The Long Fight to Keep the Judiciary Center in Warrenton
Built in 1890, the Old Courthouse in downtown Warrenton is the gateway to and crown jewel of the historic district. A courthouse has stood at the site since 1790, when Richard Henry Lee — the man who first called for the colonies’ independence from Britain — chose it as the highest point in town.
Modeled after the Parthenon, the Old Courthouse transfixes visitors with its stately columns, ornate windows, and sunny stucco exterior. A fixture so indelible, the courthouse is essentially synonymous with the town itself. For more than a century its hourly bell has punctuated daily life in Warrenton.
When residents see their Old Courthouse, they see a symbol of their home. When developers look at it, they see an opportunity.
As Fauquier County grew throughout the 80s and early 90s, officials were increasingly wooed by developers looking to cash in on the county’s need for roomier, more modern facilities. Though a newer courthouse was built a block away in the 1974, judiciary business — including efficiently housing and trying prisoners — was hamstrung by both aging facilities.
Between 1989 and 1993, the Board of Supervisors (BOS) commissioned four different studies to determine the best way forward for county operations. When County Administrator Steve Crosby hired the Richmond consulting firm of Hening, Vest, and Covey, closed-doors meetings between the developer and the county produced a troubling solution: relocate the county seat.
CFFC was one of the most vocal opponents to the proposed move.
“We fought for the town of Warrenton,” says Feroline Higginson. But CFFC was also fighting the subtle corruption at the heart of the development debate.
“The bottom line has always been for the jail to be a money-maker for the private entity that builds and owns it,” says Higginson.
Indeed, controversy swirled when it was revealed that Hening, Vest, and Covey had been given a two-part contract, including the study and project management of the chosen design. Some members of the BOS claimed they were under the impression they had only signed off on a study.
“Warrenton frets over possible county move,” the Fauquier Democrat announced in late 1989. A compromise had been reached to leave some buildings in Warrenton and to build new ones outside of town, too. A week later, any ideas to move county operations outside of Warrenton were quashed by a 3/2 vote.
But that wasn’t the end of the battle.
Still seeking some way to ease the administrative burden caused by aging county infrastructure, the BOS pushed forward on a proposal for a 14 million-dollar jail in the center of historic downtown Warrenton. The new jail would house 280 prisoners and compromise the character and charm of the county seat.
CFFC once again sounded the alarm. The price tag — and ostentatious design — were not right for downtown Warrenton or Fauquier taxpayers. Using The Bugle as a rallying call, CFFC was able to fill a town hall meeting to capacity, for residents to speak out against the new jail.
Bowing to the pressure, the Warrenton architectural review board killed the proposal in a 4/3 vote.
CFFC began advocating for the BOS to enter into a partnership with
the regional jail to handle the town’s needs at a lower cost.
At the end of 1998, the BOS did just that.