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Posted February 16, 2013 | comments Leave a comment

Patrick Farris: In 1815, Front Royal was village of 35 homes

Patrick Farris

By Patrick Farris

At the conclusion of the War of 1812 - during which there was a lack of imported goods and a resulting growth of local industry to produce what was unavailable from Europe - Captain Thomas Monroe's company was disbanded in Front Royal.

An anonymous author who wrote about Front Royal during this period made note from memory of an amusing celebration during this event and at the news of the war's end in 1815. A man by the name of Mahion Colon seized "a lad 12 or 14 years of age, who was a good musician, pitched him on his shoulders with his feet in front, handed him his fife, and marched out at the head of his company with the gravity of a veteran amidst the cheers of the crowd...(the boy) playing the popular march, 'Over the Hills and Far Away.'"

The town at this time consisted mainly of Main Street and Chester Street, and was bounded by Happy Creek to the east. The flat land south of the town was known as the Brent Lots, and was covered with a dense growth of small trees and undergrowth. West of town was wooded land with heavy timber, and to the north were level meadows, interspersed with clumps of maple, elm and hawthorn, and another common area used like the Town Square as a secondary village green.

There were about 35 houses making up the little village, and the population was a little over 200 people. There was soon to be even more moderate growth following the War of 1812, and by 1817 there was a woolen cloth factory, four flour mills, a comb factory, and a large distillery. These small industries gave employment to the growing community of Irish settlers who lived along Happy Creek, forming a sort of suburb east of the town by the name of New Dublin. Wagon manufacturing in Front Royal gained prominence during this period, gaining such a high reputation that for more than 30 years the three shops of Trout, Cline and Fant, and J.B. Petty, found it difficult to meet demand. The land speculation crash in the 1820s affected everyone, including the residents of Front Royal, who would see a sudden drop in the price of and demand for all manner of agricultural products and manufactured goods.

The Cloud house near the center of town was finished in 1814, then being the only brick building within the town limits; the Berkeley house of 1812 and the Bel Air House of 1795 - both built of brick - lay just outside the village. Built by the Buck family, Bel Air has been the home of Larry LeHew and his family since the 1970s, that family tracing its lineage in Front Royal back to the town's founding as LeHewtown in 1754. Most houses were built of large hewn logs covered in weatherboards and painted, with the exception of one small stone house and three frame houses.

The condition of the roads made the use of small horse-drawn vehicles difficult if not impossible in springtime, and according to some accounts there were no substantial coaches in the area until after 1820. All travel for long or short distance was by horse, and as a consequence most residents were excellent equestrians - men, women and children alike.

Tradition holds that in 1815 two Front Royal ladies rode 600 miles to visit relatives in Kentucky, and then rode back, informing friends and relatives that they looked upon the trip as a nice, jolly adventure.

In addition to a Methodist minister, a teacher, and two physicians, one lawyer also resided in Front Royal in 1815 - although the latter only remained for a short time. The mail was carried by horseback and the sound of the postman's horse caused much excitement when he came through twice weekly on his way from Winchester to Culpeper, bringing the Winchester and Woodstock papers from the north and the Richmond Enquirer and National Intelligencer from the south.

High rates of postage made letter writing expensive; each letter being taxed according to the distance. The recipient of the letter paid the postage as well!

From 1815 to 1820, only a few newspapers were generally available weekly, and beginning in 1818 a Philadelphia magazine made its appearance and was looked upon locally as a literary treasure.

Books were not abundant, but in most private libraries there would be found a bible and Shakespeare. At the local schools, geography, grammar, arithmetic and the dictionary were the basic subjects taught.

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.

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