This 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
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. 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.
The 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
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.
One 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.
While 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.
Today, 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
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.
The 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.
The 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.
(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.