After being surveyed and platted by a teen-aged George Washington in 1749, a court house including a jail, stocks and gallows were built, and the town of Culpeper was founded in 1759. The town prospered and grew in the Royal Colony of Virginia until 1765 when the taxes levied by the crown in the Stamp Act outraged local citizens and inspired rebellion. In 1776 the Culpeper militia formed with the intention of being able to 'march in a minutes notice.' They called themselves Minute Men and marched under a flag depicting a coiled rattlesnake ready to strike. Their motto was "Liberty or Death - Don't Tread on Me," and they joined forces with the Virginia Militia led by Patrick Henry. John Jameson, a captain of the Culpeper Minute Men, was responsible for the capture of British Major John Andre that exposed the treasonous Benedict Arnold. In 1780 the Marquis de Lafayette camped in Culpeper while awaiting reinforcements from Pennsylvania.

In 1862 the Minute Men would answer another call to arms - that of defending the Confederacy against Union invasion during the Civil War. As a strategic location on the Orange & Alexandria Railroad, Culpeper saw more than 160 battles, skirmishes and raids during the Civil War as both sides fought for control of the supply line. Nearby Brandy Station, Cedar Mountain, Kelly's Ford and Rappahannock Station preserve the history of these fierce cavalry battles. Culpeper was ravaged by the Civil War. Even Robert E. Lee remarked that, 'I find that there is great suffering among the people in this region for want of the necessities of life. The farms and gardens have been robbed, stock and hogs killed, and these outrages committed, I am sorry to say, by our own army to some extent, as well as by Federals. '

The railway aided Culpeper's recovery from the Civil War, and the town became a regional industrial and commercial center. Yet, the construction of a bypass around Culpeper in the 1960's lured residents and businesses out of the downtown area. In 1988 Culpeper became a Virginia Main Street Community and set out to revitalize the beautiful and historic downtown area. The preserved buildings and landmarks span two and a half centuries of Culpeper history, and in 2012 Culpeper won the National Trust Great American Main Street Award for excellence in revitalization.

Visiting Downtown Culpeper

Your best bet to tour Historic Downtown Culpeper is to download the In & Around Culpeper Walking Tour booklet or pick one up at the Visitors Center or the Museum of Culpeper History located in the Depot. The booklet and audio tours contain fun and fascinating self-guided walking tours of the historic downtown area. Tour 1 begins and ends at the Visitor Center at the Depot and takes you through the main shopping and dining areas of East Davis and North Main Streets as well as the Courthouse area and Sugar Bottom, the historic African-American neighborhood. Tour 2 begins and ends at the Museum of Culpeper History and includes the historic mansions of East Street as well as Culpeper National Cemetery. Tour 3 showcases many fine examples of well-preserved 19th and early-20th century residential architecture. Tour 4 takes you through a historic residential area with views of the Blue Ridge.

If you're looking for a little adventure outside of Culpeper download the Driving Tour of Civil War Culpeper or pick one up at the Visitors Center in the Depot or the Museum of Culpeper History. The booklet contains photographs, history and driving tours of Brandy Station, Kelly's Ford and Cedar Mountain.

What to See and Do

... Shopping & Dining ... Historic East Davis Street in the heart Downtown Culpeper of features numerous gift, antique and vintage shops as well as fine and casual dining restaurants.

... Battlefields ... Nearby Civil War Battlefields include Brandy Station, Cedar Mountain and Kelly's Ford, where there are scenic hiking trails with interpretive signs and markers, as well as Rappahannock Station where there are scenic bicycle loop trails and driving tours.

... Tasting Rooms ... Nearby tasting rooms include Belmont Farm Distillery, Old House Vineyards, and Rogers Ford Farm Winery.

... Area Attractions ... Buffalo still roam in Virginia at Cibola Farms. Cibola produces free-range bison using sustainable and humane methods. Visitors are welcome to take a self-guided walking tour of this pretty farm and view the herd. Information and trail maps are available at the Cibola Farms Trading Post where you can also purchase their healthy free-range bison and pork products.

Pictured at the top: Built in 1857 by Edward Baptist Hill of the prominent Culpeper family, Hill Mansion served as a Confederate hospital during the Civil War. The house was visited by both A.P. Hill and Robert E. Lee. Rooney Lee convalesced here after his wounding at Brandy Station. Later, the house served as Union headquarters.

culpeper south east historic district

Listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2009, South East Street is the oldest existing residential district in Culpeper and features a variety of antebellum homes - many of which served as headquarters and hospitals for both sides during the Civil War.

Crimora Waite House

This ca. 1885 Southern Gothic beauty known as the Crimora Waite House has been featured on television and in magazines. It is located in the South East Street Historic District across from Hill Mansion.

culpeper confederate soldier statue culpeper courthouse

The Statue of the Confederate Soldier was erected in 1911 by the citizens of Culpeper and the A.P. Hill Camp No. 2 Confederate Veterans. Completed in 1874, Culpeper County Courthouse continues to serve as government offices and courtrooms. In front of the court house a monument is dedicated to Culpeper area soldiers who died in Vietnam.

culpeper yowell ghost sign

Built in 1835, the Billy Fray Feed Shop is one of the oldest buildings in town. It served as a stable, tobacco warehouse, and jail for both sides during the Civil War. The mural was painted when it served as Yowell's Hardware store.

Historical Photo

the american rattlesnake

The American Rattlesnake, James Gillray, 1782  (Library of Congress) satirized the British war effort against the Continental Army. The rebels used the snake as an emblem, and it is seen here strangling British commands under Cornwallis and Burgoyne.