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Patrick Farris: Warren County gained land from unsuspecting Clarke County

Patrick Farris (Buy photo)

By Patrick Farris

As Clarke County was being created from the eastern portion of Frederick County, the remaining county map began to look decentralized and awkward. This fact would inadvertently aid the cause of residents in and around Front Royal who wanted their own county.

North of an isthmus of land on the changing state map was the newly proposed county (Clarke) being created from eastern Frederick County. South of the isthmus, on the south side of Front Royal's town limits, was the Shenandoah County line.

Graphically clear on a map to state representatives in Richmond, this weird configuration was also evident to residents of the Front Royal area, who immediately began anew their petition drive for an independent county of their own.

Virginia state law required then, as it does now, that for the creation of a new county the "mother" county or counties must agree to the loss of territory to the new polity. In this case the Commonwealth was able to convince Frederick County rather quickly.

Shenandoah County's approval was harder won, but Woodstock soon signed off on the loss of some of the county lands situated in the Page Valley between Front Royal in the north and the newly created Page County (1831) to the south. Indeed, it was the carving out of Page County only five years before which likely contributed the most to the Shenandoah County authorities' willingness to the lose the remainder of their territory east of the Massanutten Mountain.

The fever of independence began to spread along the forks of the Shenandoah as the resident population began to realize that their area soon would be recognized as one of Virginia's newest counties.

But one final stumbling block remained. The area from the Page County line in the south through to Cedarville in the north was bounded tightly by the Blue Ridge and the Massanutten Mountain, with the best arable lands in between located in the flood plain of the south fork of the Shenandoah River. With so much land mass locked up in steep slopes of rocky mountain acreage, the state wondered if this new county would be able to be self-sufficient.

Virginia counties in the 19th century based their ability to financially support themselves largely on an agricultural base to guarantee a good return to the county from tax revenue. Insufficient agricultural lands would mean an inability to maintain roads and other public infrastructural improvements, which in the 1830s were the responsibility of counties.

As a result, the authorities in Richmond decided to add a goodly portion of productive agricultural land to the new county to be based around the forks of the Shenandoah, and accomplished this by simply moving what was to be the southern boundary of the new county forming from eastern Frederick County substantially to the north.

In other words, Warren gained a significant portion of its territory from an unsuspecting Clarke County. Whether the residents of Clarke were aware of this adjustment at the time of incorporation is unclear.

On March 9th 1836 -- one day after Clarke County had been created -- the county of Warren was brought into existence by the Senate of the Commonwealth of Virginia.

Virginia decided to christen the two new counties on the eastern flank of the Shenandoah Valley after heroes of the American Revolution: Gen. Joseph Warren, fallen martyr of the 1775 Battle of Bunker Hill, and Gen. George Rogers Clark, older brother of William Clark of the Lewis and Clark expedition, Revolutionary War leader on the old northwestern frontier and victor of the 1779 Battle of Vincennes.

George Rogers Clark occasionally spelled his surname "Clark" and occasionally "Clarke," the result being a state of perpetual uncertainty in Clarke County as to how to spell the county's name. The most striking examples of this can be found at major roads entering the county, where state historic markers proclaim the history of "Clark County" without an "e" while green VDOT signs announce to the traveler that they are entering "Clarke County."

Born from a combination of its own persistent will and the creation of Clarke and Page Counties to its north and south, Warren County entered the commonwealth with representation in the Virginia House of Delegates rather easily, as it had been placed in a single representational district with Clarke County which -- since its territory had been decreased in order to assist in the creation of Warren County -- now had a smaller population.

The result was that candidates from Warren County won election more often and more easily than did candidates from Clarke - at least until redistricting took effect.

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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