South Warrenton: a spectacular failure

The Blue Ridge Inn was to be the centerpiece of the resort community planned for South Warrenton.

 An ambitious plan would have changed the town forever

By John T. Toler

In the February 2016 issue of Warrenton Lifestyle, it was stated that the Bartenstein Subdivision was “the first planned community in Warrenton.” More accurately, it was the “first planned community built in Warrenton.” There was to be another planned community – on a much grander scale – 40 years earlier.

In late 1890, a group of investors from around Virginia, along with several Warrenton businessmen and attorneys put together a plan to create a new resort community fronting on the east side of present-day Culpeper Street Extended, just outside of the existing town limits.

The corporation behind the project was called the East Virginia Mineral and Warrenton Improvement Company. Their original goal was to create a new resort community, which they called South Warrenton.

But it soon became much more – at least on paper. Nearly all of the information about the development is found in a surviving 1891 South Warrenton promotional brochure, and the legal documents filed in the county record room.

The property, including the mansion and stables at Monte Rosa and 220 acres of fields and woods, was once the home of the late Gov. William “Extra Billy” Smith (1797-1887). It was purchased from his daughter, Mary Amelia Smith, for $20,000.

Leeton Hill was built in 1902 by Ido Jan Reiner Muurling near the site of the never-built Blue Ridge Inn. It was acquired by Edward E. and Evelyn G. Jenkins in 1928, and has remained in the family ever since.

Major players involved in the project included the Hon. John W. Daniel, of Lynchburg, who was the first president, and vice presidents Joseph A. Jeffries (1840-1919), a Warrenton merchant and pharmacist; H. Theodore Ellyson, publisher of the Richmond Times; and W. B. Rogers, a Norfolk businessman.

Three other Warrenton men served as officers: the secretary was R. W. Hilleary (1856-1941), a merchant; C. W. Rosenberger, a banker, was the treasurer; and businessman James Landale was appointed general manager.

Other local men on the board were attorneys Eppa Hunton Jr. (1822-1908), the Hon. James Vass Brooke (1824-1898), James P. Jeffries (1853-1908) and Charles Mason White (1856-1911). Banker Grenville Gaines (1854-1922) was also a director, and law partners Jeffries and White were the corporation’s legal representatives.

A DETAILED PLAN

At the time, the area within Warrenton’s corporate limits was relatively small – only about 200 acres – and at build-out, South Warrenton would have been much larger and more populous than the historic municipality next door.

The boundaries of this town-within-a-town ran from the corner of present-day Culpeper Street Extended and Fisher Lane, south to the railroad crossing at Falmouth Street, then to a point in the open fields at Alwington Farm. From there, the property line went northwest to the Springs Road near the intersection with Lees Ridge Road, and then northeast, back to Culpeper Street and Fisher Lane.

It is somewhat difficult to imagine what this large, open area looked like in 1890. Over the years, many new homes and businesses have been built. New main roads – most notably E. Shirley Avenue, built as a “bypass” for old Falmouth Street – have drastically changed the landscape.

Monte Rosa, the home of the late Gov. William “Extra Billy” Smith, as it appeared in the promotional brochure produced for South Warrenton by Pilsworth Engineering Co. of Richmond.

But some landmarks remain. Monte Rosa still marks what would have been the northern edge of South Warrenton, and further down the Springs Road are the open fields and the stately brick mansion at Leeton Hill. In between, one finds Brookshire Manor, a neighborhood of single-family homes dating to the 1980s, not the 1890s

Within South Warrenton, a network of streets was laid out, notably Carlton Avenue, which was located approximately where East Shirley Avenue was built later. Main interior streets included Arlington, Norfolk, Richmond and Roanoke avenues, reflecting the planners “Virginia” theme.

The tract was divided into 51 sections, each having from one to 42 lots, depending on their size and designated use. They ranged from Business Lots, measuring 3,500 square feet and starting at $100 each, to the Residence Lots, which averaged 7,000 square feet and started at $150.

The largest building lots, called Villa Sites, averaged 11,000 square feet and started at $200. Liberal financing terms were offered, as well as discounts for purchasing multiple lots.

Detail of the map drawn up for South Warrenton. Carleton Avenue, which later became E. Shirley Avenue, is at far left; the mansion and stables at Monte Rosa are at bottom left; and the grounds of the Blue Ridge Inn are on the right. Note the designated sections and large number of small lots.

The resort facility was to be the elegant Blue Ridge Inn, described as “a handsome and commodious Hotel on extensive grounds for which space of nine acres has been reserved,” according to the promotional brochure. “The Hotel will occupy a commanding site, overlooking the town and surrounding country.” If it had been built, it would have been in direct competition with Fauquier White Sulphur Springs.

Also in the plans were a “…proposed Male Academy, the perfect complement for the two female academies in Warrenton,” according to the promotional brochure. “We have in South Warrenton an excellent opening for Collegiate Institutions, to which the locality and surrounding area are eminently suited.” The directors set aside 8.74 acres, valued at $1,311, for such an institution.

Natural features planned for South Warrenton included four small, wooded parks at strategic locations. Lee Park, between Roanoke and Edenton avenues, featured the “Rocks of Salamis,” perhaps an obscure reference to the 480 B.C. sea battle off Greece; and Lake Elba on Lochiel Drive featured a small island and fountain.

The undivided section across from Falmouth Street along the Warrenton Branch Line tracks in the northeast corner was “reserved for industries.” The planners believed that the nearby Warrenton Depot and access to the main line at Calverton would appeal to new businesses or factories.

Examples cited as desirable manufactories were “…sash and blind makers, carriage and wagon builders (as well as spoke, hub and wheel factories); knitting, boot and shoe, canning factories and a steam laundry.”

Looking to the future, the developers noted that, “…the progress of the New Town will, in the near future, necessitate the construction of an Electric Light Plant, which is essential in the social economy of a modern town.” On that point they were correct, for by 1901, Warrenton did have its first electrical generating plant, located below the tracks near the Warrenton Depot.

THE SELLING OF SOUTH WARRENTON

The South Warrenton brochure featured drawings of prominent residences in town, and businesses on Main Street, including the Jeffries drugstore and the R.W. Hilleary mercantile.

According to the 1891 promotional brochure, “The capital stock of this Company was taken up almost immediately after issue; and it is now engaged in selling lots, establishing enterprises, and promoting generally the interests of its stockholders.”

Originally, the main clientele targeted for South Warrenton were travelers passing through from the north to the warmer places in the south as winter approached. It was believed that these generally well-to-do people would be interested in purchasing property in Warrenton for a residence, or as an investment.

The description of Warrenton and Fauquier County in the promotional brochure would make anyone already living here proud. Written in Victorian-era prose, the verbiage and subtle references were clearly aimed at a high-brow audience.

Referring to the tract where South Warrenton was to be built, “A vast expanse has been opened up to view, teeming with beauty of landscape, healthfulness of climate, fertility of soil and social cultivation. There can be found no section more favored than that which stretches along the Eastern Slope of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

“Toward the west, the horizon is bounded by their shapely summits, reminding the Traveler of the Jura Alps, as viewed in passing from Basle to Lucerne. But they are more graceful in outline, and softer in color, than their Swiss compeers.”

“From Lees Ridge, the view is surpassingly beautiful. Seen toward sunset, it cannot fail to remind one of Coles’ “Dream of Arcadia,” while the light seems to play hide and seek with the shadows, and a holy calm rests upon the face of the smiling landscape. This may seem the language of hyperbole, but no one who has visited this beautiful town will say so.”

Looking toward the east, “…one can see with the naked eye the plains around Manassas Junction, on which, erstwhile, the God of War held high carnival; but which now are vocal with the song of the reaper, and bright with the tokens of re-established peace.”

Easy access to Warrenton was also stressed, noting that the town was served by a branch railroad connecting it with the Midland Division of the Richmond and Danville Railway at Calverton, and was only two hours away from Washington, D.C. by rail.

“Warrenton, therefore, is by no means an isolated country town; indeed, it has always been noted for the cultivation, refinement, and social qualities of its people,” according to the promotional brochure.

“The town has a population of about 2,000; it has, amongst its public buildings, a beautiful courthouse and a Town Hall; and Baptist, Methodist, Episcopal, Presbyterian and Catholic churches; two large Female Seminaries; graded and other public, as well as private schools; two banks; and a large number of handsome private residences.”

If the flowery description of the area were not enough to convince potential buyers and investors, also published were testimonials by prominent Virginians and others. Among them were Prof. Charles S. Venable, of the University of Virginia, who wrote, “Warrenton is a charming old Virginia town, famous for its patriotism, high character and hospitality of its people.”

Four former Confederate generals with ties to the area were solicited for their comments. Wrote Gen. Thomas L. Rosser, “Warrenton should attract, from every direction… those seeking congeniality and peaceful, luxuriant repose.”

Also quoted was Gen. William H. F. Lee, a Warrenton native then serving in the U.S. House of Representatives. He added that “Warrenton has always been a place of note in the history of our state.” Gen. Lindsay L. Lomax, also of Warrenton, and at the time the president of Blacksburg College, stated that “Warrenton has an almost perfect climate, no malaria, mosquitoes or epidemics, and everything requisite for health and comfort in the air, water, society and landscape.”

In order to support their claims of the healthy environment found at Warrenton, “Opinions of the Medical Profession” filled three pages of the promotional brochure. While most of the comments addressed the issues of clean air, water and climate, it is the names of the local doctors practicing in the 1890s that are most interesting.

Quoted were Dr. Powhatan Moncure, of Bealeton; Drs. C.C. Spieden, Henry Frost and Frederick Horner of Marshall; Drs. E. P. Clark, and J.H. Cochran of The Plains; Dr. Horace Smoot of Bristersburg; and Dr. James M. Caskie of Rappahannock.

THE END OF SOUTH WARRENTON

JOSEPH A. JEFFRIES served on the board of South Warrenton, and later as president.

From all appearances, the business plan for South Warrenton was solid: a wide range of support – financial and otherwise – from across the state and locally; a detailed site plan with many innovative features; and a thoughtful, if not convincing, advertising campaign.

But in fact, nothing was ever built at South Warrenton. Only about a dozen property transactions took place, and they were mostly between the corporation and its directors and their families. Virtually no one else was buying into South Warrenton, and soon the out-of-town officers and investors began pulling out.

At a special board meeting called on April 10, 1894, it was resolved that Joseph A. Jeffries, by then made president of the corporation, be authorized to sell “on behalf of the company” all of the property that remained, for whatever price he could get.

As South Warrenton headed toward extinction, the unsold “residue” was sold off in large tracts. First to go was Section 51, a ten acre tract that included Monte Rosa and the brick stables. It was purchased by James Kerfoot Maddux (1853-1930) on Sept. 15, 1895, for $5,500. He later secured the right-of-way of the never-built Arlington Avenue, and 16 additional acres, at $60 an acre.

Mr. Maddux renamed the property Neptune Lodge in honor of one of his racehorses, and later married the former May Amelil Muurling (1880-1948), whose family was from Holland.

The 37 acres set aside for “manufactories” on the never-built Carlton Avenue were sold to Dr. Robert I. Hicks on April 24, 1899, for $1,484.

On July 1, 1901, May Maddux’s father, Ido Jan Reinier Muurling (1848-1926) purchased 132 1/8 acres of South Warrenton land, for which he paid $45 per acre, or $5,945.63. He combined this purchase with two parcels he bought from South Warrenton Secretary R. W. Hilleary, bringing his holdings to 176 acres.

In 1902, Mr. Muurling had a handsome brick mansion built on the hilltop near the proposed site of the Blue Ridge Inn as a wedding present for James and May Maddux. But rather than having the house face north, toward “the town that never was,” he positioned the new home facing west, toward the Springs Road and the mountains. Completed later that year, the new home was called Leeton Hill.

James and May Maddux had a daughter, Winifred (1910-1965), and divorced in 1916. James returned to Neptune Lodge, and Mr. and Mrs. Muurling lived at Leeton Hill, where they remained until they died in the mid-1920s. Neptune Lodge passed to Miss Winifred Maddux following her father’s death in 1930.

In the years that followed, both properties have changed hands several times. Monte Rosa is now owned by Keith Macdonald, and Leeton Hill is the property of Lora Jenkins.

EPILOGUE

Several theories have been advanced as to why the South Warrenton project failed so quickly and dramatically, given the amount of money and effort that was expended. At the time, there had been a long regional recession that had slowed the economy, and changing demographics had made the concept of the “resort community” less appealing to new residents.

Another example of the changing economy was the struggling spa and grand hotel at Fauquier White Sulphur Springs, which had been in decline for years and was leased to Bethel Military Academy (BMA) during 1896-1898. After the hotel burned in 1901, it was not rebuilt. BMA, which had moved back to its old facilities at Bethel, closed in 1911.

It would be nearly three decades before another planned development – the Bartenstein Subdivision across E. Shirley Avenue – would be built. It would be followed by others, including Stuyvesant Acres in the 1940s, and the homes above the old Warrenton Bypass and Rock Springs Estates on Dumfries Road in the 1950s. Many more have followed.

The new residents were not travelers passing through who were interested in pursuing “the good life” at a resort community – but rather families and individuals wishing to forsake crowded cities and suburbs, and live in an area, “…teeming with beauty of landscape, healthfulness of climate, fertility of soil and social cultivation,” as the South Warrenton brochure promised over a century ago.

John Toler
About John Toler 2 Articles
Author John Toler is a writer and historian and has served Fauquier County for over 50 years, including four decades with the Fauquier Times-Democrat. He has written and lectured about many legendary characters in Fauquier County's history. Toler is the co-author of 250 Years in Fauquier County: A Virginia Story, and author of Warrenton, Virginia, A History of 200 Years.

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