Ever wonder how this old town got the peculiar name “Front Royal”? It’s more interesting than you’d expect!
Immerse yourself in the history of Front Royal, Virginia, through the eyes of the local experts at Front Royal Outdoors. From the pre-Columbus past to modern times, Front Royal has a unique history that will captivate every history buff! Read on to learn the origin story of our slice of heaven.
The beautiful land that would be deemed Front Royal was first used and appreciated by multiple Indigenous tribes.
In the late 1600s, the Entire Shenandoah Valley, Including the area that would eventually be known as Front Royal, was a hunting ground for the Iroquois Confederation. During the next 50 years, the Iriquois nation shared the land with some bands of the Shawnee and Cherokee nations.
After the Virginia Colony surveyed the land in the late 1720s, settlers colonized the site and introduced a ferry and an inn to the area. A few years later, in 1744, the Iroquois Confederation sold the entirety of the land east of the Alleghenies to the Virginia Colony at the Treaty of Lancaster.
After the Treaty of Lancaster, the area around the Shenandoah River quickly grew into a space for livestock wranglers and boatmen, earning the nickname “Helltown” due to the… questionable behavior of the men passing through.
As for the transition from “Helltown” to “Front Royal,” the true story is mysterious to even the most knowledgeable of Virginia historians.
One theory is constructed from the passwords “front” and “royal” used by sentries during the American Revolution. Another idea is that settlers named the town after the great Royal Oak that stood during Colonial days in the town square (now known as the corner of Chester and Main Street).
One more is that the name was born from orders commonly shouted by colonels: “Front the Royal Oak!” which means: “Face the Oak Tree!” – a clear order to accommodate for the less-than-ideal military comprehension of the local militia.
There is no way to confirm which of these stories holds the most truth, so you can decide what side you sit on!
With railroads built around Front Royal during the mid-1800s, it became more integrated with the rest of the country than ever before. As a result, these lines contributed to the battlefields chosen during the Civil War.
During the Civil War, Front Royal and the surrounding areas were a key location for battles, most famously during the battle of Front Royal on May 23, 1862. After the Civil War, lumber, agriculture, manufacturing, and grain mills were the primary forms of employment in Front Royal.
Today, Front Royal embraces the surrounding natural beauty as a draw to live, visit, and enjoy our charming historic town. With just over 15,000 residents, Front Royal has stayed a small, tight-knit community over the years.
When you are in Front Royal, the majesty of the Blue Ridge Mountains, Shenandoah Valley, Shenandoah National Park are all at your fingertips. Adventures are easy to come by, and a post-adventure dinner or drink is even easier to find on our bustling historic Main Street. You’ll find unique murals, live music, nostalgic shops, and local establishments full of kind locals and friendly visitors.
In an unsurprising twist, you can experience Front Royal best in the surrounding nature. You can head on an excursion of awe-inspiring cave tours at Skyline Caverns and Luray Caverns. If you prefer to explore upwards, hikes like Buzzard Rock, Dickey Ridge and Big Stony Man Trails will award you with gorgeous valley views. And, most famously, there is the fun to be had on the Shenandoah River.
Front Royal has been coined as the “Canoe Capital of Virginia,” thanks to the many opportunities for canoeing, tubing, kayaking, rafting and fishing on the Shenandoah River. There are endless adventures to explore on this historical river, from an afternoon of tubing to an exciting 3-day river trip.
You can witness the history of Front Royal in many ways. One of our favorite ways is by floating the Shenandoah River and keeping an eye out for echoes of the indigenous people that lived along the waters. If you want to experience the history of Front Royal from the Shenandoah River, explore the multi-day river trips we offer!
From an immense appreciation for the surrounding natural beauty to an insatiable need for adventure, locals and visitors alike help Front Royal continue to write its story! Who knows what will happen in the next chapter of our town?