The history of Warren County begins with the American Indians between 11,000 and 12,000 years ago. The site of the oldest known permanent habitations in the eastern United States is located in the County along the South Fork of the Shenandoah River.
White men first appeared in the Shenandoah Valley in the mid-1600's. Warren County was first settled around 1730. Many of the County's early settlers were Scots-Irish and English Quakers.
Warren County was situated at the intersection of land and water trade routes. Supplies and manufactured goods came through the Blue Ridge Mountains through Chester and Manassas Gaps. At the confluence of the North and South Forks of the Shenandoah River, much of the early agricultural produce of the Valley was loaded onto barges for shipment to the coastal ports. The Town of Front Royal was eventually established at that river port in 1788.
Leadership and military manpower were the major resources supplied by Warren County and other Shenandoah Valley communities during the Revolutionary War. Pig iron, grain, leather, flour, meat, fruit, vegetables, and lumber were other valuable resources furnished to the Colonial cause.
Warren County began to boom in the early 1800's. The wars in Europe created a need for breadstuffs and brought a quick change from a tobacco-oriented economy to the raising of wheat.
The County was officially founded in 1836. It was formed from parts of Frederick and Shenandoah Counties. Front Royal has been the county seat from the beginning. In 1840, Warren County had a population of 5,627, one-fourth of which were slaves.
The first railroad made its way into the Shenandoah Valley in 1854 by way of the Manassas Gap and Front Royal.
Warren County was of strategic importance during the Civil War because of its agricultural productivity, its transportation links with Winchester to the north, and its links with eastern Virginia by way of the roads through Chester and Manassas Gaps and the vital Manassas Gap Railroad.
The Battle of Front Royal, on May 23, 1862, was one of the Battles in General Stonewall Jackson's famous Valley Campaign. In that battle, Confederate forces defeated 1,000 Union soldiers to capture a military supply depot, the Manassas Gap Railroad, and the strategic bridges over the two forks of the Shenandoah River at Riverton.
The Civil War destroyed most of the buildings in Warren County, but the soil could still be farmed and the County soon began to attract investors to develop local natural resources. By the 1890's, the County had again erupted in a flurry of activity. An enormous vineyard had been started near Front Royal, and iron, copper, and manganese were discovered within the County. Lime works had been founded in Riverton in 1869. Manufacturing also soon expanded, with sumac, tanning, and leather industries regaining the importance they had previously known. Other industries included tinning and cigar production. By 1900, Warren County's population had reached 8,837.
The two most important changes in Warren County during the 20th century have been the construction of two large manufacturing plants and the growth of tourism.
In 1937, construction began on the American Viscose manufacturing facility. This chemical-textile plant in Front Royal was at one time the world's largest producer of rayon. The U.S. Government operated the plant during World War II, producing materials to aid the war effort. FMC, Inc. purchased the facility and operated it into the mid 1970's. An FMC management team, led by Mr. John Gregg, executed one of the first leveraged buyouts in the United States. The new company was named Avtex Fibers-Front Royal, Inc.
The rayon plant was the economic mainstay of this community for several decades. It was the largest employer within the region for over 20 years. Several major layoffs decreased the workforce from approximately 1300 in 1988 to 468 at the plant's closing in November 1989.
In 1980, a division of the duPont Corporation was established in Cedarville near Front Royal. Paints for the secondary automotive market is manufactured at this facility. In 1989, with the closing of Avtex Fibers, duPont became Warren County's largest employer.
Since 1994, the Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Authority has successfully recruited manufacturing, distribution, hospitality and technology companies for an investment of more than $180 million and the creation of 1,400 new jobs.
Warren County has long attracted tourists and seasonal residents, who have come to the area because of its climate, accessibility to major cities, and scenic beauty. Major tourist attractions include the Shenandoah National Park, the Skyline Drive, the Shenandoah River and the Skyline Caverns.
On March 9, 1836, the Virginia General Assembly formed the County of Warren, named after Dr. Joseph Warren, one of the earliest Founding Fathers of America. Born June 11, 1741, he became the youngest doctor in Boston, Massachusetts at the age of 22, boasting such notable patients as Samuel Adams, John Hancock, John Adams, and John Quincy Adams. In 1774, Dr. Warren served as President of the revolutionary Massachusetts Provincial Congress, advocating on behalf of the interests of the Colonies while under the rule of Britain. Later that same year, he responded to British Parliament’s “Intolerable Acts” legislation by penning the Suffolk Resolves, a set of radical resolutions calling for a boycott of British goods and for local militias to prepare for armed resistance, resolutions which were endorsed by the Continental Congress.
On the fifth anniversary of the Boston Massacre, Dr. Warren delivered a rousing oratory commemorating the tragic event, a now-famous speech for which he dressed in a Roman toga to symbolize the rising of democratic ideals in the Colonies. Later in 1775, he would dispatch Paul Revere and William Dawes on their midnight rides to warn of the advance of British troops on Lexington and Concord.
On June 17, 1775, while other Sons of Liberty were convened in Philadelphia as delegates to the Continental Congress, Dr. Warren borrowed a musket and volunteered to fight in the Battle of Bunker Hill against troops led by British General Thomas Gage. Before the battle, despite being appointed to the rank of Major General, he declined to take charge of the colonial forces and instead joined the privates in the trenches to fight. That day, only six days after his 34th birthday, Dr. Warren was killed by a musket ball to the head, becoming immortalized as a martyr for the American Revolution. Upon hearing news of his death, General Gage reportedly said, “Warren’s death is equal to 500 men”, and another British commander took solace in his death, calling him “the greatest incendiary in all of America.”
In his last letter to his mother, Dr. Warren is quoted to have written, “Where danger is, dear mother, there must your son be… I will set [America] free or die”, and it is upon this patriotism and legacy which the County of Warren was founded.