Posts Tagged ‘Virginia’

A Few More Churches and A Little History

September 21st, 2016 3 comments

two-or-more-matthew-18-20This journey of mine is beginning to be amazing. I am now becoming a bit obsessed with old churches. Whenever we go meandering through the countryside and down country roads, I am not only on the lookout for birds and wildflowers, now I am on the hunt for old churches. It makes for some interesting journeys. If you thought we did not get anywhere quickly before, you can bet good money that we are definitely not getting anywhere fast these days. We do not drive more than a mile before I am saying, “Stop, stop the car….there’s another one” and it could be a bird, flower, or church. Take your pick, when you’re roaming around looking, there is always, always something to see and to photograph.

So, continuing with my quest for knowledge about these old churches, here are a few more for your reading enjoyment. (As implied by my comments above, do not even believe that this will be the last of my blogs about old churches.)

I’m starting today with Saint John’s Episcopal Church in Rippon, West Virginia. You might say this is the church that started my mind churning with this idea. I have always liked old churches – the older, the better – but wasn’t into taking photographs so much. Rippon and St. John’s Episcopal Church is right on Route 340, originally known as the Berryville-Charlestown Turnpike. It is also right on the way to the home of my in-laws who lived on Withers Larue Road outside Berryville. So, every time we went up to visit the folks, we passed right by this little church. Finally, last fall, I decided it was time to stop and get a couple pictures of the old church. I posted the pictures on my Facebook page (of course) and got several good comments about the church and questions about its history. So I did a little bit of research and added that information. I discovered that my friends also liked old churches…and, long story short, here we are.


Saint John’s Episcopal Church

Route 340
Rippon, West Virginia 25441

St. John’s was built in 1873 and the structure was replaced in 1890. It is a Gothic Style structure. The bell tower, porch and choir room were added in 1893. In 1910 land was acquired nearby on Withers Larue Road for a parish hall which was built in 1910. In the 1970s, the parish hall was replaced by a modern hall which is connected to the church. It is not known what became of the old parish hall or whether the old building on Withers Larue Road is still standing.

st-johns-3St. John’s Episcopal no longer has a congregation…or so that is what one of the websites I viewed said. What an interesting way to indicate that the church is no longer an active church…as if the shepherd somehow lost the flock one day never to find them again. I did find some information that the church was proposed to be used/being used as a shelter during the winter months (November – May) for homeless people from Charlestown. I do not know if this idea ever came to fruition – I have never noticed anyone at/around the church that would indicate it was now a shelter but that doesn’t mean that it isn’t. I also read that the parish hall had been used by the community for meetings, etc. so it appears that the church is still being used in some way or another to benefit the community.

st-johns-2The small community of Rippon is also quite interesting in its own right. It formed in the mid-19th century at the crossroads on the Berryville and Charlestown Turnpike with Withers-Larue Road and Myerstown Road. The town is named after the Ripon Lodge built by Henry S. Turner on his Wheatland Estate in 1833. It was always a small community but is noted for three (3) battles (small skirmishes?) in the American Civil War. Can you imagine a small community with only a few houses and a couple churches being involved in three battles? But that is what happens when you settle along the main road to larger cities/towns like Charlestown and Harper’s Ferry and Winchester. I have to note here in passing that Berryville’s original name was, in fact, Battletown. (Link for more information on Rippon, West Virginia)

After the war, a railroad line was put through the area (and is functioning today as I can verify since we have gotten caught there on Withers Larue Road waiting for the train to pass on more than one occasion). In 1890, there were several other churches in the community including a Presbyterian church about a mile away on Bullskin Run and two (2) Baptist churches which also functioned as schools that were built for African-American residents after the Civil War.  One was called Old School Baptist which was later renamed the Second Zion Primitive Baptist Church. (Guess I’ll have to go looking for this church now.) The other school/church was named the New School Baptist Church…which brings us to our next church.


Sylvannah Baptist Church

Route 340
Rippon, West Virginia.

As noted above, Sylvannah Baptist Church was originally built as a school and place of worship for African-Americans in the local community. It was built in the late 19th century but the name was changed in July 1908. I did not find much additional information about this church other than it began as a church/school. The sign out front of the church calls it a Praise Worship and Healing Center.

sylvannah-3One historical note – it seems that when settlers first came to Virginia, the established church was the Anglican Church (Church of England) and all Virginia residents were required to pay taxes and tithes to support the church. Many of the settlers who moved further west into the Shenandoah Valley and what is now West Virginia were dissenters and wanted to establish their own churches to worship in the religion of their choice. According to the link for Historical Churches in Jefferson County, the first non-Anglican church in West Virginia was a Presbyterian church which was established in 1719.  At that time, most settlers were Presbyterians, Lutherans, Mennonites, and Anglicans; there were almost no Methodists, Baptists, or Catholics. This historical note was enlightening to me because I was surprised at the number of Lutheran churches we saw as we traveled through Front Royal and down to Luray recently.  I just didn’t know that there were so many Lutherans who settled in the area. And, I had pretty much thought that Virginia had always been chock full of Baptists and Methodists…but maybe not. So now I understand why.

sylvannah-2While we are looking at African American Churches organized and founded in northern Virginia after the Civil War, I’ll add a church that serves a historically black community in the heart of Berryville in an area called the Josephine City Historical District. According to the Virginia Historical Register, Josephine City was a black community developed in the 1870’s. The community was started with the purchase of thirty-one (31) acres in the southeast corner of Berryville by African-Americans who were former slaves who had been freed by the Emancipation Proclamation. The land came originally from the estate of Edward McCormick a local farmer and former slave holder.  McCormick died leaving his estate to his wife, Ellen. It was she who helped develop the community by selling the land to African-Americans, something that was unheard of at the time. The community was named after Josephine Williams who apparently was a former slave at the McCormick estate (Clermont Farm) and who purchased two (2) of the original acres.  Otherwise, little is known about Josephine Williams.

log-houseToday, many of the old buildings have fallen into ruin but the centerpiece of the historical area is the Josephine School which was built in 1882 and is now a museum. Two other buildings are mentioned, one of which is the Zion Baptist Church.


Zion Baptist Church

10 Josephine Street
Berryville, VA

Zion Baptist Church was erected in 1908 and bricked in 1987. I have to say I prefer the old wooden white churches to the solid red brick ones. But I know that brick makes for a much more solid and permanent structure and many churches are brick or stone for that reason. But the churches all begin to look the same – brick just doesn’t have the character as wood or stone.  Zion has bricked part of the church but the upper part of the church including the steeple appears to remain wooden as built in 1908.

zion-2The original church for this congregation – and this is still a very active congregation – is also on Josephine Street. The original Franklin Chapel is now the Franklin Annex and is located right across the street from the current church.

franklin-annexThe Frank Annex was built in 1882 on property purchased from Brother Benjamin Franklin for $2,379.00. The church was organized in 1875 by Brother Ben Franklin. When the new church built, the Annex was named in his honor. I do not know if Brother Benjamin purchased the land as part of the original land deals from the McCormick estate…but the timing is very close.

zion-3(Do not be confused by the name. This is not Benjamin Franklin who was one of the founding fathers of the United States and lived in Philadelphia in 1776.  This is Benjamin Franklin who was a deacon at the Springfield Baptist Church in Dinwiddie County, Virginia and along with twelve other brethren of the church founded Zion.)

Zion Baptist Mission:

To provide an atmosphere that promotes and encourages all God’s children, regardless of their nationality, rich or poor, young or old to give thanks and praise to our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. We endeavor to say “thank you” to our God for his faithfulness to us, and in this we pledge to: Glorify God by ministering to those who have not yet come to know Him.

We shall be a light in this dark world. Matthew 5:14


And, according to the church webpage, Historical Information for Zion Baptist Church:

“Through its one-hundred twenty-eight year pilgrimage, our church has maintained the principles of the Gospel and the doctrine of the Church. Zion is a beacon of light to weary travelers, and a soul saving station for the lost. We trust that this historic Church will continue to throw out the lifeline to sinking men, women, boys, and girls until the Master says well done, come into the harbor; let down your sails and rest from your labors.”

 I’m really not sure you can ask for anything more than that for a lovely old church that continues to grow and meet its mission well into the 21st century.


Country Church Tour (Episode 1)

July 8th, 2016 2 comments

harpers ferryHave you ever gone looking for something and ended up finding another? Started out moving in one direction and ended up going in another? Gone out with one plan in mind only to find out that what you ended up with is so much better?

Well, this is exactly what happened to us recently. Being pretty avid birdwatchers, we are always going out looking for birds. If the birds are not cooperating (as is very normal for the summer months between migration seasons), then we go looking for gardens and flowers – wild or cultivated, it matters not. But mostly we end up roaming around just looking….well, for whatever interests us. This habit has prompted some of our friends to refer to us as being vagabonds….but only on vacations mind you.

So, we headed out on our last trip to southern Virginia with two thoughts in mind – visit a relative and scout out some good birds…which we did. But along the way, we spotted a beautiful old white church and I just had to get a photograph of it. Then there was another and another and another and I had to get pictures of them too.

ideaAnd then out of the depths of my brain a new idea was born…a splendiferous idea….an idea so amazing, I am surprised I had not thought of it before….why, I could write some blogs about old churches. After all, I have written about an old church before (Empty Church/January 2015) but this time I thought I’d do something a little different. I’d photograph the churches, find out what I could about them, and share it with everyone. And I could make this project a series of blogs and continue it on future trips…..when I’m looking for birds and blooms, I’d also look for old churches. Heck, I might even end up with a coffee table book filled with pictures of old churches if I do a good enough job of it…..okay, that might be stretching the dream a little bit but it is worth thinking about sometimes.

Right off the bat, I noticed that old churches are, in one respect, more cooperative than birds….they sit still so you can photograph them. On the other hand, it is turning out to be much easier to find out information on the internet about a particular bird than it is to find out the history of a particular church….especially an old one.

The second thing I noticed is that I like old clapboard painted churches more than old brick ones. But then again, there are some brick churches that are old and architecturally beautiful that I really love. So, I think the appeal for me is that the church be (1) old, (2) relatively small, and (3) out in the country rather than in the city. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’ll probably end up taking pictures of churches in cities too and big ones as well as small ones but I’m starting small and then we will see how this goes.

Without further ado – these first five were selected because they were seen and photographed on our recent visit to the middle peninsula of southern Virginia and because the Historical Society of Mathews County ( did a historical church tour in 2015 and posted information on the internet about the churches on their tour. That is convenient for me since, as I noted above, most of these old churches I’m finding do not have anything on their internet sites…or even seem to have internet sites. My undying gratitude to the Historical Society at any rate.

Mathews BaptistMathews Baptist Church

8284 Buckley Hall Road, Hudgins, VA 23076    

Now, this is the first church photograph I took on this trip to southern Virginia…the one that started it all so to speak. This church was established in 1776 – same as this country. It was established by itinerant preachers and was originally called Kingston. In 1791, it became known as Mathews Baptist Church when the county of Mathews was officially founded. In 1905, the sanctuary was remodeled and the steeple was added. I am not sure whether the First Baptist Church (below) was the first to use the gingerbread décor on the steeple or if Mathews Baptist had a prior steeple and the current one was just updated in 1905. The gingerbread reminds me of Victorian homes and I have never seen it on a church steeple before that I recall. If you look at the bottom front of the church in the photographs, you will see that renovations are still ongoing and, no doubt, new elements are always being added. The church mission is a good one —To provide the public worship of God; to preach the redeeming love of Christ and lead people to the Savior; to welcome the stranger; to comfort the sorrowing and help the needy; to create the spirit of Christian fellowship; to serve the community; the nation, and the needy world.”

mathews stained glass Mathews Baptist steeple


First Baptist Church (Mathews)  mathews 1st baptist

9654 Buckley Hall Road, Mathews, VA 23109

The First Baptist Church in Mathews was founded in 1865. It “came out of” (to quote the Historical Society) the old Baptist church, Mathews Baptist Church. After Emancipation, two hundred and ninety one members of the church requested that their “mission” be changed in status to be a “church”. (Let me take a little break for me to look up some history here. I was a bit confused at the note that the church was founded in 1865 and then “after Emancipation”, a request for a status change was made. I speculate that the congregation had founded a mission prior to the Emancipation Proclamation was passed by executive order on January 1, 1863. But, as we all well know, the American Civil War did not end until 1865 and true emancipation did not come for many slaves until after the war and the Thirteenth Amendment was ratified in 1865. So, after the war, the church was founded when its status was changed. Again, I am speculating because I do not know anything more about this church than I was able to find on the internet.) One thing I love about this church is the lovely steeple with what looks like Victorian gingerbread which is very similar to the steeple at its mother church, Mathews Baptist (above). Also, their mission statement is quite beautiful –Committed to serving God and his people of all races, encouraging them to make Jesus their choice and acknowledging His as the only way to everlasting life.

mathews 1st steeple

mathews 1st stained glass


Emmaus Baptist ChurchEmmaus Church

13794 John Clayton Memorial Highway,  North, VA

Emmaus Baptist Church was founded in 1867 and established in 1868. (I am learning that there is a world of difference between being founded, established, chartered, built, etc. when it comes to churches.) Prior to the founding of Emmaus Baptist, blacks who wanted to worship in a church with a sanctuary had to do so over at the First Baptist Church. After emancipation, the founding families, some of whom may have been former slaves, would have undoubtedly wanted a church of their own in which to worship. The land for the church was donated by a Mrs. Harriet Jones who also taught school at the church for some years after it was built. The name “Emmaus” was taken from the New Testament in the Gospel of Luke. It refers to an event in the New Testament where Jesus appeared to two of his disciples as they traveled on the road to Emmaus…this was after Jesus’ resurrection but before his ascension into heaven.




Emmaus stained glass Emmaus cemetery


Ebenezer BaptistEbenezer Baptist Church

3601 Buckley Hall Road, Cobbs Creek, VA

Ebenezer Baptist Church was founded in 1875 by a small group of members from the First Baptist Church. (I am seeing a theme here in members of the congregation breaking away and forming a new church nearby in the county. I believe it is the same today and referred to as “planting” new churches in the community although the reasons for starting a new church may vary.) In the 1890’s, land was purchased and a clapboard structure was built. I was not able to go inside but, per the Historical Society tour notes, there are two Captain’s chairs at the altar that were used throughout the years to support caskets for funerals. The pews are painted wood….men sat on the right (the Hallelujah side) and women sat on the left (the Amen side). Light was provided by oil lamps and chandeliers. In 1908 a cornerstone was laid for the presently existing church and in 1914 a metal ceiling was installed. Of course, now I’m thinking I may need to go back and go inside some of these churches. I recall large wooden chairs behind the pulpit in churches I attended when I was younger but do not recall them being called “Captain’s chairs”. Now I wonder if they were also used to support caskets for funerals before the advent of those metal rolling gurney-like tables provided by funeral homes today.

Ebenezer steeple Ebenezer stained glass


Gwynns IslandGwynn’s Island Baptist Church

2011 Old Ferry Road Gwynn,  VA 23066

Now this church is very cooperative – not only do they have a website, they have a Facebook page! Very up and coming for a church that was started way back in July 1874. But, once again, we find that the original congregants, thirty five of them, came over from Mathews Baptist Church. They acquired ¼ acre of land for $25 in February 1875 and built their church. The first pastor was Charles A. Raymond. By 1889, they had organized a Sunday School….or at least that was the first mention of Sunday School in their historical documents online. The longest pastor to serve the congregation was I.E. Belch who was pastor for twenty-six years. Their mission is Serving the Lord by Serving Others”.


Gwynns Island stained glass



Again, most of the information on these churches in Mathews County comes from the Mathews County Historical Society. However, I would love to hear more about these churches if you happen to know anyone who has or still attends these churches and have more information to share. And, if you like this idea, please comment and let me know……I’m finding lots of churches to photograph so would like to share more of them in future blogs.

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