By Patrick Farris
One of the less wel known ethnic groups to settle the Front Royal area was the Dutch, in the form of the Van Meter and Van Nort families, who intermarried with the Henrys and LeHews of the settlement in its infancy.
From Laura Virginia Hale's formative work, "On Chester Street," we have an excellent description of their arrival to the area. The Van Meter and Henry families owned much of the west and south ends of Chester Street, beginning with the Van Meters who owned land grants in the Shenandoah Valley in the early 1700s. The Van Meter family came to Virginia from New York, originally a Dutch colony until 1664, and prior to that had lived from 1550 until the late 1600s in England. Emmanuel Van Meteren had been Dutch Consul at the Court of St. James in England, published a Dutch history, and become acquainted with the Americas through geographer cousin Abraham Ortelius. Emmanuel's father Jacob, a Protestant, was from Antwerp, and printed the first English language bible, known as the Cloverdale Bible.
Solomon Van Meter in 1781 married cousin Elizabeth Millar, daughter of William and Catherine duBois Millar. Their families formed the Opekon Presbyterian congregation - the first of its denomination west of the Blue Ridge and located in modern Kernstown in Frederick County. They settled in Front Royal and, by 1786, Van Meter was operating a blacksmith shop and tannery on Happy Creek - bricks from the old tannery chimney were used in renovating the Dunover Apartments.
Solomon acquired much land between Chester Street and the site of AVTEX on the South Fork of the Shenandoah River, most of this from Francis and John LeHew and Frances LeHew - widow of LeHewtown founder Peter LeHew. In 1783, Solomon paid them ₤5 for 1 ¾ acre lying on "Great Happy Creek" and adjoining "the Great Road" as Chester Street was then known, the lands of George Cheek and Ashby.
In 1785, he bought from Francis LeHew for ₤2 an additional acre adjoining the initial purchase, and then paid David and widow Frances LeHew ₤30 for 5 ¼ acres also adjoining his land in this area. This last 1785 purchase makes mention of the land being in "a place called front Royal," providing an early reference to the name the town would be chartered under three years later. This also indicates that the name LeHewtown had already begun to fall into disuse or at least become differentiated from the south end of Chester Street by 1785.
In 1793, Solomon bought an acre for ₤30 from George Cheek on the east side of Chester Street and in 1795 another ½ acre for ₤12 that Cheek had originally purchased from James Millar. This area would become the place the Sumption family would build homes and businesses.
Solomon and Elizabeth had four children - Rebecca, who married a Henry, William, Henry and Catherine, who married William Lane and in 1836 operated, as a widow, Lane's Tavern on East Main [Market] Street where the first county government for Warren met. By 1850, however, the Van Meter name had disappeared from the census in Front Royal. Solomon's will, probated in 1830, left all his property to son Henry, but was contested by the children who ultimately settled "out of court," dividing the property more or less equitably.
Henry Van Meter retained the lot on the east side of Chester Street that he would eventually subdivide and sell to the Sumptions. The Henrys (children of Solomon's deceased daughter Rebecca) received 50 acres between Chester Street and the modern site of AVTEX. In 1853, this lot was surveyed for subdivision amongst the Henry descendants, the survey being completed by Mahlon Lovett, an engineer hired to lay out what was to become the Front Royal and Luray Turnpike. The remnant today of this road is Luray Avenue, which proceeds north from the South Fork of the Shenandoah River to the intersection of Main Street, at which point it becomes Union Street and joins Chester Street at the intersection of 2nd Street.
The old Henry lot, which abutted the lots of William Canavin (Rachel Myers), B.H. Henry, Blakemore and several town lots, was broken into three lots. One lot went to William Henry (sold after his death to Armstead Morehead) and two to Bryan Henry, with a 15-foot wide right-of-way to remain perpetually between the lots for ease of access.
Interested in local history? Come visit the Warren Heritage Society in Front Royal. Refer to warrenheritagesociety.org for contact information, hours and location. Patrick Farris is executive director of the Warren Heritage Society.