In an age where many communities often resemble everywhere else, the Town of Culpeper has managed to maintain a unique identity and distinctive appearance. The Town has an intact and thriving downtown, which attracts people from around the region. Culpeper has a small town atmosphere and, in fact, was recognized as "One of America's Top 10 Small Town's" in 1993. With approximately 15,000 residents, the Town enjoys proximity to Northern Virginia, Fredericksburg, Charlottesville and Richmond. The Town, however, sees itself as a distinctive market center in the upper Piedmont region of Virginia.
The Town of Culpeper was established by the Virginia House of Burgesses on February 22, 1759. The location of the Town, with its high ground and ample water supply and proximity to the mountains, was described as "a high and pleasant situation in the County of Culpeper where the courthouse [constructed c. 1750] now stands." The original town plan, which forms the core of modern Culpeper, was 10 town blocks; five blocks flanking Main Street (then Coleman Road) running from Spencer Street to Stevens Street. The original alleys remain and are in service.
The Town of Culpeper was made by proud and valiant fighting men and was significant in both the Revolution and the Civil War. In 1775, the Culpeper Minutemen were formed in "Clayton's Old Field" (near the site of present-day Yowell Meadow Park). The Minutemen were called upon and fought bravely in the Revolution and throughout campaigns in the 19th and early 20th Centuries. The Town was strategically important due to the presence of the Orange and Alexandria Railroads, and the junction of 4 major roads. Both Confederate and Union troops occupied the Town of various occasions during the Civil War. During the Winter of 1863/64, over 100,000 Union troops, which included 4 Union divisions (including U.S. Grant), occupied the Town. Local tradition is that the forests were denuded for firewood within a 20 mile radius.
Many of the key players of the Civil War were seen in the Town of Culpeper. In 1775, the Culpeper Minutemen were formed in "Clayton's Old Field" (near the site of present-day Yowell Meadow Park). Culpeper. The armies of Jackson, Stuart, Pope, and Meade marched through and were quartered in Culpeper.
The Town was in the midst of a very active region for battles during the Civil War. Brandy Station and Cedar Mountain were fought in Culpeper County. Wilderness, Chancellorsville, and Fredericksburg were fought to the east. First Bull Run and Second Bull Run were fought to the North. New Market was fought to the west, and Richmond was fought to the south. Over 60% of the Civil War was fought on Virginia soil, with a heavy concentration in the Virginia Piedmont.
The Town has been evolving over a 250-year period and contains many examples of residential and commercial architecture. There are 14 architectural "high-styles" found in Culpeper, including Federal, Greek Revival, and Victorian, as well as vernacular examples. The Town of Culpeper National Register District contains over 140 structures, one of the largest historic districts in this part of the Commonwealth.