When the house once occupied by Col. John Singleton Mosby, controversial Confederate hero and Reconstruction goat, was about to be purchased by a private concern last year, a group of Warrenton boosters had an idea: Let's us buy it instead.
Problem was, this group, which included Mayor George B. Fitch and representatives of the Warrenton-Fauquier Chamber of Commerce, had little money to bring to the table. And the manse on Main Street carried a hefty $460,000 price tag.
Fitch and the rest of the group solved their problem by persuading the Town Council earlier this year to front the money for the house, which was to be turned into a tourist attraction, museum and headquarters for the local chamber of commerce. The deal was sealed in January.
In time, the theory went, the foundation that would run the house would pay off the "loan," even while it pumped money into the local economy in the form of tourist dollars.
This scenario may still come to pass, but after a series of stumbles, lapses in planning and a dearth of donated cash, some Warrenton Town Council members are openly questioning the wisdom of their purchase and are considering putting the house on the block.
"It was a sizable outlay of monies by the town, and the foundation hasn't progressed the way we were told they were going to progress," said council member Samuel Tarr (Ward 4). "If there isn't some progress being made, then the town should consider putting it back on the market for sale."
The individuals behind the John S. Mosby Foundation, which has had a transient board of directors, insist that their failure to meet several "milestones" they set is merely one of the growing pains of a new organization.
"We've had a few hiccups, but everything is coming into place," Fitch said.
But skeptics in the community -- and on the Town Council -- say the scheme is so disorganized that it already may have passed its high-water mark.
"They have not turned into reality what was proposed," Tarr said.
Some of the stumbling blocks have little to do with planning, however, and everything to do with history. One bloc of board members that has since quit fretted that by focusing attention on the exploits of Mosby -- the "Gray Ghost" who marauded Union supply lines with his Partisan Rangers -- the museum was giving short shrift to black residents of Fauquier County.
Blair Lawrence was one of three officers who resigned from the foundation's board in recent months. In doing so, she cited her disagreement with the focus on the Civil War without including a significant portion of the African American experience.
And there are those who feel that Mosby went on to betray the Confederate cause by befriending Ulysses S. Grant after the war and taking a post in his presidential administration.
In an interview, Lawrence confirmed her sentiments about the message being sent to black residents, but she declined to elaborate, saying she didn't want to kick the foundation while it's down. "And everyone wants it to succeed," she said.
Perhaps no one wants it to succeed more than Fitch, who has presented the Mosby museum as a cornerstone of his economic platform -- for which he can merely cheer, having no vote on the council.
"I believe at the end of the day this will show that museum-based tourism is a very good way to providing economic growth to a community that wants to preserve its small-town character," he said.
Never mind that the town already has one of those, the Old Jail Museum, which has set out to do just that. That was one concern raised by Kathryn Carter, a retired teacher and former Town Council member who has been a vocal critic of the purchase.
In a document presented to the council before the vote, boosters of the museum estimated that it would attract 25,000 visitors annually. After all, a Patsy Cline exhibit in Winchester draws 38,000 each year.
But Carter said that speculation was not well researched and resulted in a big chunk of change being taken from other, more worthy projects.
"We have businesses in the other parts of town that are in trouble," she said. "And I'd like to see a few hundred thousand dollars spent to build a swimming pool."
Even more troubling for the foundation is that it hasn't raised as much money as it claimed or completed such basic tasks as figuring out how it will hire an executive director. In its initial proposal, it said it had $130,000 in committed donations, when it had only about $40,000, according to council member David A. Norden (At Large), acting chairman of the foundation.
But Norden said the resignations and failed goals are a thing of the past.
"There's no question that the timetable that was initially conceived is not realistic," he said. "We're beginning to pull all the facets of the process together to create a new timetable."
Is there a timetable for the new timetable?
"Not yet," he said.
CAPTION: The Town of Warrenton had high hopes for the historic Brentmoor mansion on Main Street when it bought it in January, but plans to turn it into a tourist attraction have not proceeded as smoothly as expected.