Established in 1734, Orange County is named in honor of William, Prince of Orange, who in that year married Anne, Princess Royal of England. Rich in history, it has the distinction of having been the largest Virginia county ever formed. Orange covered a vast territory extending from its present eastern boundary west to the Mississippi River and north to the Great Lakes. The states of Ohio, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, and West Virginia were once part of Orange County. Over time, its boundaries have contracted to an elongated county of approximately 37 miles by 17 miles.
In 1710, Lieutenant Governor Alexander Spotswood was sent from England to take charge of the Virginia colony. In 1714, he settled a group of German immigrants on the banks of the Rapidan River in what is now a part of eastern Orange County. He also built a palatial home there, with both the settlement and his home being called “Germanna.” At the time, Germanna represented the western frontier for English settlement in the New World.
In 1716, Spotswood led an expedition from Germanna westward over the Blue Ridge Mountains, a venture designed to publicize the fact that the mountains were passable and that rich lands lay beyond. The expedition succeeded in reigniting the westward expansion of the colony and contributed significantly to the ultimate settling of America. The persons of wealth and power who accompanied Spotswood were dubbed by him “Knights of the Golden Horseshoe,” many of whom figured prominently in later Virginia history.
A wide variety of mineral deposits were discovered in the county, including iron ore, which Spotswood successfully mined. In 1732, William Byrd Il visited Germanna to inspect Spotswood’s mines and furnaces, penning a glowing report on the economic progress there. Byrd was also impressed by Spotswood’s home, which he called the “Enchanted Castle,” the name by which its remains are known today. In later years, gold was mined commercially in Orange County, with one mine continuing in operation until 1937.
In 1722, King George I awarded a patent of 8,500 acres to James Taylor Il, a former Knight of the Golden Horseshoe. Much of today’s Town of Orange lies within that tract. Taylor soon established a successful plantation and built his home, “Bloomsbury.” Two of Taylor’s great-grandsons became Presidents of the United States: Zachary Taylor, who was born in the county, and James Madison, the “Father of the Constitution,” for whom “Montpelier” in Orange County was his lifelong home. Since the 1930s, Montpelier has hosted, on the first Saturday in November, the Montpelier Hunt Races, a Virginia Horse Country show piece event.
The only significant actions of the American Revolution which took place in Orange County were a British raid, which terrorized the present-day Antioch Church area for several days, and Lafayette’s march through the county in 1781. The route Lafayette took is still called the “Marquis Road.” Men from the county played significant roles in the war, initially as members of the Culpeper Minute Men. The Minute Men helped win the Battle of Great Bridge, the first Revolutionary battle fought on Virginia soil.
March 03, 2024 - March 03, 2024
Virginia's Military Situation, Military Forces and Links to Orange County. Overview of existing strategic conditions, focused on the 1775-early 1776 t... Read More
March 25, 2024 - March 25, 2024
Stephen Wilson, Exec. Director of St. John's Church Foundation will join us and in addition to a reenactment of the speech, he will look into the impa... Read More
June 10, 2024 - June 10, 2024
The Boston Tea Party was not the only one. We'll learn about the others. What happened in Virginia in 1774?... Read More
November 04, 2024 - November 30, 2024
This exhibit will feature a traveling exhibit from The American Friends of Lafayette, and numerous artifacts.... Read More
November 14, 2024 - November 14, 2024
The Road to Yorktown, Lafayette's 1781 Campaign in Central Virginia. We'll look at some of the troop movements of Lafayette and Anthony Wayne as they ... Read More