The Journey Through Hallowed Ground

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Oakley and Fat Nancy Wreck Historical Markers

The first marker recognizes the significance of the Oakley residence, the central portion of which was built by Dr. Richard Thomas shortly after he bought the surrounding land in 1843.  Oakley was inherited by Dr. Thomas' daughter Sarah (Sally).  Sally's husband was Gustavus Judson "Jud" Browning, who prior to the Civil War organized a militia cavalry unit known as 'The Orange Rangers."  In May 1861, the Rangers became Company "I" of the 6th Va. Cavalry, and Browning served as its captain for the entire war. Following the War, and with the exception of one term served in the Virginia House of Delegates, Browning stayed and worked close to home. In 1872, he and Sally made significant additions to Oakley.  In the years that followed, however, the property changed hands several times, and the house deteriorated significantly.  Following their purchase of Oakley, Mr. and Mrs. Porter began its extensive four-year reconstruction.  The second marker recalls The Wreck at the Fat Nancy.  The Washington City, Virginia, Midland and Great Southern Railroad laid its tracks across the Oakley lands in 1880.  Not much over a hundred yards east of the house was a 400 foot-plus long wooden trestle over Laurel Run.  It was called the "Fat Nancy" trestle in recognition of the name and girth of a laundress who lived close by.  In the early morning hours of August 12, 1888, the trestle collapsed under a crossing passenger train.  Eight men and one woman were killed.  At least another 26 passengers were injured.  Riding on the train were a number of veterans of the Battle of Gettysburg, returning from a 25th reunion there and former Lieutenant General James A. Longstreet, who was on his way to Warm Springs.  The railroad company knew the trestle was in bad shape, and Cornelius Cox, a civil engineer, was supervising a work crew that was starting to replace it with an earth fill.  On August 12, Cox was on the train, headed home for a few days vacation.  He was among those killed, and his name is carved on the keystone of the stone culvert under the earth fill that replaced the Fat Nancy trestle.  The trestle got him before he could get it.

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More about the area:

  • Orange, VA

    The Town of Orange became Orange County's judicial seat in 1749 when Culpeper County was cut off, making the previous courthouse location at Raccoon Ford very far from the center of the County. The present...

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Local Tourism Resources:

  • Orange County Tourism and Visitors Bureau
    122 E. Main St.
    Orange, Virginia 22960
    540-672-1653 or 877-222-8072
    9:00 am - 5:00 pm / 7 Days a Week
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