also known as the Valley Turnpike. Finally, East Main Street once connected the other two routes to Chester Gap in the Blue Ridge with Rappahannock County and other population and trade centers in central Virginia. Its location as a road hub combined with the flat, bowl-shaped land in the valley where the roads intersected made Front Royal a prime location for settlement.

The commercial and residential development that took place along Chester and Main Streets generally conformed to a common siting pattern. Buildings were erected at the front of the lots and adjacent to the street so that they formed a continuous setback line. This allowed for the use of the back lot for commercial and domestic utility buildings and workspaces.

The historic district today reflects Front Royal's development history in its streetscapes, in its distinct neighborhoods, and in its variety of architectural styles and types. Generally, the district can be divided into three distinct development zones: a main commercial core, a small industrial section, and the surrounding residential neighborhoods. The commercial section centers on East Main Street where the densest, historic commercial development occurred along a five-block stretch between Royal Avenue on the west and Water Street on the east. This area, along with the first block of South Royal Avenue that extends south of Main Street, are characterized by attached, commercial buildings and tightly-spaced, freestanding, commercial and civic structures. Due to the town's long period of development and a local tendency to reuse existing structures, several historic houses remain interspersed throughout the commercial core.

Industrial Architecture

The Front Royal Historic District includes a handful of industrial buildings that are mainly located along Water Street and at the east end of Main Street on the eastern edge of the district. This small industrial area is representative of the town's industrial core that developed first along Happy Creek at the end of the 18th century village, and later followed the Manassas Gap Railroad tracks that entered the town from the north and paralleled Happy Creek. Early industries included several mills and tanneries located along Happy Creek in order to take advantage of the water. Although few of the earliest industrial buildings remain, a small cluster of early-to-mid-20th century industrial structures still stand on Water Street between Laura Virginia Hale Place (formerly Manassas Street) and East Main Street.

The earliest known industrial structure to occupy the Water Street area was a tannery built by Joseph Tuley in the 1820s. The tannery operated in this location through the 1870s, but, by 1885, it had been abandoned. At the turn of the 20th century, Front Royal experienced a commercial and industrial boom that brought new industries to the town. Several of these were built between Water Street and the railroad line that approached Main Street from the north. They included the Virginia Locust Pin Company, a manufacturer of insulator pins and brackets; the Front Royal Milling Company, producers of flour, meal and feed; and the Shenandoah Produce Company, dealers in farm produce and cold storage facilities.

The constant threat of fire, rapid changes in manufacturing technology, as well as changing labor needs eventually shrank the number of industrial complexes on Water Street. By 1927, the Locust Pin Company was still operating, as was the Front Royal Milling Company. However, the industries that lined Happy Creek were closed. Only a few early industrial structures remain standing in the district. One is the Proctor-Biggs Mill that stands on the former site of the Front Royal Milling Company. The former mill, now operated as a restaurant, occupies an all-concrete, fireproof building that was built circa 1922 at 500 East Main Street. Also still standing on Water Street is a former apple warehouse at 20 Water Street, now occupied by Brown's Transfer & Storage business.

Commercial Architecture

The intersection of East Main Street and Chester Street has long served as the historic center of town. Known as "The Square," despite its triangular form, this area served as Front Royal's historic center. The commercial resources in the Front Royal Historic District included one-, two-, and three-story structures of both frame and masonry construction, and encompass examples of Italianate, Late Victorian, Colonial Revival, Moderne, and Modern-style architecture. Many of the commercial buildings along East Main Street and South Royal Avenue are attached. There are also numerous freestanding examples.

During the last three decades of the 18th century, a small commercial and residential village grew up near the intersection of Chester and East Main Streets. The town experienced a burst of growth during the last quarter of the 19th century and the new construction and redevelopment that took place within Front Royal's commercial core transformed the mixed residential and commercial main streets into a tightly built-up commercial section with segregated surrounding residential neighborhoods. One illustration of the building frenzy that overtook Front Royal at the turn of the 20th century is the Sanborn Fire Insurance Company's mapping of the town. The Sanborn maps were created to help assess the fire threat to individual structures throughout the town. In 1897, the company required two map sheets to cover the developed areas of the town. By 1912, eleven sheets of maps were required.

Despite the late-19th century commercial and industrial transformation in Front Royal, thrift and local tradition insured that older structures were rarely demolished entirely. There are many examples of refurbished, commercial structures that date to before Front Royal's late 19th century building boom. Among these are the oldest extant commercial structures in the historic district. The most prominent example of historic adaptive reuse is the former Front Royal Methodist Church at 131 East Main Street. Originally constructed as a church in 1879, the building was transformed into Murphy's Theater in 1908-1909. The original arched, nave windows are still visible on what is now the second story of the brick building. Compton's Corner, a block of commercial structures located on the northwest corner of East Main Street and Chester Street, also illustrates how Front Royal's oldest structures have been altered, reused, and remade for changing uses over the years. The current store consists of several early commercial structures that, circa 1905, were combined behind a single unifying facade as Compton's Store (300-304 East Main Street.

With the help of a recent restoration, one of Front Royal's oldest commercial buildings stands today in its original form. The first Bank of Warren building occupies a narrow lot near the corner of East Main and Chester Streets (222 East Main Street). The one-story, brick, commercial building retains its original, pedimented, front-gable form as well as its decorative cornice brackets. The storefront has recently been restored to its original configuration.

Commercial architectural styles and forms of the late 19th century are well represented in Front Royal. Between 1880 and 1910, the character of Front Royal's Main Street was altered by the addition of numerous, two-story, frame and brick commercial buildings. While scattered residences still existed within the commercial core, the streetscape became increasingly dominated by commercial structures.

Along East Main Street, there are numerous examples of the two-part, commercial block form. The two parts refer to the horizontal division of the facade into two distinct parts: the lower-story that contains the public, commercial storefront, and the upper stories that accommodated private spaces such as offices, hotel rooms or apartments. The upper story of a two-part commercial block is often distinguished from the lower story by the different treatment of the windows. The storefront typically contains large expanses of glass that act as display areas, while the upper story mimics simple, residential buildings with individual or ganged windows of a residential scale. The two-part commercial block form dominated American commercial architecture from the late 19th century through the 1930s.

In Front Royal, the form appears in a number of stylistic garbs, the most popular of which were the Italianate and a simple, Late Victorian style that incorporated decorative, lower-level cornices, projecting roof-level cornices, and decorative roof slopes and tower elements. An excellent example of a simple Italianate, two-part commercial block stands at 409-415 East Main Street. Erected circa 1880, these four storefronts are unified by heavily accented shop windows, recessed entrances, a bracketed cornice atop the shop windows, and a series of second story windows that are adorned by Italianate-style, semi-arched hoods and decorative wooden frames. A more elaborate, Late Victorian style appears in the Trout Drugstore Building at 201-203 East Main Street. This building incorporates fashionable elements of the Victorian era, including the corner tower, the mansard-type roof (a steeply pitched, hat-like roofline), and roof shingles laid in an elaborate pattern. Built in 1908, the building's designer also availed himself of the newest architectural fashion, the Colonial or Classical Revival. The building's pedimented dormers and restrained, classical cornice are hallmarks of the new style. At the turn of the 20th century in Virginia, the combination of the exuberant Victorian style with the growing fashion to incorporate more restrained, classical forms into buildings, characterized both residential and commercial architecture. The trend is apparent throughout Front Royal.

The late-19th century boom in Front Royal established the town as an important center of trade and commerce. Throughout the first half of the 20th century, residents of the surrounding, mainly rural counties traveled to Front Royal to obtain goods and services. The town's status as a regional center of commerce and industry created substantial wealth among its leading businesspeople. Entrepreneurs could sometimes afford to hire professional designers and architects to design their commercial structures. Several prominent Virginia and out-of-state architects designed buildings in Front Royal during the early decades of the 20th century. John Sloan, a New York-based architect, designed two commercial buildings in Front Royal. In 1914, Mr. I.N. King commissioned Sloan to design the second Bank of Warren building in Front Royal. Located at 305 East Main Street, the bank displays a highly decorated, Classical Revival-style facade that features engaged and fluted Corinthian style columns, a pedimented door, and carved, classical figures mounted above the door. The bank is one of the most elaborate, architectural statements on Main Street. Sloan also designed Weaver's Department Store building at 205 East Main Street. This design also incorporates the Classical Revival style into a commercial facade.

Hotels and inns have a long history in Front Royal. As an early frontier village located along important transportation routes, it served as a stopover point for travelers. During the 19th century, at least three hotels stood along the length of East Main Street. They were referred to as the upper, middle and lower hotels. The middle hotel later became Fishback's Inn, a site that figures prominently in legends that surround the Confederate spy, Belle Boyd, during the American Civil War. The only remaining hotel structure in the historic district is the Montview Hotel also known as the Afton Inn. Located on the northeast corner of East Main Street and North Royal Avenue, the oldest sections of the Montview Hotel date back to circa 1868. The three-story, brick structure is one of the largest buildings in the district. The building retains many of its Italianate decorative elements. From 1936, when the Shenandoah National Park and the Skyline Drive opened just to its south, Front Royal has been greatly influenced by Virginia's tourist industry. In the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s, the influx of visitors spurred the development of extensive tourist facilities, most of which are outside of the historic district. However, the growth of tourism in Front Royal did impact its historic downtown. Many former dwellings were converted for use as boarding houses or apartment buildings to house both visitors and the service workers to whom they catered.

As Front Royal prospered, theatrical entertainment became an important luxury for the town's elite. Near 1880, George C. Davis, a local businessman, erected Front Royal's first public auditorium on East Main Street. Known as Davis Hall, the two-story structure housed stores on its first floor and an opera house on its upper level. In 1909, the former Methodist church on East Main Street was converted for use as a theater. Circa 1920, the first purpose-built movie theater was erected at 117 East Main Street. Known as the Park Theater and designed in a restrained, Colonial Revival style, the theater is still in use.

Domestic Architecture

Residential buildings dominate the remainder of the Front Royal Historic District. Sporadic commercial, civic, and religious structures appear throughout the residential neighborhoods that radiate out from the town's commercial core. Chester Street is the oldest of these streets. Although Chester Street historically contained commercial and manufacturing properties that included a blacksmith shop and a wagon-making factory, the surviving historic resources that stand today are mainly domestic in character. Many of the former dwellings that line Chester Street have been reused for commercial purposes, and are now occupied by offices, shops or institutions (i.e. The Warren Heritage Society, 101 Chester Street).

The oldest surviving residences on Chester Street and East Main Street date to the turn of the 19th century. Exact construction dates are difficult to determine, and most have been significantly remodeled over the years to accommodate new uses and changing architectural fashions. The William Balthis House at 55 Chester Street is thought to be the oldest surviving building in the historic district. Begun as early as 1787, before the Town of Front Royal was chartered, the house has been added to and altered several times during the course of its history. Originally built by James Moore, one of the town's founders, the Balthis House illustrates the evolution from the simple, folk architecture of Front Royal's frontier period to more stylized forms of construction.

The core of the historic Balthis House consisted of a two-story, three-bay-wide, side-gable frame building with one exterior end chimney. A common Virginia construction technique known as nogging — a method where bricks were used to fill the spaces between the heavy timber-framing members before the exterior weatherboard cladding was applied — was used to promote stability, longevity, and insulation value to a building. The Balthis House incorporates at least two major additions. The first, a two-story, two-bay-wide frame addition that was built on the north gable end of the house, and a rear, brick "L"-shaped extension that was erected circa 1845 is located behind the original portion of the house. Circa 1950, the house underwent an extensive renovation when interior elements from several local residences were removed and reinstalled on the interior of the Balthis House. The house is one of only a handful of residences in the district that retains original, domestic dependencies at the rear. These include a smokehouse, a separate kitchen, and a workshop.

Other early residences on Chester Street include the circa-1815 Mullen-Trout House at 12 Chester Street, the circa 1800 Henry Trout House (29 Chester Street), the Dr. Gabriel Dorsey House (54 Chester Street), built circa 1815, and the log-built Petty-Sumption Residence that dates to circa 1820 (123 Chester Street). While most of these dwellings retain elements of their original forms, they also have been altered for new uses, and reflect changing architectural fashions. The Henry Trout House at 29 Chester Street is a good example of architectural and functional change in Front Royal. The building began as a modest, log dwelling that housed a single family. It was expanded several times. In its current form, the building presents itself as a Colonial Revival-style apartment house that features a Mount Vernon-inspired, double-height portico across the facade.

A handful of other antebellum houses survive near the eastern end of East Main Street. These include the Jones-Clarke House built in circa 1810 at 10 High Street, and the circa 1850 Giles-Cooke House (507 East Main Street. The house at 34 Cloud Street is another survivor of Front Royal's pre-Civil War village. The two-story, stuccoed, frame house was erected circa 1840 and retains its double-flued, brick chimneys that bookend the side-gable roof.

Housing styles and construction methods began to change throughout Virginia and the United States after the Civil War. Prior to the war, building methods were localized and regional differences were apparent in house forms and materials. However, by the 1870s, a rise in mill-produced, standardized lumber and the ready availability of railroads to transport construction goods to far-off markets began to transform the building industry. As diverse building materials became more readily available, house styles evolved to incorporate newly possible forms and details. In Front Royal, the result was at least a partial abandonment of traditional house forms, and the adoption of more ornate and organic forms and styles. These included the Italianate style, which reached its zenith in popularity around 1870. Italianate detailing appears on both commercial and domestic buildings throughout the town. There are also several fully developed Italianate-style residences that where built for many of Front Royal's wealthiest citizens. One, the Garrison House at 15 Chester Street, displays a composite style that combines the form of a traditional I-house with a roofline and ornamental detailing that is Italianate in style. Completed in 1882 for Dr. Manly Littleton Garrison, the house was constructed of brick. The most elaborate Italianate-style residence located in the district stands at 106 Chester Street. Built circa 1870 for Gideon Jones, a local merchant and financier, the house is a substantial, two-and-a-half-story, brick house that features Italianate-style features that include a near-flat roof, wide eaves adorned by decorative brackets, and tall, arch-topped windows.

Another popular American architectural style that found its way to Front Royal after the Civil War was Gothic Revival. The hallmark features of the style include the steeply pitched gables, lancet-shaped windows, and vertical emphasis. The Cook House at 513 East Main Street epitomizes the Gothic Revival style.

A sense of the town's social and economic stratification at the turn of the 20th century can be seen in the layout and architecture of Front Royal's residential sections. There are several distinct neighborhoods within the town of Front Royal. The larger, more elaborate houses are generally grouped together at the higher elevations and along the main thoroughfares that include West Main Street, Virginia Avenue, and North Royal Avenue. Many of the most elaborate and expensive, late-19th and early-20th century dwellings stand on the spacious lots that line West First Street and around the intersection of West First Street and Virginia Avenue. Other concentrations of large and architecturally elaborate houses occur along the 100 and 200 blocks of Blue Ridge Avenue and on North Royal Avenue. More modest middle- and working-class residences line Church, Prospect, and Cloud Streets.

The largest and most architecturally cohesive residential sector occupies the blocks south of East Main Street between Blue Ridge Avenue on the east and Luray Avenue and Prospect Hill Cemetery on the west. The vast majority of the residences in this area date from the 1880s through the early 1920s. This large residential section was built during the late 19th and early 20th century construction boom in Front Royal. Dwellings of all types and forms were built to house the influx of manual laborers, skilled workers, and managers that accompanied Front Royal's economic expansion.

Several of Front Royal's residential streets contain cohesive groups of similar dwellings that were probably constructed as speculative housing by the same builder. The extensive speculative building that took place around the turn of the 20th century in Front Royal explains the numerous examples of the same house form and similar decorative schemes that appear on many streets throughout the district. This trend is particularly apparent on the streets that run south from Main Street, including Blue Ridge Avenue, Cloud Street, Church Street, and Lee Street.

The southern residential neighborhood encompasses a representative cross section of the traditional building forms that were then repeated in all sections of the town. The most common forms that were built throughout Front Royal's late 19th and early 20th century building boom include the vernacular I-house type (a two-story, side-gable house that is one-room deep and typically has a centered entrance and a wide front porch); a common, gable-front form; a two-story, cross-gable type; and the popular Foursquare form. Built in both frame and masonry construction, the I-house was a hugely popular rural house form in Virginia from the early 19th century until 1940. The type was built throughout the Front Royal Historic District and became most common during the 1880s, 1890s, and early 1900s. Two of the many examples can be seen at 211 Lee Street, and at 17 East Stonewall Drive (circa 1900). Another interpretation of the vernacular I-house seen throughout the historic district, are houses that have entrances set to one side of their facades instead of at their centers, as in the traditional I-house form. This interpretation is typically three-bays wide with a porch across the full-width of the front. Examples stand at 107 and 217 Lee Street and in many other locations throughout the town.

Another common American house form in Front Royal is a two-story, front-gable residential building that extends back to fill a narrow town lot. These buildings were built throughout Virginia in the late 19th and early-20th century as inexpensive housing for workers. An example of this house type appears at 101 Virginia Avenue.

One of the most popular and long-lasting house forms found in the Front Royal Historic District consists of a two-story, cross-gable, L-shaped building form that is composed of a front-facing gable section that extends from a side-gable, standard I-house form. A one-story porch usually connects the two wings. This building type was probably the design of a single builder; one that was constructed by local builders between the 1880s and 1910s. These houses were clothed in any number of architectural fashions that included the ornate Queen Anne style, the Italianate and Colonial Revival styles, and plain, Late Victorian-era modes that incorporated a mix of styles and folk forms. Examples of this popular house were built at 105 Virginia Avenue (Late Victorian style), at 31 Blue Ridge Avenue (Italianate style), and at Cozy Corner, a house built for Lucy and Laura Buck in 1905 (Queen Anne style, 60-64 Chester).

The American Foursquare house type enjoyed great popularity in Front Royal during the first few decades of the 20th century. It was economical to build, provided flexible space for families, and presented a substantial appearance despite its simple form and construction. Examples of this type in Front Royal typically possess modest detailing that is focused on the porch and front-facing dormer. The house at 209 East Stonewall Drive is a good example of a Foursquare form. The front-gable that accentuates the line of its eaves was a common decorative motif seen throughout Front Royal on several different house forms. Other similar Foursquare houses stand at 211 Virginia Avenue and at 232 Lee Street.

Front Royal's southern residential district encompasses a segregated, historically African-American neighborhood known as Freetown. The neighborhood occupies the south-central portion of the historic district and includes approximately 40 buildings that line Pine, Osage and Laurel Streets. While mainly residential, several historic stores and a fraternal lodge occupy the neighborhood. The house forms found here mirror those of the working-class white neighborhoods in Front Royal. Most of the houses can be characterized as vernacular I-house forms or the modified, three-bay, side entrance I-house form described above. In addition to the residences, the Freetown neighborhood incorporates a fraternal lodge built in 1948 for the African-American chapter of the Pride of Warren Lodge. A three-room school for African-American children once stood near the corner of Laurel and Pine Streets. The school burned down during the 1920s. A grouping of commercial buildings and what was once a dance hall stands clustered near the corner of Laurel Street and Osage Street (Colored Dance Hall, built 1939 at 217 Laurel Street). Freetown appears to have been developed between approximately 1880 and 1920 and reflects the social and residential segregation that characterized the town prior to the 1960s.

The Queen Anne style is well represented in Front Royal. Its complexity reflects the post-war changes in construction methods and the introduction of a multiplicity of machine-produced building elements. The town's prime examples date to the 1890s and early 1900s. One of the best examples in the district is the house at 240 Blue Ridge Avenue. Its complex and asymmetric form, the prominent octagonal tower, small-paned glass windows, and the ornate woodwork and trim details characterize the Queen Anne style. Another fully realized example of the Queen Anne style appears at the house at 101 Luray Avenue. This house is distinguished by a profusion of decorative woodwork, known as spindlework, on the porch.

The Late Victorian period in Front Royal also witnessed a stylistic transition from the high Queen Anne Victorian to a more classically influenced mode. This new mode was dubbed the Colonial Revival style because it grew out of a renewed interest in America's colonial past and its colonial architecture. In the Late Victorian era, the Colonial Revival influenced essentially Victorian structures and began to appear in the form of Classical detailing, more restrained ornament, and a tendency to greater symmetry in house designs.

This trend can be seen in several Front Royal residences, including at the house known as Rockledge at 240 Virginia Avenue. Here, classical pediments surmount the dormers and the extended front porch. The facade is symmetrical in its arrangement and a Palladian-style classical window appears in the front roof dormer. Despite these Colonial Revival elements, the house retains a Victorian form that includes intersecting gables and projecting, three-sided window bays.

During the 1920s and 1930s, the Colonial Revival style matured and became more academic. Later Colonial Revival houses derived their forms and details directly from historic examples of Colonial-era architecture. The organic Victorian forms gave way to more traditional, rectilinear shapes derivative of 18th and early-19th century buildings. Designers employed details drawn directly from studies of existing Colonial houses. The restoration of Colonial Williamsburg and the work of a number of Virginia architects and designers interested in preserving Colonial-era homes helped to popularize this new Colonial Revival style. Several examples from the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s exist in Front Royal. They were primarily built as infill housing in older residential neighborhoods or on the outskirts of the more densely built areas. Examples of these more academic Colonial Revival houses include the houses at 320 Virginia Avenue, at 355 Cloud Street, and at 360 Cloud Street.

After 1920, other early-20th century styles emerged and became popular in Front Royal. Among these was the Craftsman style, which is often associated with the simple bungalows of the 1920s and 1930s. The bungalow was an extremely popular, early-20th century house type that developed during a period when home ownership among the middle and working class in the United States swelled. Bungalows were designed to be inexpensive to build and easy to maintain without hired help. A typical bungalow is one- to one-and-a-half stories in height, has a compact, rectilinear footprint, and features a full-width front porch, wide eaves, and a low-slung profile. There are a number of examples standing in Front Royal, although they are not a dominant house type within the historic district. Examples appear at 326 and 338 Cloud Street, and along the 300 block of West Main Street (300, 304, 308, 312 West Main Street).

By the 1940s, several new house types and styles had appeared in the district, including the Tudor Revival style (212 West Main Street) and what is popularly known as a "Cape Cod" cottage (214 West Main Street). While these housing types and styles are not the focus of the Front Royal Historic District, many of them have reached fifty years of age and are compatible elements within the district.

Municipal Buildings

In 1836, Front Royal was chosen to be the seat of government for the newly created county of Warren. A brick, 2-story courthouse was erected in 1836-1837. The 1837 courthouse served for nearly one hundred years. In 1936, during Warren County's centennial year, the first courthouse was replaced by a more commodious building built of stone. The new Warren County Courthouse, along with a new town hall for Front Royal, were erected using Public Works Administration (PWA) funding. The PWA was an arm of President Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal program designed to lift the nation out of the Great Depression through federal government spending and job creation. The Warren County Courthouse and Town Hall were designed by the architecture partnership of Bascom J. Rowlett and Allen J. Saville of Richmond, Virginia, in collaboration with William Dewey Foster of Washington, DC. Both buildings were designed in the Colonial Revival style using native, Shenandoah Valley stone as the building material. The timing, design, and economic impact of these building projects were carefully planned to promote Warren County's heritage and its economic renewal in the depths of the Great Depression of the 1930s.

Schools

The PWA funded a third building in the town--the 1940 Warren County High School. This impressively sited, Classical Revival-style, brick school building stands atop a hill on the east side of Luray Avenue at the south end of the historic district. The Roanoke, Virginia-based architecture firm of Eubank and Caldwell designed it. When it was completed, the building served the white high school population of Warren County. No high school was available for Warren County African-American citizens. It was the only high school in the county at that time. Eighteen years after its completion, Warren County High School became the first high school in the state of Virginia to be ordered by a Federal court to implement racial integration (see discussion in Section 8). The building continues to serve as Warren County High School.

The historic district also contains a number of earlier school buildings. Among these is the first Warren County Public School on South Royal Avenue (21-23 South Royal Avenue). Built circa 1870, the building was the first public school built in the town of Front Royal. The building is an impressive, three-story, brick, Italianate-style structure that features a projecting, square tower centered on its facade.

The two-story, brick E. Wilson Morrison Elementary School on Crescent Street (40 Crescent Street) was built in several phases. The first section was completed in 1935. When the school was erected, the Warren County High School (1909-1910) stood just southwest of the new primary school building. The 1910 building was replaced in 1940 by the new high school on Luray Avenue. Later that year, the former high school was burned and was replaced by the current structure. It was incorporated as part of the town's elementary school complex.

In 1919, the Acting Supervising Architect of the U.S. Treasury Department, James Alphonso Wetmore (1863-1940), and his assistant Louis Adolphe Simon (active 1894-1958) approved designs for a new post office building in Front Royal. Completed in 1922, the one-story, Colonial Revival-style building stood on the southwest corner of South Royal Avenue and West Main Street (14 West Main Street). The building served as a post office through the 1970s. In the next decade, the building was converted to the Front Royal Police Department.

Fraternal Lodges

Social and service organizations have played an important role in the development of the town of Front Royal. Throughout the town's history, both informal and formal groups have organized to accomplish specific tasks or to create social and business networks to sustain the population. A number of surviving buildings are associated with the town's active social and fraternal organizations. National fraternal organizations such as the Masons and the International Order of Odd Fellows historically were well represented in town. In the 1920s, a substantial, two-story, Masonic lodge occupied a former dwelling that stood on East Main Street adjacent to the Warren County Courthouse. They include the first Warren County Public School building on South Royal Avenue that was used by the Front Royal International Order of Odd Fellows group from the 1920s through the 1940s (21-23 South Royal Avenue). J.B. Jeffries, a local African-American builder, designed and built the Pride of Warren Lodge No. 486 at 326 Pine Street in 1948. The lodge continues to serve Front Royal's African-American community today.

Private residences also served as important meeting sites for social and service groups, especially among Front Royal women. The Chester Street residence known as Ivy Lodge (101 Chester Street) served as a frequent meeting location for several local groups. In 1868, the Warren Ladies' Memorial Association was founded at Ivy Lodge. At the time it was the home of Mary Simpson. In 1904, the Warren Rifles Chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy was established in the same house. During the late 19th century and the early 20th century, both of these women's groups played instrumental roles in Front Royal's efforts to commemorate the events of the Civil War and of the Confederate cause.

Religious Architecture

Front Royal's eleven historic churches range in date from circa 1845 to circa 1930. They fall within several stylistic classes, the most prominent of which are the Greek Revival and Gothic Revival modes. The earliest church building located within the district is Williams Chapel that stands on Peyton Street near Chester Street (231 Peyton Street). Completed circa 1845, the building originally housed a Presbyterian congregation. The building is a simple example of Greek Revival-style ecclesiastic architecture. The Greek Revival style, which emulates the classical designs of Greek and Roman temples, became popular in church architecture during the 1820s, and continued to be commonly used throughout the 1850s. Williams Chapel served Front Royal's Presbyterians until 1885, when the congregation erected a new chapel at the northwest corner of South Royal Avenue and West Jackson Street. Today, Williams Chapel is owned and operated by the Methodist Episcopal Church, an African-American congregation that purchased the building in 1899 and named it for a prominent church bishop, Bishop R.S. Williams. During the late 1980s, the congregation renovated the historic church.

A number of late 19th century church buildings are scattered throughout the district. The most elaborate of these also occupies the most prominent location — at the northwest corner of North Royal Avenue and West Main Street. Built as the Methodist Episcopal Church South, the Front Royal United Methodist Church is an imposing, native gray stone, Gothic Revival building. Architect Benjamin D. Price (active 1867-1910) designed it in 1904. It prominently features a square tower, decorative stonework, and a complex roofline.

Two, historically African-American houses of worship stand within the historic district boundary. The John Wesley United Methodist Church was originally constructed as an African-American Methodist Episcopal Church in 1881 on what later would become Church Street. It was built on land that was a back lot to the Southern M.E. Church that once faced East Main Street (now the former Murphy Theater building). The building is a good example of church building of the late 19th century. The Mount Vernon Baptist Church at 240 Church Street, houses the town's oldest African-American congregation. Founded in 1864, the congregation built its first church structure around 1885. In 1903, W.F. Oliver, a local contractor, erected the present church building.

For over 120 years, St. John the Baptist Catholic Church has stood on the southwest corner of Luray Avenue and West Main Street. Completed in 1883, the church displays the Gothic Revival style in its lancet-shaped windows and narrow, pointed steeple.

Several original church structures no longer house religious services, but have been adapted for new uses. Among these is the former Jehovan Shamman Presbyterian Church that was originally constructed on South Royal Avenue in 1885. By 1912, the church had been converted for use as a synagogue, and by 1927; it was in use as the Episcopal church. Today, the frame church building has been dramatically altered for use as offices.

The most recently built historic religious building in the Front Royal Historic District is the Salvation Army Church that was built circa 1930 at the northwest corner of Cloud Street and Short Street at the district's southern end. Originally occupied by the Full Gospel Church, the building is a simple, front gable building built with little stylistic elaboration.

Cemetery

Prospect Hill Cemetery occupies the southwestern quadrant of the Front Royal Historic District. The cemetery occupies approximately 30 to 40 acres of land that encircle a hilltop that overlooks Front Royal. The picturesque setting, careful street plan, and monumental grave markers reflect the national rural cemetery movement that developed during the 1820s and 1830s. Because of its elevation and proximity to town, the cemetery served as a strategic location during several Civil War skirmishes that occurred in the area (see Section 8 discussion). The earliest grave markers at Prospect Hill date to the 1820s, however, the cemetery's oversight by its Memorial Association began in 1868. That year, 60 local women organized the Ladies' Warren Memorial Association to bury local Confederate dead and to memorialize the Confederate cause at Prospect Hill. The cemetery contains the graves of many locally important people, as well as the graves of 276 soldiers who fought on the side of the Confederacy during the American Civil War (1861-1865). In August 1882, the Ladies Memorial Association dedicated a memorial to the Confederate soldiers that died in Warren County that occupies the peak of the hilltop. The monument takes the form of an 18-foot-tall shaft that is crowned by a funerary urn and encircled by ninety gravestones.

Prospect Hill Cemetery is improved by a series of paved, curvilinear lanes that provide access to the steep burial plots. The cemetery is adorned by a number of mature trees. The entrance at East Prospect Street and Cemetery Lane features a set of stone posts and a wrought iron gate. Prospect Hill retains much of its original artistic value.

Commemorative Works

The activities of the Ladies' Warren Memorial Association were a part of a nationwide commemorative movement begun after the Civil War. The movement, especially strong in the South, developed in response to the devastation and human loss caused by the war. It focused on establishing cemeteries and monuments to honor the nation's war heroes. In the Southern states, this meant establishing Confederate cemeteries and memorials to Confederate war heroes. The erection of Confederate monuments and memorials throughout Virginia and the South gained momentum in the 1880s, as the region's many war-ravaged towns and cities attempted to rebuild, both physically and psychologically. By the 1920s, nearly every county seat and substantial town in the South had its own monument to the Confederate dead.

In 1911, with the help of three other local organizations, the Warren Rifles Chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy, the William Richardson Camp of the United Confederate Veterans, and the Warren Blues Camp of Sons of Confederate Veterans, the Ladies Association raised funds and erected a monument to Confederate soldiers. The monument stands on the courthouse green and consists of a granite base and shaft surmounted by a sculpture of a Confederate soldier standing at attention. The McNeel Marble Company of Marietta, Georgia designed the monument.

Another commemorative work that occupies the Warren County Courthouse green consists of a sixteen-foot-tall obelisk surmounted by an American soldier in uniform. Inscribed with the words "In Memory of those who served in defense of their country in World War I, 1917-1918, and World War II, 1941-1945," the monument incorporates the names of Warren County soldiers who died during World War I and World War II.

Condition of Buildings

Front Royal contains a collection of diverse building types and varied architectural styles. The Front Royal Historic District retains a relatively high level of integrity. While the commercial buildings along East Main Street and South Royal Avenue have undergone substantial storefront renovations, several intact storefronts survive and many of the changes are reversible. The street layout, building orientation, and commercial and residential districts remain in place. Development pressure has mainly affected the commercial strips along East Main Street and on North Royal Avenue. Redevelopment has taken place along some of the more thinly built up blocks along North and South Royal Avenue, and in places along East Main Street.

Fire has also affected the layout of the town. In 1969, a fire destroyed several buildings at the northeast corner of the intersection of Chester Street and East Main Street in the center of town. Within the last 20 years, this area has been redeveloped by the town for use as a town square and a visitor parking facility. The circa 1915 railroad station that stands adjacent to the new town square was renovated as a visitor center.

Front Royal's residential neighborhoods retain a high degree of integrity. Front Royal retains an unusually large number of turn-of-the-20th-century houses of all styles and forms that remain relatively intact, and reflect an important period of growth in the town. Front Royal's continuous history as a commercial, industrial, and tourist center west of the Blue Ridge Mountains has insured that its houses have remained occupied and maintained throughout its history.

  1. Johnston, Edna and Smith, Kathryn Gettings, Front Royal Historic District, 2002, nomination document, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington D.C.

See Map

Street Names: 1st Street West, 2nd Street East, 2nd Street West, 4th Street West, Academy Drive, Blue Ridge Avenue, Cemetery Lane, Chester Street, Church Street, Cloud Street, Crescent Street, High Street, Jackson Street East, Jackson Street West, Laurel Street, Lee Street, Luray Avenue, Main Street East, Main Street West, Oak Street, Osage Street, Peyton Street, Pine Street, Prospect Street East, Prospect Street West, Route 340, Route 55, Royal Avenue North, Royal Avenue South, Sherwood Avenue, Short Street, South Street, Stonewall Drive East, Stonewall Drive West, Virginia Avenue, Water Street

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