Then on Thursday, we headed out to brunch at IHOP to start off our day. We usually try to eat one meal out as a treat while we’re on vacation, and this was it. I had packed plenty of food to last us the week for every meal of the day, so I hardly even needed to go to the grocery store while we were there, and that was great. We bought a big camping cooler a few years ago, and ever since then, I’ve packed our food to take with us.
After brunch, we went straight from there to another new-to-us attraction out in nearby Middletown called Belle Grove Plantation. That was pretty neat. It was rather expensive for what it was, but we enjoyed the tour. Unfortunately, they wouldn’t let us take any photographs inside, but I did sneak one of a really cool Windsor-style writing chair/desk that I thought was awesome because it had such a tall back and such a large writing surface. I’d like one of those myself!
Sorry it’s not a better picture, but I had to sneak it with my cell phone, so I didn’t really have the opportunity to set up the perfect shot, LOL. The tour guide was really good, and he answered any questions the kids had. There was a slave kitchen underneath the house, and we enjoyed learning about all of the nifty gadgets that were used in the kitchen. There was also a slave cemetery on the grounds, and it made me sad to see that there were only rocks to mark locations of the graves. There were no headstones of any kind.
As if that weren’t enough for one day, Hayden, Haylee, and I decided to go for a drive to follow the signs for the Civil War Trails. It didn’t really lead to anything but some back country roads in the foothills of the mountains, but it was fun to see little roads with names like Poor House Road, which had Poor House Farm on it! Then we went into town and decided to do the Walking Tour of Front Royal. I’m so glad we made time for this, because I’d had it in my mind all week that I wanted to do it. We had picked up a brochure in the visitor’s center. We used the brochure as a guide and read about each building as we went through. Here are some of the highlights of the 33 buildings we visited.
Board House – Luther and Lucy Board left their Warren County farm, Aspen Hill, and moved to Front Royal when the first of their four children was ready to attend high school. They purchased the lot from the Jackson family and built this two-story frame house in 1900. A successful farmer and stock dealer, Mr. Board continued to farm his Aspen Hill property.
Williams Chapel – Completed in 1845 by the Presbyterian congregation, Williams Chapel is the only surviving antebellum church in Front Royal. During the first year of the Civil War, it served as the seat of county government, replacing the Main Street courthouse that was turned into a hospital. When the congregation built a new church on Royal Avenue, the building was sold to the School District and used for public meetings. In the summer of 1888, Confederate spy Belle Boyd gave one of her famous dramatic recitals here, detailing her Civil War exploits “on land and sea during those four years of blood and devastation.” In 1899, the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church bought the building and named it “Williams Chapel” after its Minister. This congregation worships in the building to this day.
Balthis House – Built circa 1787 and named for the William Balthis Family, which lived here from 1838 to 1908, it is the oldest surviving house in Front Royal. In the 1840’s, Balthis added the southern extension to the front and the brick wing to the rear. A blacksmith, Balthis had his shop where the Warren Rifles Confederate Museum stands today. During the Civil War, the Balthis family helped hide Green Berry Samuels in the attic for almost a week, to keep him from capture by a union raiding party. The tale is told by Dr. Bernard Samuels in the published memoir of his parents: A Civil War Marriage. A subsequent owner, Dr. Samuels restored the Balthis House to its antebellum glory. In 2000, the Warren Heritage Society purchased the Balthis House, together with its spacious gardens and several dependencies in the rear. It will become a museum and social center.
Cozy Corner – Forced to sell their ancestral home, Bel Air, the Buck family built this Victorian Home after the turn of the century. The most famous family member, Lucy Rebecca Buck, was one of the South’s premier diarists. Her published journal, Sad Earth, Sweet Heaven, vividly recalls life in Front Royal during the Civil War. The house sits on the site of an earlier Trout family wagon factory.
Gideon Jones House – This magnificent Italianate home was built by Gideon Jones in 1870. Orphaned at an early age, Jones rose from apprentice to militia captain, post master, ferry company chairman, wealthy owner of a general store, and mainstay of the Methodist Church (he was Sunday School Superintendent for fifty years!). Front Royal old-timers remember this building as a funeral home run by Amos Scott.
Petty-Sumption House – This log structure is believed to have been built by George Cheek in 1788. Henry Petty purchased it in 1873 for his aging parents, the Reverend and Mrs. James Spillman Petty. The Reverend Petty reportedly “looked like a saint and was a saint!” In 1923, when the lot was sold to the school board, Charles Sumption bought the house and moved it across the street to its present location, the site of a brick blacksmith shop. The Sumptions were known blacksmiths and owned the land running from the log house to Second Street. Dick Richardson restored this log house in 1976. (And we noticed it was for rent!)
Dunover Apartments – Built circa 1845, this home was known as a “hospitable center of social and religious life” during the ownership of the Glasscock family, 1858-1878. At the turn of the century it was later known as “Bachelor Hall” because of the many single men who roomed here. The tenants declared the house haunted by the ghost of Mrs. Glasscock, who could be heard at night rattling dishes and rummaging around in search of her false teeth. Dr. and Mrs. Philip E. Wine purchased the property in 1966 and carried out a painstaking restoration.
Wharton-Gatewood House – This house was moved to this spot in 1910 by Whelton Beaty in order to make room for the new Methodist Church on the croner of Main Street and Royal Avenue. It was once owned by Wright Gatewood, a State legislator and Warren County pioneer. It later became the birthday of Ira Beaty, an educator and school administrator. His famous children, Warren Beaty and Shirley Maclaine, often spent their summers in this neighborhood.
Weaver House – This imposing mansion was built for Virginia’s state Senator Aubrey Weaver, the attorney who secured the first divorce for Wallis Simpson, the Baltimore woman for whom Edward VII gave up the throne of England in 1938. Shirley Maclaine and Warren Beaty played in this house as children while visiting relatives in Front Royal. The massive round columns are made of brick overlaid with mortar. It serves as the legal offices of Napier, Pond, Athey & Athey.
Front Royal Town Hall – Built circa 1935 by the Civilian Conservation Corps, the cupola, pediment, and stone facing probably inspired the design used for the courthouse. The Front Royal Volunteer Fire Department once occupied the right side of this building where the Town Council Chambers are now located. Look closely and you can see where the fire trucks once exited the building.
Watch for tomorrow’s installment in our vacation series: Monticello and the Trip Home.