Portions of the content on this web were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document.
Warrenton is a small, intensely Southern courthouse town whose townscape and way of life retain much of the character of the place in antebellum years. Established init was the center of wealthy plantation culture based on tobacco and cotton.
Noted for its fine schools, influential and cosmopolitan citizenry, and active social and sporting life — including racing and gambling — Warrenton boomed during the twenty years before the Civil War. This boom era produced, through the work of builders and craftsmen from Prince Edward County, Virginiaincluding Jacob Holt and others, a remarkable body of Greek Revival and Greco-Italianate architecture of a high quality, robust individualism, and stylistic coherence seldom rivaled in the South. The modest scale and gracious tree-shaded character of the townscape are given panache by a unified collection of highly cubical mid-nineteenth century buildings whose rich variety of classical and vernacular detail ranges from chaste Doric porches and columned entrances to the lively bracket cornices and arched ornament of the Italianate.
Post-war recovery and an early twentieth century resurgence based largely on tobacco sales brought some changes to the townscape, but a lack of rapid economic loss or growth, the permanence and long memories of old families, excellent local memoirs, and an innate conservatism have enabled Warrenton to retain much of its important architectural fabric and distinctively Southern charm. During the eighteenth century, the land south of the Virginia border in the eastern Piedmont was settled largely by people who came from or through Virginia to claim the land which was well suited for tobacco growing.
These settlers included a who established plantations, became relatively large slaveholders, and developed a plantation society of considerable wealth. On February 12,the Assembly at Halifax passed an "Act to lay off and establish a Casual Dating Warrenton NorthCarolina 27589 in Warren County, on the land already purchased by Commissioners, at the place fixed for setting the Court-House of said County, and for other purposes therein mentioned.
The town was to be called Warrenton. As required by the legislation, a plan of the town was drawn — by surveyor William Christmas who later drew a more sophisticated plan for the capital city of Raleigh. One hundred lots were to be marked and sold; and the usual requirement was made that the purchaser build a house not less than 16 by 20 feet.
Also a lot of ground was to be "set apart," upon which the commissioners were to "contract with workmen to build a court house, prison and stocks. The county seat served Casual Dating Warrenton NorthCarolina 27589 market and court town for the wealthy plantation county which was as shown by the census the only county in the state with more slaves than free citizensand did, as predicted, benefit "traders and artificers" — for whom the town would be well known.
InElkanah Watson visited the town in his extensive travels and described it: "Warrenton was just emerging from the forest; but, possessed a refined neighborhood, a salubrious air, temperate climate, and pure, delightful water. Just extricated from the baneful malaria of the low country, I seemed to receive here a new tenure of life. At Warrenton, I met in the midst of a crowd, at a tavern, Colonel H. After our exchanging the usual civilities, and my promising to visit him at his plantation, we parted. I proceeded to the new court-house, standing amid trees and stumps, to witness a North Carolina election, then in full progress.
In addition to the tavern and new courthouse described by Watson, there were soon stores, dwellings, and an academy in the young town. The academy had been authorized in by the Assembly, and opened in ; its building fund was raised by a lottery. Among its students over the years were a of boys who were to become important in the state — among them future chief justice of the North Carolina Supreme Court Thomas Ruffin, political leader Weldon Edwards, Robert Broadnax, and Cadwalader Jones.
Storekeepers in the early years of the town included Peter Davis and Joseph Volkes; of the oldest store buildings in town, only that identified as Peter Davis's still stands Front Streetto the rear of the courthouse square, and its construction date is uncertain. Immigrants from Scotland in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century included several who established businesses.
Probably the best known were Peter Mitchel and Thomas Whyte Whitewho founded a major mercantile business. Also settling in Warrenton from Richmond in was Jacob Mordecai, a tobacco broker. Inwhen organized national postal service began, Warrenton was at the crossro of two mail lines — north-south from Petersburg, Virginia, and east-west from Halifax to Salisbury.
Many of the leaders of late eighteenth century and early nineteenth century Warren County lived not in town but on plantations. Pre-eminent among those important to the state and nation was Nathaniel Macon, described by Thomas Jefferson as the "last of the Romans. Also important were Benjamin Hawkins, United States senator and superintendent of Indian affairs; James Turner, governor and United States senator; William Ransom Johnson, called the "Napoleon of the Turf," whose plantation south of town was home for a time of the famous racehorse and sire, Sir Archie, and site of the town racetrack.
Racing — along with cockfighting and other gambling sports — was popular among the planter society of the region and in the town of Warrenton. The first decades of the nineteenth century saw Warrenton increase somewhat in size and considerably in influence and importance.
Bryan, "The society, tho' not as learned or brilliant as that which New Bern affords is compleately unexceptionable. As a courthouse town, Warrenton naturally attracted lawyers, and many of them were of some ificance in state political circles. Kemp Plummer was a noted attorney and state senator of influence. Blake Baker, who "commenced the practice of law shortly after the town was established," but lived at his plantation "Fontena" where he taught law, was attorney general of the state from to and judge of the Superior Court in and John Hall, a Virginian who settled in Warrenton inwas appointed a judge of the Superior Court and was appointed in to the first North Carolina Supreme Court; he served until His son, Edward, entered law practice in and was a judge of Superior Court for many years.
The elder Hall is said to have built the house at the end of Franklin Street about ; it is described as the only house still owned by descendants of the family who built it. Robert H. Jones, another Virginian, came to Warrenton early in the nineteenth century, and served in as state attorney-general, It was for Jones, a noted and sometimes irascible attorney, that Thomas Bragg is said to have built a house at Bragg Street. Yet another Virginian who became a prominent attorney and served as state attorney general was Oliver Fitts. In he was appointed Federal judge in the territory of Mississippi.
William Miller, who lived in the county not far from Warrenton, but owned a town lot and may have had a law office in town, succeeded Fitts as attorney general, was governor from toand was appointed charge d'affairs to Guatamala. George E. Montgomery in her excellent memoir], moved two lots to its present site.
After leaving Warrenton, Badger became judge of Superior Courtsecretary of the Navyand United States senator Other professional men in the early years of Warrenton included a of physicians. Gloucester or Gloster, a Virginian, is said to have built the first section of the large house on Ridgeway Street, and Dr. Stephen Davis of Warren County is said to have built the core of the remodelled house on Plummer Street. The town in this period was gaining a reputation for its good schools. The Warrenton Male Academy was still operating; in William Falkener and his wife established an early and important school for girls; and Jacob Mordecai, whose tobacco brokerage had failed, served for a time as steward of the Academy, then opened in another school for girls.
The Mordecai School was to be among the best in the state, and it was run for several years almost exclusively by members of the Mordecai family. This large family was to spread across the state and produce leaders in many fields; a daughter, Ellen, wrote "The History of Hastings," a vivid of life in early Warrenton. In Mordecai's buildings burned and Oliver Fitts offered his house Plummer Street to the Mordecais as a school building; the school operated successfully there under Mordecai until he removed to Virginia in The schools in Warrenton employed a series of young men and women, many from Northern states, as teachers; these were among the few non-Southerners living in the town, evidently.
Miss Cheney was not particularly popular because of her outspoken abolitionist views, In July,her fiance, Horace Greely, came to Warrenton, and their wedding was held at Emmanuel Church North Main Street on July 5th. Also in Warrenton for a brief time as writing master of a Warrenton school was Amos Bronson Alcott, later editor, author, abolitionist, and founder of Utopian colonies — as well as the father of Louisa May Alcott.
Churches as well as schools were established in the early nineteenth century, and they too attracted from out of state persons of education and stature. According to Mrs. Montgomery, the Methodist church was organized first but no building erected until Emmanuel Episcopal Church was established in and a building soon constructed and consecrated inPresbyterians were organized by but Baptists not until the s.
The first minister of the Presbyterian Church N. Main Street was William Swann Plumer, "who afterwards became a minister and author of national reputation," with a long series of positions as minister and professor, including service from to at the "Theological Seminary of Columbia. During the early nineteenth century, Warrenton was apparently developing as a small town of some style and sophistication. It was already the center of a substantial plantation economy. One of the tobacco-growing tier of North Carolina counties along the Virginia line, Warren produced increasingly large amounts of tobacco; for a time, hogshe holding more than 1, pounds of the cured leaf were spiked with an axle and rolled by oxen or horse power to Petersburg and other Virginia markets.
Cotton, too, was produced, in increasing amounts. During this era — to judge from the plantation architecture — the planters were becoming wealthier, more sophisticated, and spending rather freely to express their taste and wealth.
Grand houses like Montmorenci, Elgin, Prospect Hill, and others were built. The mineral spring resort south of Warrenton, Shocco Springs, attracted the wealthy and socially oriented as well as the fevered from across the state and beyond.
Warrenton, center for trade, politics, and society, began to take on something of the character of its clientele. Among the entries are: Robert R. Johnson — best gilt buttons, imported tea; John H. Williams — 1 dozen Seegars; Henry G. Williams senr. Williams for estate William Eaton Decd — crimson velvet, 1 feather fan; Thomas Bragg — 1 thumb Latch, 1 doz screws, cheese, silk, homespun; Dr.
Also reflecting an interest in fashion was the October 22,Warrenton Reporter advertisement of Stirrer and Radcliff, tailors. They reported that "By a regular correspondence with a gentleman in New York, long in the profession, they will regularly receive the earliest fashions from that city, which will be exhibited by calling on them," Customers were assured that garments "will be made in a style, and with an expedition, little, if any, inferior to New York or Philadelphia.
From New York and Philadelphia, and from the nearer city of Petersburg, Virginia, came books, which were generally available at the newspaper office — the Warrenton Reporter. Also on sale at the newspaper office was Laws of the Pitdescribed as rules and regulations for the government of a show for a main of cocks, and of the pit — just published and for sale. Warrenton was known as a gaming and racing town. Cockfights were frequent and highly wagered on. Even more important was racing.