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The Virginia Piedmont …something special in the foothills  Civil War soldiers
History and Heritage

In the Piedmont, you can follow the footsteps of the many giants who went before. History is everywhere with several museums and many historic buildings, battlefields, and interpretive markers throughout the region. More than 215 million years ago, dinosaurs roamed this land and left behind the largest discovery of tracks ever found in North America. A set of those tracks and exhibit about the discovery is on display at the Museum of Culpeper History. Move forward through time as you move through the galleries of the region’s many museums and learn of the Manahoac Indians and early European settlers who called this area home. Visit the towns, battlefields and historic homes where our nation was forged. From Revolutionary War, through the Civil War, to the present day, the Virginia Piedmont lies at the crossroads of history.

Historic Places

Hill House in CulpeperHistory surrounds you in Culpeper with its historic homes, churches, and even entire neighborhoods. Culpeper County, chartered in 1749, was named for Lord Thomas Culpeper, Colonial Governor of Virginia. That year, at the age of 17, George Washington was commissioned to survey and plot the Town and the County of Culpeper. The Town of Culpeper was chartered in 1759 by an Act of the General Assembly as the Town of Fairfax and it was recorded that the Town occupied a "high and pleasant situation." Culpeper’s historic downtown is a thriving Virginia Main Street community. Interpretive panels commemorate Culpeper’s rich African-American history at buildings like Antioch Church, the oldest African-American congregation in the Town, and an area known as Fishtown thrived with black-owned businesses and commerce. Visit the boyhood home of native son, General A. P. Hill, or trace your family history at nineteenth century Fairview Cemetery or the Masonic Cemetery, which dates back to Revolutionary War times.

The Town of Madison, the County seat, is also an historic district. Its Main Street is lined with interesting 18th and 19th century buildings. The Madison Arcade, which dates from 1790, houses a museum with fascinating exhibits about the County’s history including an excellent Native American exhibit. Madison Drug Company is one of the oldest pharmacies in the country and you can still get a cup of coffee, albeit small, for 10 cents! At the northern end of town stands the Kemper Residence (1852), the post-war home of the Confederate Major General James Lawson Kemper, wounded at Gettysburg and later elected Virginia governor. The Madison County Courthouse, still in use today, has been designated a Virginia Historic Landmark. The Courthouse was built by architects trained by Thomas Jefferson. The Federal brickwork has been declared some of the finest in America. The Piedmont Episcopal Church, completed in 1834, was used as a hospital during the Civil War. Its sanctuary was refurbished with walnut paneling donated by Mrs. Herbert Hoover. Genealogists find rich material at the Madison County Courthouse, the Historical Society, the County Library and Hebron Lutheran Church. This church, located a short car ride from town, was built in 1733 by German settlers and is the oldest Lutheran Church in continuous use in the U.S.

Montpelier in the FallIn Orange, located a few miles west of the Town of Orange is Montpelier, the estate of President James Madison, often referred to as the “Father of the Constitution.” Tour the presidential home, which is being restored to the way it looked in 1817, and enjoy the 2,700 acres of fields, woods and gardens that surround the home. Montpelier hosts special events throughout the year.

In Rappahannock in July 1749, a 17-year old George Washington noted in his journal, "in the Blue Ridge Mountains …I laid off a town." The young surveyor, assisted by two chainmen, laid out the Town of Washington in the same five-block by two-block grid that exists today. The town was officially established by the Virginia Assembly in 1796. Though there are now 28 Washingtons in the United States, this is "The First Washington of All." Today Washington serves as the county seat, is home to the famous Inn at Little Washington, as well as country inns, shops, and galleries. Other historic small towns include Woodville (1803), Amissville (1810), Sperryville (1820), and Flint Hill (1820s), each with its own charm and heritage. At the northern edge of the county, is Chester Gap.

The Blue Ridge has always been an integral part of Rappahannock County.  In the 1800’s, many families took advantage of its forests, minerals, and fine highland grazing pastures to carve out distinctive lifestyles that now form an extremely rich portion of the county’s heritage.   A combination of factors including depletion of natural resources, shifting economic trends, and the establishment of the Shenandoah National Park in the 1930’s brought an end to this traditional mountain life. Many of these folks were moved involuntarily to resettlement areas along the base of the Blue Ridge, but memories of the colorful past are treasured by their descendents. Larger farms and orchards have gradually been replaced by smaller operations including specialty livestock, organic produce, and vineyard/wineries, helping to preserve the county's rural heritage.

Notable People

Re-enactorsIn Culpeper, George Washington really did sleep here and in fact surveyed much of the region at the age of seventeen. The bravery and leadership of Culpeper native son Colonel John Jameson led to the exposure of Benedict Arnold as a traitor. Daniel Boone, Clara Barton, and Walt Whitman spent time here, and George Armstrong Custer honeymooned in Culpeper. Confederate General A. P. Hill and Baseball Hall of Famer Eppa Rixey were born in Culpeper.

In Fauquier County, remembrance of the Revolutionary War and the Civil War as well as examples of World War II Barnstorming planes and Indian artifacts demonstrate the diversity of history found here.  Prominent landowners were John Marshall, Nancy Hanks Lincoln, and John Singleton Mosby. Notable visitors to Fauquier have included General Lafayette, James Monroe, Andrew Jackson and Henry Clay. Union General George McClellan bade farewell to his troops in Warrenton in 1862. President Theodore Roosevelt spoke from the balcony of what is known today as the Warren Green Building in Warrenton, and Wallis Warfield, future Duchess of Windsor lived in the building, when it was a thriving hotel, while waiting for her first divorce.

In Madison County, President Herbert Hoover had a fishing camp known as his “summer White House” on the Rapidan River that is now part of Shenandoah National Park. Mrs. Hoover donated walnut paneling to refurbish the sanctuary of the Piedmont Episcopal Church in the town. Confederate Major General James Lawson Kemper, wounded at Gettysburg and later elected Virginia governor lived there.

In Orange County, the Barboursville Ruins was one of the largest and finest residences in the region. It is the only building known to have been designed by Thomas Jefferson. It was constructed between 1814-1822 for Jefferson’s friend, James Barbour, Governor of Virginia, U.S. Senator, Secretary of War and Ambassador to the Court of St. James. The ruins are now a centerpiece of the Barboursville winery, one of Virginia’s outstanding wineries.

The Civil War

Exchange Hotel at GordonsvilleDuring the War Between the States, Culpeper was one of the most hotly contested areas in the world. Its strategic location made it a highly prized position for both the Union and Confederate armies. During the war, Ulysses S. Grant, Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson, and J. E. B. Stuart spent time here. Battles were fought at Cedar Mountain, Kelly’s Ford, and within the town at Culpeper Court House. And on June 9, 1863, the largest cavalry battle ever fought in North America was fought at Brandy Station. Of the more than 20,000 soldiers involved, about 17,000 were on horseback. Brandy Station was also the first battle of the Gettysburg campaign.

There are many opportunities to learn about the Civil War in Culpeper. The Graffiti House, circa 1858, serves as the visitors center for the Brandy Station battlefield. Used by both the Union and Confederate armies as a hospital, recuperating soldiers wrote their names, units, messages, and drawings of women, horses, and more with charcoal from the fireplace. Civil War guided tours of historic Downtown are offered by historian Virginia Morton, author of the Civil War novel Marching Through Culpeper. Ms. Morton also offers tours of Kelly’s Ford, Cedar Mountain, and Brandy Station battlefields. Tours must be scheduled in advance.

The footprints of Confederate and Union soldiers can also be found throughout Fauquier County. After the second Battle of Manassas, which took place just 6 miles from Fauquier County, over 1,800 wounded soldiers were brought to makeshift hospitals in Warrenton's businesses, churches and homes. Many battles and skirmishes were fought throughout Fauquier County, and the Town of Warrenton was frequently occupied by federal troops. Confederate Colonel John S. Mosby made his home in the Town of Warrenton and was buried in the Warrenton Cemetery along with more than 600 Confederate, Union, and African-American Civil War soldiers. Colonel Mosby’s former home is being restored and will open as the John S. Mosby Museum, late fall of 2008, and an education center is planned in the Warrenton-Fauquier County Visitor Center, located beside the house.

At the northern end of the Town of Madison stands the Kemper Residence (1852), the post-war home of the Confederate Major General James Lawson Kemper, wounded at Gettysburg and later elected Virginia governor. The Piedmont Episcopal Church, completed in 1834, was used as a hospital during the Civil War. Madison boasts two Civil War Trail sites: Jack’s Shop in Rochelle and James City in Leon.

To learn more about the Civil War in the Piedmont region, visit the Civil War Trails website.

Orange County is rich is Civil War history. The Exchange Hotel was an elegant hotel that was converted to a Receiving Hospital that treated over 70,000 soldiers. The Wilderness Civil War Battlefield and Ellwood Manor are also important Civil War sites in the county.

History and Horses

Fauquier County’s claim to be the “Heart of Horse and Wine Country” is supported by the many outstanding equestrian shows and events hosted in Fauquier County and Warrenton; like the Upperville Colt and Horse Show, held every June for over 155 years, is considered to be the oldest horse show in the United States. Also, the Warrenton Horse Show, which is over 108 years old, is held Labor Day weekend each year and is the oldest continuously operating corporation in the Commonwealth. Great Meadow hosts the two largest horse events, The Virginia Gold Cup in May, which rivals the Kentucky Derby, and The International Gold Cup in October. Four point to point steeple races are held in Fauquier County and several other fine horse events occur throughout the year. Please go to www.vasteeplechase.com for more information on steeplechase racing in the Piedmont region.


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History and Heritage

Historic Places

Notable People

The Civil War

History and Horses


Culpeper driving and walking tour brochures are available, along with the Official Visitors Guide that includes all of the off-the-beaten-path places that you won’t want to miss. Order online or stop at the Visitors Center in the century-old Depot. The Museum of Culpeper History, the Society for the Preservation of Culpeper History, the Culpeper County Library, and the Culpeper County Courthouse are also excellent sources of information.

Visitors to Rappahannock may learn more about the county’s history at the Rappahannock County Historical Society, 328 Gay Street, in the Town of Washington, 540-673-1163. Hours are Monday, Tuesday and Thursday, 11 a.m. – 5 p.m. The Scrabble School Preservation Foundation is dedicated to preserving the African-American history of education in post-Civil War Virginia and the South. For more information about Rappahannock county's history, contact kplander@aol.com.

For information about the history of Fauquier County, click here.

For information about the history of Madison County, click here.


 The Virginia Piedmont …something special in the foothills