Monday, March 11, 2013

History of U.S. 1: Potomac Path Churches Part II

Back in 2005, the Mount Vernon Gazette ran a series of articles by local author Michael K. Bohn on the history of U.S. 1. They provide some interesting history on U.S. 1.

The following was written by Michael K. Bohn and ran in the Mt. Vernon Gazette, in June 2005:

Potomac Path Churches, Part 2

Michael K. Bohn
Mount Vernon Gazette, June 2005

This is the second section of the historic churches installment in the Route One series.  The previous section highlighted Pohick Church, while this one features six other churches whose beginnings predate 1900.

Alexandria Friends Meeting House is located
at the former intersection of Woodlawn Road
and Route One.  It is at the north end of the open field that is often
used for soccer tournaments across from Fort Belvoir’s Pence Gate.
Alexandria Friends Meeting, 1851 Route One and Woodlawn Road

Members of the Religious Society of Friends gather each Sunday for a “meeting for worship.”  Their sessions are silent contemplations, with each attendee searching for his own connection to God.  There is none of the liturgy, music, sermons, and collective prayer that characterize most other organized religious services in the U.S.  The silence is only broken during the hour-long meeting when a member feels like sharing a thought with the others.

This silent worship is held in a simple frame building and thrives despite the noisy passage of cars and trucks along Route One, as well as activity at the immediately adjacent Woodlawn Road entrance to Fort Belvoir.  Moreover, it’s an extraordinary juxtaposition of a beacon of anti-war sentiment—the Quaker faith—and the manifestations of national security wrought by the war on terror—barricades, machine gun emplacements, and armed guards at the Belvoir gate.

In 1846, two Quakers from New Jersey, Jacob Troth and Chalkley Gillingham, purchased Woodlawn Plantation and 2,030 acres from Washington heirs for $25,000.  They bought the land for the timber, which they logged and sent to the Philadelphia shipyards.

Dozens of other Quaker families soon followed, intent on creating a successful agrarian society that was not dependent on slavery.  Troth and Gilingham sold much of the Woodlawn tract to these folks, but retained the timber rights.  One family, the Buckmans started a farm on the Potomac Path and gave their name to the section of the road south of Gum Springs.  Abel Troth built his home on the Path—Engleside, later to become the home of Courtland Lukens, near the corner of Route One and Lukens Lane.

The Friends held meetings in the Woodlawn mansion starting in 1849 because of the distance to the nearest established “meeting,” the Friends’ term for both a parish and a service.  Members erected the current Meeting house in 1851 on land donated by Chalkley Gillingham.  The building was doubled in size in 1860 and a horse shelter added, one that is in a precarious state of repair today.

The Woodlawn Quakers suffered quietly during the Civil War.  They were largely Union sympathizers and abolitionists, but lived in a rebel state.  Woodlawn was a no-man’s land during much of the war, with both armies taking livestock and crops from the residents.  Chalkley Gillingham kept a diary during the war, and his entries bemoan the Federals’ use of the Meeting house as an encampment.  “The Union soldiers again entered our Meeting house and spent the night and made the floor and benches as dirty as ever.  They cut benches for kindling wood,” Gillingham wrote in January, 1862.

Through several expansions of Fort Belvoir, the Army has completely enveloped the Woodlawn Meeting house.  Increased security measures instituted at the post since 9-11 have made it difficult getting to meeting on First Day (Sunday).  “The Army has been generally helpful,” reports meeting member Deborah Haines, “but it took a while to sort out access procedures.”  To further compound matters, the Army is planning to build an Army museum at Fort Belvoir, and one of the possible sites is the soccer field next to the Meeting house.  “We would have a mess if they did that,” said Mrs. Haines.

The Meeting has about 140 members, with that number including about thirty-five children.  “Membership is growing,” Ms. Haines said.  “People feel comfortable and welcome here.  It’s a pool of peace.”
Cranford Church is at the intersection
of Old Colchester Road and Gunston Road
in Lorton.  The original 1857 chapel is
the smaller building on the left.
Cranford United Methodist Church, 1857
9912 Old Colchester Road, Lorton

There were only seven or eight active churches in Fairfax County in 1840—one Episcopal, one Baptist, and the rest Methodist.  In the subsequent two decades, there was an upsurge in attention to religion that historians contend was a result of the rise of the common man and his increasing concern for the state of his soul.  The Methodist church grew more rapidly than any other denomination during this period, with one of the new Methodist churches being Lewis Chapel in Lorton, now called Cranford United Methodist Church.

Itinerant preachers began holding Methodist services in the Mount Vernon area in 1830, often in the barn at Edward Bates farm, “Lebanon,” which was located on Mason Neck.  Other Methodist services were held on alternate Sundays at the largely vacant Pohick Church.

A Methodist circuit rider, Reverend John Lewis, provided the inspiration to build a permanent church in 1857, with local families supplying the labor and materials.  Named in honor of Reverend Lewis, the chapel was built on the same site as the first Pohick Church, a crossroad on the Potomac Path, now the intersection of Gunston Road and Old Colchester Road.  The members enlarged the church in the 1880s.

The congregation grew to the point by 1900 that they dedicated a new sanctuary the following year, naming it Cranford Memorial after parishioner James Cranford, a member of a prominent Lorton family.  In 1953, the church moved the original Lewis Chapel building one block and reinstalled it as a wing on the 1901 building.

“It’s a family church, one that almost has a rural feel even thought it’s just a mile from Route One,” explained Pastor Jim Canody.  “Many of our members are related and have attended the church all of their lives.  Also, they embrace the quiet, down home feel of Old Colchester Road.”

There are 285 members of Cranford Church, and Pastor Canody reports that the church is thriving.

Bethlehem Baptist Church is located on the corner of
Sherwood Hall Lane and Fordson Road.  Fordson was part of the original Potomac Path route.
Bethlehem Baptist Church, 1863
7836 Fordson Road, Gum Springs

At the start of the Revolutionary War, the evangelical Separate Baptist Church had as many churches in the colony as the Anglicans.  The laws and courts had, up until that time, allowed the presence of dissenting churches, but still required the registration of congregations and forced them to provide money for the King’s church.

The Baptists in Virginia embraced social and religious beliefs that contrasted sharply with the Anglican establishment, and they recruited heavily among the common folk, as well as slaves.  Samuel K. Taylor, a slave in Caroline County, heeded the call in the 1850s, preaching as a teenager in the slave quarters on the Taylor plantation.  In 1863, Taylor escaped, fleeing to Gum Springs where he joined with other African-Americans to form Bethlehem Baptist Church.

The new congregation raised their first church in 1865 with lumber salvaged from a Federal stable in Alexandria.  Reverend Samuel Madden, pastor of the First Colored Baptist Church in Alexandria (now Alfred Street Baptist Church) ministered to the flock on a part-time basis until Taylor was ordained in 1882.

Bethlehem began construction of their second church in 1884 and built a replacement in 1930, a brick building that is still standing on Fordson Road.  Undertaking further expansion and modernization, the members dedicated their new sanctuary, multi-purpose room, and offices in 1993.  The current complex, which includes the 1930 building that is used for meetings and classes, stands on the corner of Fordson Road and Sherwood Hall Lane in Gum Springs.  With 1,200 members, Bethlehem is the largest of the historic churches on Route One.

Also in Gum Springs is Woodlawn United Methodist Church.
Woodlawn United Methodist Church, 1866
7730 Fordson Road, Gum Springs

The end of slavery after the Civil War spawned another African-American church near the Potomac Path—Woodlawn United Methodist Church.  It is now also in Gum Springs, but it was originally located north of Woodlawn on land that has since become Fort Belvoir.

There was a cluster of African-American families living along Woodlawn Road in 1865 near the current Fort Belvoir Elementary School and the post commissary.  They gathered together to form a church for their community after services drew too many people to fit in someone’s front parlor.  A neighboring Quaker, Joseph Cox, gave land for the church to William Holland, a freedman who had followed the Quaker migration to Woodlawn from New Jersey.  Founding members built the church using recycled lumber from Fort Myer in Arlington, just as Bethlehem Church had done.

The first church and the cemetery were located across from the current water tower on Woodlawn Road and next to the new Fort Belvoir chapel.  In 1888, the congregation built a new structure across the road where the school playground is located now, as well as a school house.

The expansion of Fort Belvoir over the years has enveloped four churches along the Potomac Path, with Woodlawn UMC suffering the greatest deprivation.  In 1940, the Army asked the church to relocate, which it did to Gum Springs.  No one wanted to move the cemetery, so the Army allowed it to stay.  The plot of neat graves and headstones stands alone today, not only in memory of the church’s departed souls, but also as a quiet refuge from the hustle and bustle of the Army.  It is reportedly the only active private cemetery on a U.S. military installation and was once featured in “Ripley’s Believe It or Not.”

Woodlawn built the current church in 1941 and it serves about 200 members, according to Marye Elizabeth Thomas, the church historian.  “I am one of eight members who are still living who attended the old church,” Ms. Thomas claimed proudly.  Her family lived near the former church and cemetery, but like all of the others, was uprooted by the Army.  Ms. Thomas’ family moved to Gum Springs, others to Alexandria and Franconia.

Post 9-11 security measures have strained the relationship between the church and Fort Belvoir regarding access to the isolated cemetery for maintenance, family visits, and burials.  “The situation is getting better,” Ms. Thomas said, “but only after I went to Gerry Hyland, our county supervisor, and got him to help us.  I’m not bashful about calling him for help.”

Woodlawn Baptist Church sits atop the hill
overlooking Woodlawn Stables on Route One.
Woodlawn Baptist Church, 1868
9001 Richmond Highway, Woodlawn

Just across Route One from the Friends meeting house is Woodlawn Baptist Church, situated on the brow of a hill overlooking the pastures of Woodlawn Stables.  Home to a congregation of ninety-plus members, the church has historical ties to Woodlawn Plantation and Mosby’s Rangers.

John Mason, a sailing merchant from New England, bought Woodlawn in 1853 from Paul H. Troth, the son of one of the two Quakers who purchased the property seven years earlier.  A faithful Baptist, Mason and his wife Rachel, who was Abraham Lincoln’s cousin, started a Sunday school class in the mansion in 1859.  With the assistance of the Calvary Baptist Church in Alexandria, the Masons and several other families founded Woodlawn Baptist in 1868.  The church held services at Woodlawn until 1872 when the members constructed their first building on land across Accotink Turnpike, now Route One.

The first permanent pastor of the church was Reverend Samuel F. Chapman, known as the “Fighting Parson” because of his exploits during the Civil War.  At the outbreak of the war, Chapman was a student at Richmond College and he soon enlisted in the Confederate Army.  In 1863, both Sam and his brother William joined what was to become 43rd Battalion Virginia Cavalry, the Rangers of Colonel John Singleton Mosby.  Thrice wounded during the war, Sam Chapman was a fearless member of the Rangers, who were regarded by the South as heroic soldiers, but as bandits and guerillas by the Federals.  “He was a Baptist minister who prayed through a six shooter,” Mosby said of Chapman, “especially in dealing with Yankees.”

Chapmen left Woodlawn Baptist in 1878 after two years as pastor and his successors have been closer to the model generally expected of men of the cloth.  Roy Whitescarver, pastor from 1962 to 1970, however, also had connections to Mosby.  Three of his family also fought with the Grey Ghost.

The church bought three acres for parking from Fort Belvoir in the 1960s through the good offices of U.S. Representative Joel Broyhill.  The church razed the original, 1872 building in 1992 to make room for a new sanctuary.
Accotink United Methodist Church is the
smallest of the historic Route One churches and
is located on Backlick Road just north of Route One.
Accotink United Methodist Church
9041 Backlick Road, Fort Belvoir

“This is the original pump organ that Samuel W. Mason donated when he helped found the church in 1880,” Marge Tharpe said as she stood in the sanctuary of Accotink United Methodist Church.  “It still works!”

Marge and her friend Jane Dawson Simms chatted about their tiny church on a cold spring day recently.  Both women have been members all of their lives and have relatives buried in the adjacent cemetery.  It’s remarkable that the congregation lives on, considering that the church and the two-block village of Accotink has been completely surrounded by U.S. Government property for the past ninety-five years.

“Accotink” was an Algonquin Indian word meaning “end of the hill,” and Accotink Creek was a prominent landmark along the Potomac during the 17th century.  The Potomac Path ford at the creek became a major crossroads and served as a meeting place for the local colonial militia, the Potomac Rangers.

Accotink grew as a social and commercial center in the mid-18th century.  There was a grist mill on Accotink Creek, about where Fairfax County’s Eleanor U. Kennedy Shelter is now located, as well a race track that was the site of spirited mounted events among the area’s gentlemen.  An inn called the Royal George flourished there, and George Washington hosted social affairs at the site, which he called “barbicues.”

After the Quakers bought Woodlawn and settled in sizeable numbers in the area, Accotink became their business and residential center.  Paul H. Troth enlarged the grist mill and added a lumber mill.  Troth also owned a small shipyard on the creek; at that time, it was navigable up to the mill.  Dove’s general store was located at the current site of the Hess gas station and N.B. Nevitt had his medical practice in the village.  Mason, who appears to have been related to Woodlawn’s John Mason, owned the blacksmith and carriage shop.

Local carpenters built the church on land donated by Troth and the congregation held the first services in October 1880.  Sam Mason was the driving force in the beginning, also donating a pewter communion set, the pulpit, and the pulpit bible, all of which are still prominently on display.  Mason also organized the first Sunday school, played the organ, and preached when the regular circuit-riding minister was not there.  The first permanent minister was assigned in 1912.

The second floor of the church hosted the Quaker school that previously had been housed in the miller’s cottage at Washington’s gristmill, as well as Sunday evening services held by African-Americans living nearby.  In the late 1800s, a separate school building was constructed next to the church and the second floor was removed.

In 1910, the Federal government bought all of the land around Accotink Village for a proposed, but never-built children’s reformatory.  The land was later transferred to the War Department, becoming first Camp Humphreys in 1917, then renamed Fort Belvoir in 1935.  Members of the church, bereft of their land, moved away and the church closed during several periods during the 1920s, 30s, and 40s.  In 1958, the church added electricity, plumbing, and a kitchen to the back of the sanctuary.
Today, there are forty-six members of the congregation, all quite proud of their small, yet historic church.

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