Riverton Historic District
The Riverton Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2000. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document.  Adaptation copyright © 2009, The Gombach Group.
The Riverton Historic District is located in the community of Riverton, at the northern edge of the town of Front Royal, in Warren County, Virginia. Annexed as part of Front Royal in 1976, Riverton, originally known as Confluence, sits on a plateau where the North and South Forks of the Shenandoah River meet. The 66-acre historic district encompasses most of the area traditionally associated with Riverton and contains a diverse collection of building types and architectural styles that tell the story of the village's development from the mid-nineteenth century to modern times. The boundaries generally include all of the buildings within the triangle of land at the junction of the forks of the river, east of US Route 340/522. The area west of US Route 340/522 includes properties from the north side of Strasburg Road (State Route 55), north through Duck Street as far west as Rugby Street, to the south side of the North Fork of the Shenandoah River.
Riverton's layout is not based on a formal grid pattern, but instead is dictated by old roads, property lines, and landscape features. The oldest part of the town was bypassed when the current bridges across the forks of the Shenandoah were built in 1941, just upstream from their original location. The bridges and the consequent realignment of the Old Winchester Turnpike (now US Route 340/522) to the west basically cut Riverton in two, leaving much of it unchanged since that time.
Prior to the Civil War, there were only a few buildings in the area of Riverton. The oldest of these is Riverside, which is previously listed on the Virginia Landmarks Register and the National Register of Historic Places. The period of greatest development in the village occurred in the last quarter of the nineteenth century. During that time, many new houses were built along with commercial, religious, and transportation-related resources. The growth was spurred by new industrial ventures that moved into Riverton and took advantage of its natural resources as well as the Manassas Gap Railroad, which had first arrived in 1854 and reopened in 1873, and the Shenandoah Valley Railroad, which came through in 1881.
The 68 contributing resources in the district are made up primarily of residences and their associated outbuildings. Some of the other contributing resources include a church, a former hotel, store, and post office. Archaeological resources are not included in this nomination. The boundaries do not include the two bridges that span the forks of the river, nor the modern structures at the intersection of Strasburg Road (State Route 55) and US Route 340/522. The eighteen noncontributing elements in the district are primarily outbuildings.
Riverton is a small community that lies between the South and North Forks of the Shenandoah River, at the northern edge of Front Royal. The land was originally part of an eighteenth-century patent to William Russell, which he sold to Thomas Chester in April of 1737. Although the earliest surviving architectural resource in the district dates to the second quarter of the nineteenth century, there was activity in the area by 1736, when Thomas Chester received a license to operate a ferry across the South Fork of the Shenandoah River at the "mouth of Happy Creek."*
The architectural resources in the Riverton Historic District illustrate the story of the community's development. Most date to the late nineteenth century when the village experienced its greatest growth. The majority of the resources are in the vernacular tradition, yet there are also some fine examples of high-style architecture including the Italianate, Queen Anne, and Gothic Revival styles.
In 1826, Samuel M. Spengler inherited 220 acres that included the land that is now Riverton. He began construction of a brick dwelling known as Riverside about ten years later. Located on a hill along the north bank of the South Fork, the house used design elements of the Greek Revival and Italianate styles and was not completed until 1849.3 According to an 185 1 map laying out the Manassas Gap Railroad, Samuel Spangler's [sic] house and two outbuildings were the only buildings in the Riverton area at that time.
In 1854, the Riverside property passed into the ownership of Maj. James R. Richards, who supposedly won it in a hand of poker.5 The house was a crucial site during the Battle of Front Royal in 1862 as it sat along the Front Royal-Winchester Turnpike. The wooden bridges that had been constructed by the Front Royal and Winchester Turnpike Company in 1854 were intentionally destroyed by the Confederates in 1862 and were not rebuilt until 1894. Major Richards was an influential figure in the development of Riverton, until his death in 1895. Known as "Confluence" until after the Civil War, much of Riverton is located on land that Richards subsequently sold to others who developed it. Major Richards's son, James R. Richards Jr., remodeled Riverside using components of the Colonial Revival style. The T-shaped house was listed on the National Register in 1995.
Running north-south through the village, the Old Winchester Turnpike was the first road in Riverton. The ferry, and then later the wooden and metal bridges, crossed the South and North Forks of the Shenandoah River along it. Remnants of stone walls that once lined the road are still evident along parts of the old turnpike.
The Manassas Gap Railroad came to Riverton in 1854. Goods that were floated down the forks of the Shenandoah River on flat bottom boats were then loaded on to the train, which carried them to eastern markets. Riverton's period of greatest growth was the last quarter of the nineteenth century, when much of the land was bought up and developed. During that time, many new houses were built along with commercial, religious, and transportation-related resources. The Riverton railroad depot is no longer standing.
The second earliest road in the district is what is now Riverside Drive, which runs east-west at the southernmost point of the Old Winchester Turnpike. Along the north side of this road is Lackawanna, a two-story, four-bay, Italianate-style brick dwelling . Constructed in 1869 for Dorastus Cone, it is one of the area's finest examples of the Italianate style and features a low- pitched hipped roof, corbeled chimneys, segmental wooden caps over the windows, and widely overhanging eaves with paired brackets. According to a letter by George Sealy Cone, grandson of Dorastus Cone, the building cost $13,000 and was regarded as one of the most modern country homes in Virginia" as it had hot and cold running water and rooms lit by gas lamps. The water was supplied by the hydraulic dam in the Shenandoah River and stored in an attic reservoir. The house also supposedly had the first telephone installed in Warren County (1876). Dorastus Cone was originally from Scranton, Pennsylvania, and moved to Riverton after the Civil War. He and his partners, Charles T. Weston and J. Edward Lent, purchased land in the forks of the river and on the south side of the South Fork and operated the famous water gristmill known as Riverton Mills, which burned in 1912.
At about the same time as Cone's arrival to Riverton, an Irishman named Samuel Carson began buying land on the north bank of the North Fork of the Shenandoah River that contained numerous limestone deposits. In 1868, he established Carson and Sons, also originally known as "Confluence Works," and began the production of burnt lime.' According to the Warren County land tax records. Carson did not purchase land on the south side of the North Fork until the late 1870s. The house at 49 E. Duck Street, is a vernacular hall-parlor-plan dwelling that is traditionally thought of as the original home of the Carson family while they constructed the much larger Dellbrook. Architecturally, the house appears to date to the mid-nineteenth century and was probably on the property before Carson purchased it.
Another building from this period is the house at 1302 Old Winchester Pike. A two-story, five-bay, asymmetrical, gable-roofed frame building, it sits on a hill opposite the Old Winchester Turnpike from Riverside. The house now reflects a Colonial Revival design because of later additions. During the 1870s, J. E. Lent, a partner of Dorastus Cone in the Riverton Mills Corporation, owned the property. Mr. Lent probably built the original portion of the house. It was later the home of Col. Harrison Richards.
One of Riverton's most interesting buildings is the Old Duncan Hotel, now used as apartments. The ca. 1880, two-story, hip-roofed brick building is laid in 6-course American bond and sits on a limestone foundation. Italianate in style, the building has a two-story, hip-roofed frame wing and a wraparound porch. Situated on the original main road from Front Royal to Winchester, the presence of a hotel in Riverton confirms the community's importance as a destination point in the late nineteenth century. The building was probably constructed by Bassett Lee in the early 1880s. During its course as a hotel, it was run by the Kenners and the Duncans, and was last known as the Riverton Hotel.
Across the Old Winchester Turnpike from the hotel is the Riverton United Methodist Church, constructed between 1883 and 1890. Located on land purchased by the Methodist congregation in 1883 from Dorastus Cone and J. Edward Lent for the sum of $275, construction began soon thereafter. The church cost $2,000 and was completed in 1890 and dedicated in 1895. The three-bay front and four-bay side brick church is laid in 5-course American bond and is built in the Gothic Revival style. The pointed-arch stained glass windows with limestone sills and keystones, the brick water table, and granite-topped buttresses around the entrance tower provide architectural interest and elegance to the building and make it one of the focal points of Riverton.
The bricks for the church were probably fired on the property, although tradition maintains that many were brought from Ireland by Samuel Carson. According to a recent church history, the brick masons were the Lemley brothers from Strasburg, and the carpenter was A.L. Sargent.
The other church in Riverton at this time was also constructed on land that belonged to Dorastus Cone, which he deeded to the Baptist congregation in 1883. The house at 272 Riverside Drive was originally the Riverton Baptist Church. It was severely damaged during the flood of 1949, and abandoned. According to the original deed, when it ceased to be used as a church the property would revert back to the Cone family. It apparently did, for in 1949 Mildred Cone sold the property to J. H. Magalis for $1,000.
Magalis repaired the building and converted the one-and-one- half-story, four-bay, gable-end vernacular building into a dwelling.
The most prominent building in Riverton is Dellbrook, the home of Samuel Carson, founder of the Carson Lime Company. Constructed around 1884, Dellbrook is a two-and-one-half-story, Queen Anne-style brick building with a hipped roof with several lower cross gables and a jerkinhead roof in the rear. Rich in architectural details including a widow's walk with balustrade, windows with corbeled brick segmental arches, a recessed entry with double doors and a transom, a wraparound porch, and a corbeled brick belt course, Dellbrook is the finest and most ornate Victorian dwelling in the Riverton Historic District. It was also the boyhood home of Samuel Carson's son, William E. Carson, a prominent Virginia conservationist and influential in the development of the Shenandoah National Park and Skyline Drive. According to newspaper accounts, Samuel Carson officially moved to Riverton from Ireland in 1886. County tax records indicate the house was probably completed around 1884.
According to an 1884 local newspaper, the Carson Lime Company was planning to construct several buildings in Riverton that year that would involve a "heavy expenditure of money" and "add much to the already attractive town of Riverton." A group of four houses along Queens Highway, on the north side of the railroad tracks, were constructed around this time on land that belonged to Samuel Carson. These almost identical two-story, gable-end, frame and stucco, vernacular dwellings were built by the Carson Lime Company as worker's houses. They were finally sold off by the company in 1961 and are now individually owned. Although they are in different states of preservation, they still retain architectural integrity and represent the influence of the Lime Company in Riverton during the late nineteenth century. Three other dwellings in the district along Queens Highway were also probably inhabited by workers. The house at 53 E. Duck Street, a two-story, hall-parlor-plan frame dwelling was supposedly constructed by the Carsons in the 1880s and stuccoed in 1928 to promote the products from the Riverton Lime Company.
The Old Riverton Post Office and Grocery was also constructed at this time by the Carson Lime Company. The large, two-story, three-bay, gable-end building is constructed of brick with Italianate-style detailing including a brick mousetooth cornice, two-over-two-sash windows with segmental brick arches using alternating black and white bricks for decoration, and a heavily bracketed front wooden cornice. Alternating bands of colored brick act as a belt course and a top course, giving the building further visual interest. The first floor is composed of an intact three-part storefront with large four-light display windows and central double doors. The building has a rear two-story brick wing and a more modern two-story side wing. Apparently constructed and operated by the Carson Lime Company as a company store and company headquarters, by the 1890s it was run as Riordan & Strange, General Merchandise. Since then, the building has been used as a grocery, school, and post office. The Italianate-style building is notable for its unusual decorative brickwork and its original, yet somewhat neglected, condition. It is only one of two surviving nineteenth- century commercial buildings in Riverton, the other being the Old Duncan Hotel.
The majority (71%) of buildings in the Riverton Historic District date to the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, thus reflecting the community's period of greatest development and prosperity. Since the bridges across both forks were destroyed in 1862, the rivers had to once again be forded. Two devastating floods in the 1870s inundated Riverton with water. In spite of this, the community was able to flourish, due in a large part to the economic boom brought about by the Carson Lime Company. When the bridges were rebuilt in 1894, the souvenir booklet described Riverton: "a town of seven hundred people, has sprung into existence, buoyant, strong and progressive.. .She boasts the largest lime works in the South, a flouring mill of one hundred and twenty-five barrels capacity per day, and a factory that furnishes building material. Her church spire seems to give a spiritual aspect to the whole scene."
The Front Royal and Riverton Improvement Company was formed in 1890 with the purpose of developing the area between Front Royal and Riverton. Some tracts were also purchased in the Riverton area. An early 1890s map published by the Improvement Company entitled "The Twin Cities of Front Royal and Riverton" even shows some streets to be laid out on land that is now west of US Route 340/522 in Riverton. These did not get built as the Improvement Company went bankrupt in 1900.
The "boom bust" did not have a great negative effect on Riverton. In the 1897 Virginia State Directory, Riverton is shown to have a barber, two boarding houses, a shoe manufacturer, a butcher, a carpenter, five stores, a hotel, a sawmill, a duck ranch, and one of the largest lime, plaster, and cement producers in the South. Riverton also had its own physician, Dr. E. M. Blackwell, who set up practice in Riverton around 1890 and initially rented office and living space from Joe Kenner at the "Kenner House" hotel. As sole doctor for the Riverton area, Dr. Blackwell treated workers of the Carson Lime Company as well as patients on both sides of the Shenandoah River. In his memoirs, Blackwell Genealogy he describes his early years of practice in Riverton as well as the construction of his house. The dwelling was to have cost $3,000 but he only spent $750 because he exchanged services with many of the workers." When the present bridges across the forks were constructed in 1941, the house was moved to its current location on E. Duck Street.
The other buildings in the district located east of US Route 340/522 that were constructed during the late-nineteenth to early twentieth century, include vernacular forms having gable-end fronts, L-shaped plans, hall-parlor plans, and I-house plans. One of the finest of these is the house at 260 Riverside Drive. The two-story, three-bay, gable-roofed, frame I-house is clad in German-lap siding and features two-story cut-away bays on both pedimented gable ends. The one-story, three-bay, hip-roofed front porch has turned posts and balusters. The ca. 1910 house is an intact example of a vernacular I-house with Queen Anne detailing.
Several large farm outbuildings were also constructed on the Riverside property at around the turn of the century, including two barns, two corncribs, and sheds. These are now located on a separate piece of property from Riverside and are in danger of demolition. The barn is particularly interesting.It is a very large two-and-one-half-story, gambrel-roofed frame structure with board and batten siding and round-arched louvered wooden windows. The metal roof is topped by two louvered cupolas with finials. This form of barn is one of several of this style found in Warren County that may have been constructed by a local builder named Jacob Masemer.
The buildings in the district located west of US Route 340/522 include ones along the north side of W. Strasburg Road (State Route 55), as well as along both sides of W. Duck Street. The majority of these dwellings were constructed during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and include examples of vernacular I-houses, side-passage-plan, hall-parlor-plan, gable-end, and L-shaped houses. The resources along W. Duck Street include residential as well as commercial property. Duck Street was so named because of Morgan's Mammoth Duck Ranch, which operated there starting in the late nineteenth century. It was located just west of the historic district boundary.
According to a 1919 Sanborn Fire Insurance Map, Duck Street was then called Morgan Street and Rugby Street was named Duck Street. The oldest houses along W. Duck Street date to ca. 1890 . One of the most attractive of these is the house at 3 W. Duck Street, a two-story, two-bay, gable-roofed, vernacular, hall-parlor-plan frame dwelling clad in weatherboard. It features a central interior flue, stone foundation, two-over-two-sash windows, louvered wood shutters, gable-end returns, capped corner boards, a two-story protruding bay on its east end, and a rear 2-story ell with interior- end flue. The building has good architectural integrity, although it is surrounded by modern intrusions created by the widening of US Route 340/522.
Early-twentieth-century vernacular houses are also found along W. Duck Street, including a ca. 1935 Tudor Revival-style brick dwelling. Because the duck ranch operated well into the twentieth century, lots along W. Duck continued to get developed. Architectural resources include a ca. 1950 cinderblock plumbing workshop, as well as a very large concrete block warehouse constructed as a furniture shop. The only noncontributing property in the district is found along W. Duck Street. Constructed in 1997, Matthews Auto Center, a pre-fabricated metal commercial building, is completely out of character, scale, and proportion with its neighboring buildings.
The seven resources along the south side of W. Strasburg Road include a 1930s gas station, and six vernacular dwellings that date from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Located on a hill overlooking the South Fork of the Shenandoah River, several of these have the old roadbed of State Route 55 as their front driveways. The house at 60 W. Strasburg Road is a ca. 1890 Victorian T-plan dwelling , while the house just east of it at 52 W. Strasburg Road is a modest two-story. two-bay, pyramidal-roofed dwelling that dates to the early twentieth century . The most elegant house in this part of the historic district is located at 44 W. Strasburg Road. The two-story, three-bay, cross-gable-roofed, ca. 1889, Victorian T-plan dwelling has four-over-four-sash windows, gable-end returns, two corbeled interior brick chimneys, a plain friezeboard, a coursed limestone foundation, and a two-bay front porch with chamfered posts on brick piers. Off the east end of the house is a one-and-one-half-story, hip-roofed, frame kitchen wing, constructed shortly after the main part of the dwelling. Except for being covered in vinyl siding, the dwelling is in relatively unaltered condition. The three remaining houses to the east along W. Strasburg Road include a ca. 1900 I-house, an abandoned ca. 1900 hall-parlor-plan house, and a ca. 1890 I-house.
Only eight resources in the Riverton Historic District were constructed during the period of 1915 to 1950. Of those, two use Craftsman-style detailing. The house at 1391 Old Winchester Pike was named Sleepy Hollow when it was constructed for one of Samuel Carson's daughters. The two-story, seven-bay, gable-roofed, stuccoed house has widely overhanging eaves and multi- paned windows. The house at 250 Riverside Drive was constructed ca. 1922 and is a one-and-one-half-story, three-bay, stuccoed, vernacular dwelling with exposed rafter ends, overhanging eaves, and six-over-one-sash windows.
The historic resources that make up the Riverton Historic District illustrate the growth and development of the community from the mid-nineteenth-century to modern times. Of the eighty-five resources in the district, sixty-seven are contributing. The non-contributing elements are mainly outbuildings and do not detract from the historical character of the district.