Warrenton, Virginia, a suburb of Washington D.C., was incorporated on January 5, 1810. It was named after an American Revolutionary War General named Joseph Warren. It was a crossroads town where many major roads came together. During the American Civil War, John Mosby, a Confederate Colonel, led his rangers on numerous raids in this town. After the war, he became a lawyer and made his home in Warrenton. The town had the Warren Green Hotel. What was so great about this hotel? Let us say that a few people like Marquis de Lafayette, James Monroe, Andrew Jackson, Henry Clay and Theodore Roosevelt spent nights at this hotel. Today, this hotel now houses county offices. The home of John Mosby still stands. As the town began as a crossroads, it remains a crossroads today with U.S. Routes 15, 17, 29 and 211 passing through the region. Currently, U.S. Routes 15, 17 and 29 use a bypass around town with U.S. 211 still passing near the town center, and it is a main route for those traveling between Washington D.C. and the Shenandoah National Park. Warrenton, Virginia is not just a crossroads for travelers but a crossroads of history.
Some of you are saying, “This is an amazing place. Many towns began as crossroads of major routes. The problem with Warrenton is that, just like U.S. Routes 15, 17 and 29, the railroad bypassed this town. Therefore, I will not be making any crossroads to Warrenton.”
You have a point. The railroad did bypass Warrenton. Well, at least the main line did. When the Orange and Alexandria Railroad came to the region, it bypassed the town, but in 1852 it built a spur line to the town of Warrenton offering passenger and freight service to the town. A small rail yard was built along with a turntable for locomotives to turn around. In 1941, passenger service ceased, and freight service ceased in 1989. The line was abandoned with the tracks taken up. The Warrenton Branch would never see service again.
Train service to Warrenton, Virginia was gone… but it was not forgotten.
Welcome to the Warrenton Greenway, a rail trail that was built along the original roadbed Warrenton Branch of the Orange and Alexandria Railroad Line. The west end of the trail begins at the south end of Fourth Street where the rail yard was located. At this site is the original train depot (now a restaurant) and a Norfolk and Western caboose. (The caboose houses a small museum that is open on the first Saturday of each month from April to October.) You walk over a bridge and go less than a quarter of a mile, and you will see the base of the old locomotive turntable where locomotives were turned around. You walk the next mile through the town, and you come across the bridge over the U.S. 15-17-29 bypass. This is the original railroad bridge over the bypass. The trail ends about a quarter of a mile east of this point. Although it is such a short trail, you get a glimpse of the time when the railroad ran regularly through here.
The Warrenton Branch Greenway is in Warrenton, Virginia. Parking is available on Fourth Street or on Castle Kingston Lane on the east end. Most of the trail is paved making it accessible for those in wheelchairs, but the east end is gravel but level. It is open from dawn to dusk every day of the year, and there is no cost to use the trail.
Next time you are in Warrenton, Virginia, take a stroll along the Warrenton Branch Greenway. It is a walk worth taking.