Feb 12, 2018
One of the most historically significant landscapes in America is the Virginia Piedmont region. At the northern end of the Piedmont, in the center of Fauquier County, is Warrenton, Va. — a town deeply dedicated to preserving and celebrating the history of the region. Through community and municipal efforts, Warrenton has maintained many of its historically-significant structures and landmarks, such as the Old County Jail and Town Hall.
Read more: Know a Neighborhood: Warrenton, Virginia
One Warrenton landmark with a particularly fascinating history is the Warren Green Hotel, located at the intersection of Court Street and Hotel Street in the center of Historic Warrenton.
Origins of the Warren Green Building
The Warren Green Hotel building currently stands on the grounds of what was originally known as Norris Tavern, built by Thaddeus Norris in 1819. Over the course of the next quarter century, Norris Tavern was frequented by many prominent historical figures.
In 1825, Revolutionary War General Marquis de Lafayette attended a banquet hosted at the hotel in his honor, courtesy of the people of Fauquier County. During his visit, he famously addressed a crowd of six thousand which included President James Monroe, Andrew Jackson, and Henry Clay. Both Jackson and Clay later returned; the former during a trip from his home in Nashville, Tennessee to Washington, D.C.; the latter when he declared his candidacy in the 1832 Presidential race.
In 1843, Norris Tavern was converted into an academy, which subsequently became the Warren Green Hotel. It was on site of the original hotel building where, on November 11, 1862, Civil War General McClellan bid his fellow officers farewell as he was relieved of his command of the Army of the Potomac. Another famous Civil-War-era figure, General William “Extra Billy” Smith, also settled down in Warrenton after the war, where he established his law firm in the building across the street from the Warren Green. Each Confederate Memorial Day, Smith would deliver speeches to the crowds that gathered on Hotel Street.
The original Warren Green Hotel building burned down in 1874 and was rebuilt in 1876; the new structure still stands today.
The Warren Green Hotel’s Notable Guest List
John Toler, a longtime writer for the Fauquier Times, has published dozens of stories over the years about the history of Warrenton and the Warren Green Hotel. According to Toler, many noteworthy figures — from military generals to presidents to pop-culture icons— were patrons of the Warren Green Hotel.
On January 13, 1909, President Theodore Roosevelt visited the Warren Green during his near 100-mile round-trip ride between Washington, D.C. and Warrenton — a trip that was instigated by protests from his military ranks.
“[Roosevelt] issued General Order No. 6, requiring an annual physical fitness test for all officers with more than a year to retirement. Basically, they had the choice of making an 80-mile horseback ride, a 100-mile bicycle ride or a 50-mile walk, to be completed in three days or less. What he considered to be a reasonable requirement started a firestorm of protest in both the ranks, and in the press,” wrote Toler in a recent article about the Warren Green Hotel.
To set an example for his officers, Roosevelt devised a secret plan to complete a ride from D.C. to Warrenton, and back again — in just one day. Commodore Wise, a navy doctor and friend of Roosevelt who lived in Warrenton, arranged for Roosevelt and his company of riders to meet at the Warren Green before they began their trip back to the capital.
Roosevelt and his men reached Warrenton just before noon. Word of their arrival traveled fast; by the time the President had finished his lunch, a large crowd of nearly 1,000 townspeople had gathered around the hotel. Roosevelt addressed the crowd, thanking them for welcoming spirit, and then commenced his return to D.C.
Source: The Fauquier Times
According to Toler, Roosevelt and his fellow riders spent about 17 hours on horseback; however, the President expressed that he’d never felt better. When questioned by the press about his journey, he cheerily replied, “It was bully!”
Perhaps the most high-profile and noteworthy of Warren Green guests is Wallis Simpson, the Duchess of Windsor, whose notoriety derives from her role in altering the succession of the British monarchy. King Edward VIII abdicated the throne in 1936 to marry Simpson, who was seen as socially and politically unfit to assume the role of queen because she was twice-divorced. Edward’s brother, George VI, then ascended to the throne; his daughter is Elizabeth II, the current ruling monarch. Simpson has recently resurfaced in popular culture due to her portrayal in the Netflix original series The Crown.
Source: The Baltimore Sun
Simpson moved into the Warren Green Hotel in October of 1925 following her separation from her first husband, Lieutenant Earl Winfield Spencer Jr. She remained a resident of the hotel until after her divorce was finalized in December of 1927. Her time spent in Warrenton would later be acknowledged by the press as her “divorce year.” In her autobiography, Wallis described the near two-year time period she spent at the Warren Green Hotel as "the most tranquil I have ever known.”
While living at the hotel, Simpson had an affair with fellow guest Hugh Spilman, a Fauquier National Bank teller. It is rumored that Simpson would hang a scarf over her second-story veranda as a means of summoning the banker to her boudoir.
Simpson left the Warren Green in July of 1928 when she remarried for the first time. She moved to London with her soon-to-be ex-husband, Ernest Simpson, where she eventually met Edward, the Prince of Wales. What began as a friendship soon evolved into a whirlwind romance, and in 1936, Wallis filed for divorce from Ernest.
Edward abdicated the throne in December of 1936, less than a year after his coronation. He once said in a radio broadcast, “You must believe me when I tell you that I have found it impossible to carry the heavy burden of responsibility and to discharge my duties as King, as I would wish to do, without the help and support of the woman I love.”
Simpson and Edward married in June of 1937, at which time they became known as the Duke and Duchess of Windsor. They remained together until Edward’s death in 1972.
Renovations Throughout the Years
The Warren Green Hotel has undergone a series of renovations and updates since it was rebuilt in 1876. In 1910, shortly after the building was purchased by the Ullman family, an annex was added to the existing hotel structure; this became a popular spot for guests and residents to socialize.
The demand for additional space continued to increase following the first World War, and by 1927, another wing was added to accommodate the need for more space. Other important installations, such as indoor plumbing and transom windows, were also included in a series of renovations that occurred throughout the 1930s.
According to a story entitled “The ‘First Family’ of the Warren Green,” written by Toler for Warrenton Lifestyle Magazine, the hotel was subject to various remodeling projects during the 1940s and 50s that were aimed at enhancing the Warren Green experience for guests and residents. In-house laundry, a barbershop, and a doctor’s office were all built into the hotel. The kitchen and dining room were upgraded as well.
Throughout World War II, the Warren Green was frequently populated by Army personnel and their families; this marked a particularly busy time for the hotel. After the war ended, the hustle and bustle that previously defined life at the hotel had significantly faded, and it became clear that the demand for this type of accommodation was dying down.
Although it struggled financially, the Warren Green continued business as a hotel until 1960, when it was sold to Fauquier County. From 1965 to 1973, the Warrenton Police Department operated out of the ground floor of the building.
The building has since been adapted into county offices, which are frequently used for municipal meetings today.
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