Saturday, October 25, 2008

St. Paul's Church, Norfolk Virginia Images

Here are some images from my visit on October 25, 2008.

St. Paul's Church, Norfolk Virginia

More correctly called the Borough Church of Norfolk, St. Paul's stands in the middle of a delightfully treed churchyard in downtown Norfolk. In fact, during most seasons, the church's original plan is difficult to discern due to later additions and the presence of trees that obscure the original church, making it especially troublesome to discover clear vistas for photographs. 
The parish has a rich and interesting history. It is third parish church of Elizabeth City Parish. A timeline is as follows:
  • 1636 New Norfolk County separated from Elizabeth City county
  • 1637 New Norfolk County divided into Lower Norfolk and Upper Norfolk Counties
  • 1640 Lower Norfolk Parish established
  • ? Lower Norfolk Parish sub-divided into Elizabeth River, Lynnhaven, and Southern Shore Parishes (Rawlings says "soon divided" (p. 153))
  • 1691 Lower Norfolk County split into Norfolk and Princess Anne Parishes
  • 1695 Lynnhaven and Princess Anne Counties merged
  • 1761 Portsmouth Parish and St. Bride's Parish split from Norfolk and Princess Anne
The original, cruciform church is laid in Flemish bond with glazed headers above and English bond below the water table. In the east transept, the chancel end, the water table is virtually at ground level while it seems to be about four bricks on the other walls with a beveled border throughout. The church is a large one: it is 86'6" east-west by 64'6" with walls approximately 30" thick. This original building is notable symmetrical, creating an almost perfect Latin cross (look on Google Earth to see this demonstrated.). The chancel is 18'6" long while each arm is 18'6" long. The nave is 33' wide wile each transept is 26'3" side. The nave itself is 42' long. Remember that Virginia's colonial churches took on the cruciform shape not due to its symbolism but rather to the need to seat more parishioners within earshot of the pulpit.

Friday, July 18, 2008


Just for fun, I have written articles about some of these churches for Wikipedia. Search for Yeocomico Church, Little Fork Church, Merchant's Hope, and St. Luke's Church (Smithfield, Virginia) if you care to read them. Here are the web addresses:


Thursday, July 3, 2008

Little Fork Church Images

Here are images of Little Fork Church taken on July 2, 2008.

Little Fork Church

Sometimes, expectations are less than reality. I presumed this church would resemble the overall setting of Lamb's Creek Church, and it does structurally, but the superb restoration and pastoral churchyard of Little Fork Church result in a total greater than the sum of its parts. This large (83 1/2' x 33 1/2') edifice stands on a small rise of ground off of Route 229 between Culpeper and Warrenton, Virginia that retains true colonial charm like few churches in the state.

It is considered to be a transitional church of late construction, begun in 1773 and completed in 1776, having characteristics of a rectangular church combined with the contemporary, two story churches of Northern Virginia in a geographic swath from Falls Church to St. Paul's, King George County. It retains elements such as orientation, south and west doorways, compass windows, and Flemish bond, yet includes elements such as a deep church configuration, a hipped roof, movement of southern door to the center of the southern wall, classical door pediments, and a pulpit on the northern wall opposite the southern doorway. It lacks elements of deep churches in Northern Virginia such as two tiered windows and cruciform structure.

Unlike most colonial churches, the designer and builder, John Ariss (circa 1725-1799) is known and designed another similar church Lamb's Creek Church that is s twin of this building. It replaces a wooden church built on or near the same site that burned to the ground in 1773. Instead of another wooden church, apparently planned by Edmund Bass who was paid five pounds for his work, this brick edifice was erected. The church site brochure cites William Phillips as the builder (for a fee of 35,000 pounds) and John Voss as the designer.

It derives its name from the junction of the Hazel and Rappahannock Rivers that are nearby. The name recorded on some plats like the USGS topographical maps of Oak Shade Church has no validity.

The bricks are laid in Flemish bond both in the water table and the walls and show occasional use of glazed brick in both headers and stretchers. The walls are 22" thick. Queen closers and rubbed brick are present at the corners, compass windows, and doorways. The transition from the water table to the walls is via an ovolo, or convex, molded brick. It is a large, deep church as already stated, approaching the limit of audibility in its 83 foot length. The modillion cornice, large toothed decorated eaves, are probably of colonial origin.

The interior, destroyed during the Civil War for Union Cavalry firewood, was restored in 1871 and 1976. The last restoration was done under the supervision of William Griggs, a noted historical architect, and is a painstakingly accurate restoration of the original interior. It consists of box pews painted colonial blue-green with dark wood tops, the original reredos on the eastern wall, and a reader's lectern under the "wine-glass" pulpit high on the north-central wall, directly opposite the southern doorway. In 1963, Rawlings reports a plaster line indication that the original wainscoting was taller than that installed in the nineteenth century restoration. This is apparently corrected in the recent repairs. The elaborate reredos contains a central tablet bearing the Lord's Prayer, the Decalogue, and the Apostles' Creed in modern gold lettering on a black background. The cornice and cross are modern additions rather than colonial features. It is mentioned in the church website that the box pews were constructed to keep out winter drafts, and that parishioners used foot warmers during winters. The flat wooden ceiling is a restoration as are most of the floorboards; Rawlings believes the floor level was originally lower.

The windows are of typical compass style with round arches of voissiors, rubbed brick, and queen closers. They are 8' 8" tall. There are ten windows in all. Those on the south, east, and north are identical while those on the west wall are small rectangular openings with flat arches, characteristic of openings for galleries in other churches. There is no evidence for a western gallery in this church (as in its sister church, Lamb's Creek, that lacks the western windows entirely). The doorways are most likely not the original form: the church probably had classical pediments like Pohick Church or Lamb's Creek Church as evidenced by brick repairs surrounding the doors. The original door openings were approximately 6' 7" wide, and the southern entrance was probably the main one.

Historically, the building was used as a drill field for the Little Fork Rangers, Co. D, 4th Virginia Cavalry in 1861 and, as already mentioned, a stable for Union cavalry in 1863 when the interior was destroyed. A "contrite Union officer" reputedly sent $100 to the church after the war to replace the destroyed pews. A marble monument to the Little Fork Rangers stands south east of the church and an apparently modern sun dial is placed on a brick base in front of the southern approach. There are no colonial graves near the present church, although there seems to be the start of a contemporary memorial garden cemetery to the east of the building among a copse of small trees. Small cedar trees sporadically surround the church that is embellished by a beautifully kept lawn encircling it.

In summary, the church is placed in a charming setting and has been lovingly and accurately restored to reflect its colonial heritage. Rawlings, always the objective historian, reports: "Although as an architectural monument it is without a superior in . . . [nearby] counties . . . it is one of the two or three most neglected of our colonial churches. " The recent restoration seems to have corrected all of this, and like many other of these significant buildings, it is encouraging to see Little Fork Church not only correctly restored but in active use by a congregation. As a last impression, the brick work on this church is simple splendid; in the morning light, the various hues of the individual bricks, accentuated by the rubbed brick doorways, windows, and corners are indescribably captivating.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Yeocomico Church Diagram

Here is a crude architectural diagram of the church based on the chart. For a far more professional diagram see Upton page 67.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Dimensions of Yeocomico Church

I have altered the chart of dimensions of Yeocomico Church as a table. Note the curious variability of the walls.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Yeocomico Church Formal Writeup

Yeocomico Church, Westmoreland County
Parish Affiliation
Like most early churches in Virginia, Yeocomico Church’s parish membership has changed as the population of Westmoreland County population grew or shifted. A brief outline shows this tendency:
1653: Part of Nominy Parish: Westmoreland County established
1661: Upper Nominy Parish became Appomattox Parish
1662: Became upper part of Potomac Parish
1662: Lower parish church of Nominy Parish that was renamed Cople Parish before 1668 [5].
It is the only remaining colonial church in Cople Parish and Westmoreland County [6].
This is the fourth oldest complete church in Virginia preceded by Newport Parish in Smithfield 1680,York-Hampton Parish Church (Grace Church) 1697, and St. Peter’s in New Kent County 1701. The original part of the present building can be assigned a date of 1706 according to a dating brick in the south east wall [7]. The north wing was most likely erected circa 1725 [8]. It is the second church on this site; the earlier building was a wooden structure of “oak timbers, sheathed with clapboards.” [9]. Curiously, parts of the wooden structure, including a corner post inside the east gable and a portion of a beam were found embedded in the walls. It has been suggested with no real proof that the brick walls were erected around the frame of the earlier wooden one, essentially encasing it. It is far more likely that some wooden elements of the earlier church were re-used in the construction of the present brick edifice [10].
This is a room church that shows a combination of features from the Virginia Gothic tradition, as in Newport Parish and St. Peter’s, New Kent County, combined with the emerging Classical style of the Virginia church of the eighteenth century. Its unique features are:
The presence of a southwest doorway with an enclosing porch
The first example of kicked eaves in a colonial church
The establishment of a baroque juxtaposition of “masses and complex shapes”
Reduction of exterior decoration to understated elements
Corbelling of the corners of the church and porch
A belt course of glazed brick
Diapering on the porch façade
A series of brick arches filled with plaster on the porch façade
Corbels on the gables
A wicket door
Brick ornaments of initial plaques, emblem plaques, and a millstone inserted in the chancel upper window [11].
The church is T-shaped with irregular dimensions and bonds on the brick walls. The bricks themselves were supposedly dug and kilned a hundred yards to the northeast of the church. There is a marker with a brass plaque indicating this in the churchyard [12]. The chancel and west walls of the east-west wing that form the main body of of the church and comprise its earliest sections differ significantly in their dimensions. The other other structures of the church, the north wing and the porch, show a similar variability.
Also the north wing and the porch are not aligned but offset so that the porch stands far to the west of the north wing [14]. The dimensions of the main building, the north wing, and the porch are singular in being so varied; all other Virginia churches have north-south and east-walls perfectly aligned with equal dimensions. The best consensus is that the church was most likely built as a rectangular edifice in 1706 with the north wing added in the 1720s[15].
The brickwork is typical of Virginia colonial churches in being laid with a water table, a section standing on the foundation, a brick’s length wider than the walls that are nineteen inches thick. The transition from the water table to the walls is made with an ovolo, a convex ¼ round, molded brick. As is the custom, English bond is present on all of the water table. The walls, however, are varied in their brickwork with some sections being laid in Flemish bond, other sections in English bond, and still other sections in irregular, mixed bond. Flemish bond is used regularly on the porch and most of the south wall. English bond is used on the upper eastern part of the south wall, the east and west gables, two sections of the north wall and the chancel wall. The north wing is a mixture of Flemish and irregular bonds. Glazed headers are used with some regularity in the walls as is typical with Flemish bond, but some sections show an irregular use of the this feature also[16]
All of the walls show extensive repointing and other repairs to the brick and mortar. These may be of late nineteenth or twentieth century origin as Meade reports in an 1838 visit that few repairs were evident [17]. The present edifice, however, shows alterations to almost all of the surfaces: south wall of porch; west wall of porch; upper right part of south wall; south wall under window and lower left corner; vertical line between window and eastern doorway; water table between window and eastern doorway; chancel wall on east; chancel gable; chancel water table; north wall of chancel around small window; north gable apex; west wall lower left; north wall of nave ; west wall of nave[18].
The location of and features of the doors make this church an interesting study in the transition from the Gothic room church to the Classical room church in Virginia.
Wicket Door
Inside the south porch is a wicket door, the only known one in an American colonial church. It consists of five vertical sections and three horizontal sections each divided by battens. The smaller door is located within the middle three battens vertically and the central one horizontally. Cyma reversa mouldings are used on the battens. In the 1960s, the area around the doorway’s segmental arch was covered with a layer of plaster. [The plaster is presently removed, and brick repairs are evident.] The doorway’s wooden molding is of a cyma reversa, reverse S, curve. On the hinge side is a large wooden peg that keeps the upper hinge from pulling out of the frame. The hinges consist of thick pintles at the top and bottom of the left side of the door. The door is said to weigh one-thousand pounds. The door is six feet wide and eight feet high and is of two thicknesses. There is a large, horizontal board at the top, then two small boards, and at the bottom four more horizontal boards. The outer door is held in place by large strap hinges that are obviously hand made. The inset wicket door also has a pair of strap hinges that are miniature images of the larger door with similar construction from horizontal boards. There is a single deadbolt on the inside of the door [19].
Southeast Door
The door frame for this opening is highly altered in almost every detail with the exception of the basic size. The door itself may be original but is almost certainly of old if not of colonial origin. It consists of a pair of narrow, white battened doors opening at the center. Each door has a pair of vertical recessed panels on the top and bottom half, comprising four panels on each door. The brick arch is obviously a replacement, but the wooden door trim consisting of two vertical frames surmounted by a horizontal board bearing a chamfer and lamb’s tongue molding may be of colonial age. The vertical frame members extend beyond the lintel to the bottom of the brick arch. The space between the arch and the top board is filled with flat plaster. The sill is a simple wooden one. In all likelihood, this opening had a pediment of unknown appearance in colonial days. It is the only door in the church that has a lock and key. These are of modern origin[20].
North Door
This opening on the end of the north wing consists of a full width, battened door bearing four vertical, recessed panels similar to the south door. The frame and brickwork surrounding it are probably reworked. This is especially evident in the brick framing on the top that is now a simple course of Flemish bond. The wooden door frame consists of three sets of flat boards, becoming progressively narrower toward the doorway. There is a bevel between the outermost frame member and a semi-round molding between the two inner boards. Both the north and south doors are secured by strap hinges on the inside[21].
The original window openings are difficult to ascertain due to successive and significant reworkings of the walls since 1900. Despite this, the general form of the windows is in all probability similar to the present openings.[22] The general form most likely follows that of St. Peter’s Church in New Kent county that has leaded diamond-shaped leaded panes set in square casement windows, though, these too are reproductions from fragments discovered on the site. Diamond-paned windows were in common use in England since the 1630's. The present windows are clearly not colonial and reflect changes in fenestration during the nineteenth century.[23].
The rectangular windows on the south, east, north wing of the east wall, the west wall, and all walls in the north wing are similar. They consist of two rectangular, facing guillotine sashed windows covered by heavy wooden shutters painted dark green and fixed with wrought iron H or H-L hinges. The shutters are not of colonial origin[24]. The east façade had two window openings: a large rectangular one that is 9’ wide and 8’ 2” high with 16 over 16 glass panes and a circular window above it with an inner section in quarters and an outer section in eighths. The circular window, in particular, is of uncertain authenticity as it is claimed that until restorations in 1930 it contained not a the present type of window but either plastered over stone and rubble or, most curiously, a millstone[25] All of the other windows have 12 over 12 glass panes. The single south window is 7’ 2” wide and 8’ high white the north wing has two smaller windows on its east and west walls and another it its north face[26]. The frames for all the windows are flat with painted wood. The wooden, bottom sill projects slightly from the frame. All have brick sills with ovolo cast bricks marking them[27].
The interior of the church has been extensively reworked and little remains, either physically or stylistically, from colonial times. It is painted white on all surfaces with the exception of the tops of the railings.
The chancel still remains in the east wing and has some reconstructed colonial features. It is on a platform raised a foot or so from the church floor. On either side of the window opening are simple rectangular tablets bearing on the left The Lord’s Prayer above the Apostles’ Creed and on the right Exodus XX (The Ten Commandments) under which is printed the Summary of the Law. In the middle is a reredos, obviously of non-colonial origin with an opening for the window incorporated within it. It bears, from the top down: 1) a cross placed so as to intersect center of the circular window; 2) a truncated tympanum, 3) a square-columned pilaster on either side of the window, and 4) a bottom forming a flat window sill. The chancel is physically separated from the rest of the church by four-foot tall vertical panels a few feet north and south of the window openings and a rail with 8 turned balusters on either side and a central opening. There are south and north facing seats in the space between the side panels and the outer walls, on the north a built-in slip pew and on the south a short bench[28].
On the right, or south, is the pulpit, reader’s desk, and clerk’s desk, the reader’s desk supposedly made from portions of the original pulpit[29]. The reader’s desk stands just in front of (north) of the main pulpit. All of this stands to the west side of the south window on a raised platform but, unlike the chancel, has no separating rail. Between the chancel and the raised area for the pulpit is a small organ enclosed by vertical panels. Behind the organ are two choir pews facing north. [This is a crowded church with very narrow aisles.] In front of the clerk’s desk is the baptismal font. To the west of the raised pulpit are two rows of three slip pews with a central aisle[30]. The rest of the ground level of the church is taken up by rows of slip pews facing south in what is essentially a nave area.
The present aisles were most likely demarcated in 1824 but may have been established as late as 1873[31]. Originally there were galleries in both the north and west wings, but only the north remains. The balusters there are probably original, and the gallery itself is largely colonial. The present brick floors are clearly not of colonial age as is the case with the raised platforms for the chancel and pulpit[32].
The ceiling resembles the general form of the original but is a reconstruction from numerous repairs, particularly in 1928 and 1939. It is a compass ceiling with two tie beams[33]. The 1706 ceiling was of “hand-riven oak” laid on rafters and collar beams. It has been replaced by a clapboard ceiling matching the general features of the north wing. The tie beams, that are marked with a lamb’s tongue and chamfer, are original while the roof trusses were replaced in the 1820s. The beam farthest north bears the figures “iiii” and the beam farthest south is a clumsy insertion. The porch trusses may be original. A new shingle roof was installed in 1954[34].
The communion table is the oldest in the state and is of undoubtedly an original feature of this church. It is a walnut table with dimension of 65” x 30”. It has baluster-like, robust legs and a bottom rail on all four sides. The molding of the edge of the upper rail is a reversed S (cyma reversa)[35]. Reportedly it was used as a chopping block by an American patrol during the war of 1812[36], and it shows a documented disregard of the sacerdotal nature of communion tables in early American churches cited by Upton as including: use as a desk for in-church schools, use as a hat table, instances of their being “pushed around carelessly,” going so far that stray dogs stole the communion bread and even urinated on the table legs. Hence, regulations were passed that the table in each church must be located on the east wall and that a protective rail be erected around it[37]. The use of any church as a school, in particular, is puzzling because most colonial vestries scrupulously avoided using the church even for parish business meeting in a separate vestry house close by a church or in the room formed by bell towers such as at St. Peter’s, New Kent County[38]. The vestry house for this church remained as a ruin just outside the west wall until 1820[39].
The baptismal font of gray polished marble is original to the church. It is octagonal in shape and now stands on a painted, white sandstone pedestal of unknown origin that is not original. Presently it is placed on the far northwest corner of the platform holding the pulpit. It was most probably, like that of all but three surviving fonts for colonial churches, made without a pedestal and placed on a table inside the church instead. Upton notes that it closely resembles baptismsl bowls in books of standardized fonts common in England at th time[40].
Other objects are also associated with the church from colonial days. The silver-plated chalice is probably and earlier one that has been “reworked.” There is a sundial to the south of the church either donated or fabricated by Philip Smith in 1717. Five colonial grave markers are spaced throughout the churchyard: in 1963, three were illegible and two were table tombs moved from “Wilmington” [Wilmington, Virginia is over one-hundred miles northwest of Yeocomico.][41].
The church is surrounded by a wall of modern origin, one of several replacements. In 1838 this wall is reported by Bishop Meade as “mouldering away”[42] while the obviously old sections of the wall may be “very old”[43]. The present gates may have been present in 1920 as a painting of that date shows similar gates in place[44]. Colonial churches only sporadically had graveyards such as this one enclosed by walls as most parishioners tended to inter their dead on their own plantations or farms[45].
The quaintness of this edifice derives not only from the Tudor swag (kicked gables) at the eaves, the south porch, the porch arches, and wicket door, but also from fanciful embellishments to the building in the form of unique door pilasters and brick plaques.
The wicket door has pilasters on either side unheard of in these simple churches. Each pilaster consists of the following structure from the bottom at the water table to the top: water table – 5 bricks (identical in height to rest of the water table); border of beveled brick; pillar – 11 convex bricks one brick wide; a torus- shaped border brick; a pillar of 8 horizontally convex bricks; a border brick of an ovolo with a flat edge on top; the apex of two bricks in the form of a flattened arrow; and a tip of a half-sphere one-half brick wide [see the gallery picture of the wicket door].
By contrast, the southeast door has a simple, rectangular pilaster consisting of bas-relief column extending from the water table to the top edge of the door. It is flat and 1 ½ bricks wide. From bottom to top it contains: a column of 8 bricks; a beveled heading; a column of 9 bricks; a torus heading; a column of 5 bricks; an ovolo heading with a flat top[46]. [See the gallery picture of the south door.]
Even more curious is the presence of patterns of glazed bricks and various plaques bearing initials and enigmatic symbols. As already mentioned, the porch gable contains glazed headers in a diamond shape (diapering) and a glazed header barge line (a diagonal line of bricks following the barge boards on the gable), but these embellishments are unevenly spaced so that the diamond is clearly off-center [see porch picture in gallery.]. This irregularity is true for the use of glazed headers throughout the structure[47].
The plaques bearing initials, dates, and idiosyncratic symbols are also most unusual and distinctive to this church. They are:
An S and G were once said to be on porch gable but no longer evident.
Porch gable: the initials S--G--M placed in separate bricks surrounding a brick bearing the image of a thistle.
Southeast doorway: R.L. carved in brick.
South Wall: 1706 IGI – below the G an English rose (originally placed over nearby, south, doorway).
Chancel Wall: Initials – IB , IS , WL , IS , IC , IT , AD , TB (Js for John or Joseph): Star between the I and B and T and S is a flower.
Chancel above circular window has initials of vestrymen and workers of 1928.
All of these plaques have an ovolo sill and some, such as the date plaque have a completeinset of molded brick. The initials on the porch and over the southeast doorway are incised while the others are in bas-relief[48].
Historic Events
A number of anecdotes have been related about the church and the churchyard according to local tradition. It was reportedly used as a barracks during the American Revolution and was, like most other Anglican churches, abandoned after the Disestablishment. It is alleged that the churchyard was used to slaughter animals by the American soldiers. The communion table was used as a chopping block although its surface was later restored. It was a ruin by the War of 1812 when it was again inhabited by an “American patrol” who used the baptismal fort as a drinking bowl that was carried away and found on a nearby farm [49]. They also allegedly made unspecified repairs to the brick walls. In 1844, a local congregation of Methodists sued to take possession of the church, but it legally reverted to the Episcopalians[50] who still use it as an active church. Services are held on Sundays at 11:00, and the church is currently open the last Saturday of summer months from 10:00 to 12:00 for guided tours[51].
In 1838, when Bishop Meade visited, the church showed evidence of few repairs although the original roof may have been present[52]. Major repairs to the brickwork, windows, and roof ware performed in 1928 and, at that time, an initial plaque was installed above the chancel’s round window. Electricity was added in 1947 and a heating system in 1949[53]. The roof shingles were replaced in 1954[54]. Ameslee Hall, the new vestry hall with architectural features compatible with Yeocomico Church, was added several years ago[55].
All in all, Yeocomico Church is a colonial artifact of great interest and value. Architecturally, it is a transition from the Gothic featured room churches of seventeen century Virginia to the Georgian, classically featured churches characteristic of the Virginia vernacular church. It shows a movement from the “massiveness of . . . earlier churches” toward a “baroque feeling for masses and complex shapes”, with unique characteristics such as the southwest porch and the pronounced kicked eaves derived from English architectural traditions[56].
Rawlings states: ““While the greater part of the church, of course, owes a great deal to both the late Gothic and early Classical manners of building, much of it also derives from the naïve and primitive skills and ways of its early artificers, who built an ornamented their church in much the same natural and God-fearing way . . . Yeocomico today is still a relatively a remote spot that is blessedly not too much overcome by latter day sophistication.[57]. “When it is said that Yeocomico Church is fascinating, quaint, and artless beyond compare, it must also be said that it is equally perplexing, particularly as to its original shape and masonry. . .[58]”. The contribution of local craftsmen, whether they were hodgepodge architects or whimsical bricklayers, is what gives the building its characteristic charm, the feature that remains in the mind of the viewer the peculiar impression of naïf elements coupled with mysteries regarding its many enigmatic features.
6. ^ Rawlings 50
7. ^ Rawlings 50
8. ^ Rawlings 52
9. ^ Rawlings 58; Upton xv
10. ^ Rawlings 50
11. ^ Rawlings 56
12. ^ Rawlings 58; Upton 69
13. ^ Rawlings 50
14. ^ Rawlings 50-51
15. ^ Rawlings 50-51
16. ^ Rawlings 58; Upton xv
17. ^ Rawlings 51
18. ^ Meade II 149
19. ^ Rawlings 51
20. ^ Rawlings 53
21. ^ Rawlings 54
22. ^ Rawlings 54
23. ^ Upton 69
24. ^ Rawlings 33, 44
25. ^ Rawlings 54
26. ^ Rawlings 54-55
27. ^ Rawlings 54
28. ^ Rawlings 55
29. ^ Rawlings 55
30. ^ Rawlings 55
31. ^ ”The Episcopal Churches of Cople Parish"
32. ^ Rawlings 56
33. ^ Rawlings 55
34. ^ Upton 45 [see this page for a picture of the ceiling taken in 1927—before restoration.]
35. ^ Rawlings 56
36. ^ Rawlings 55
37. ^ Rawlings 55
38. ^ Upton 150
39. ^ Upton 72
40. ^ Rawlings 57
41. ^ Rawlings 55; Upton 145
42. ^ Rawlings 57
43. ^ Meade II 148
44. ^ Rawlings 57
45. ^ Rawlings 57
46. ^ Rawlings 1-2
47. ^ Rawlings 54
48. ^ Rawlings 52
49. ^ Rawlings 52
50. ^ Rawlings 57
51. ^ Meade II 153-4; Rawlings 57
52. ^ "The Episcopal Churches of Cople Parish"
53. ^ Meade II 138
54. ^ Rawlings 56
55. ^ Rawlings 56
56. ^ > "The Episcopal Churches of Cople Parish"
57. ^ Upton 69
58. ^ Rawlings 58
59. ^ Rawlings 57-58

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Yeocomico Church Images

Using my new camera (Nikon D40), I took a large number of images of Yeocomico Church. Here are samples.

Yeocomico Church Revisited

Just this Saturday, June 2, I visited this most unusual church again. I inveigled Jack, an carpenter, artist, and poet beyond compare for a run up the Northern Neck. We rocketted up to the church and spent three hours talking with Bill King, a member of the congregation, who engaged us with the history and anecdotes about the church and the community. He was most gracious and allowed us to wander about the church, enter the interior, and barrage him with a host of questions and observations.

The church is open on the last Saturday each month from 10:00 to 12:00 for tours; I highly recommend anyone interested in these churches visit this one. Check their website for directions:

I have a full writeup of this church at Wikipedia; Search for Yeocomico Church to find the article.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Merchant's Hope New Images

I have added several images here referrring to the the previous post.

Merchant's Hope Revisited

The church has been dated by local tradition and a date carved on one of the roof trusses to 1657 (Rawlings 28), but recent historic and architectural evidence establish a date of approximately 1725 (Upton xv).

The church was primarily part of Martin’s Brandon Parish as both an upper and lower church. It is located on the Old River Road that preceded the present Route 10 that connects Suffolk with Hopewell. (Mason 79). The parish affiliation changed as parishes were reorganized during the colonial period. The record is somewhat confusing, and recent dating or 1725 by Upton tends to change the parish affiliation of this particular building dramatically:

1618: Martin’s Brandon Parish was originally a plantation parish named from a nearby plantation. It was united with Prince George’s Parish at that time (Rawlings 28).
There is indirect evidence of an active parish and, therefore some kind of church edifice, in 1665 and 1675 (Mason 78).
1655 – 1688 – 1720: Martin’s Brandon Parish was made independent of, absorbed by, and again made independent of Westover Parish, immediately north of the James River (Rawlings 28; Mason 78).
1655- 1688: The parish was referred to as Jordan’s Parish(Rawlings 28).
1688: Is mentioned as a chapel of ease for Westover (Rawlings 28).
1720: Is mentioned as the upper chapel of Martin’s Brandon Parish (Rawlings 28).

The vernacular name Merchant’s Hope for the present church is derived from the nearby plantation of the same name. The linking of the church to a sailing bark called Merchant’s Hope has no validity. The ship and church derived their names from the plantation (Rawlings 27-8).


This church is the outstanding example of the brick, rectangular room church in the state of Virginia.
It is 60’ x 25’ as measured on the inside. In colonial contracts for churches this was referred to as “in the clear.” It consists of 22 ½ inch thick walls of solid brick (two-and-a-half bricks thick) with English bond below the water table five bricks high and Flemish bond above the water table. The transition from the water table to the walls contains a row of beveled bricks. Glazed headers are used throughout the building, and there is a row or glazed headers along the barge boards. Unlike most churches of the early eighteenth century, there is almost no serious reconstruction in the walls. Queen closers of rubbed brick are present in the doorways, the window trim, and at all four corners of the building (Mason 78; Rawlings 28).

The main entrance, west door, pediment, is of the most simple character; it consists of a compass heading with simple wood panels on the doors which may be of colonial manufacture. The brickwork surrounding the door is an understated pediment with no pilasters, pillars embedded in a wall. Its only decoration consists of rubbed brick accentuated by queen closers and an arch of flat bricks. The door itself is embellished by a wooden lunette, here a half-circle, and its two, center-opening doors have a small horizontal panel over two large vertical panels. The door’s wooden trim contains curved cyma reversa, a reversed S-shaped molding, pieces separating three panes. Wooden pegs are used in both the doors and windows. H-L hinges are used throughout the building. (Mason 79; Rawlings 29).

The south door is identical in detail with the exception that it is a shorter, rectangular opening in the chancel end of the church with a flat arch at the top (Mason 79; Rawlings 29).
Upton comments that “the doorways were [sic] comparable in size and visual emphasis to the windows, rather than inconspicuous.” (70) and that all Virginia brick churches lacking an elaborate pediment have similar doors with a compass head in the west end and a flat head on the south wall (117).


Merchant’s Hope has the best preserved compass windows of surviving colonial churches and displays the eventual style of chancel windows universal in eighteenth century Virginia churches. Although they show systematic repairs, they are “very old” and “surely colonial” (Rawlings 29). They consist of identically sized windows on the north, east, and south walls. There are four windows on the north, two in the east, and three on the south (The vestry door is directly opposite the north-eastern window.). On the west wall above the door is a small compass window. The brick embellishment is the same as the west doorway with rubbed brick, queen closers, and a curved arch. They have two vertical sections made up of 24 over 16 panes. They are true guillotine windows with no counterweights. The wood work on the windows, like the west doorway, is a reverse S-curve, and the muntins are one inch thick. The bottoms consist of wooden sills with a row of beveled bricks below them in oarlock orientation. (Mason 79; Rawlings 29; Upton 71).

The interior was gutted during the Civil War when the church was reputedly used as a cavalry picket station, although there was no damage to the doors, windows, or gallery (Rawlings 30). It was reconstructed and now resembles the general room church configuration with the exception that the T-shaped aisle has been altered to an L-shaped one with the top of the L at the west door and the stem at the south. (Rawlings 29). The chancel has a communion rail instead of a rood screen as at Newport Parish and Yeocomico while the pews are similar to those of Vauter’s church, single row box pews with a door on each end. The pulpit is just south-west of the chancel although it was originally near the middle of the south wall (Rawlings 20). The west gallery still had an original stairway and rail (Rawlings 29) with asymmetrical balusters characteristic of the early eighteenth century (Upton 109). On the east wall is a communion table centered between the windows and tablets of obligatory scripts: from left to right, the Lord’s Prayer, the Ten Commandments (Exodus XX), and the Apostles’ Creed. Most notably lacking is the display of a cross: no Anglican Virginia church displayed a cross during the colonial period (Upton 118-121).

The floor reputedly contains original 18” square flagstones or Portland stone (Rawlings 29). According to rather dubious evidence, there is a crown mark on the underside of the tiles identifying them as having English origin (Brock 24). An architectural problem with the floor is that the present level is too low for the doorways. Either the door openings as well as the doors were larger or the floor was higher. The present structure of a high door step combined with a low floor is most unlikely to be of original origin (Rawlings 29-30).

Roof / Ceiling
The most prominent feature of the exterior roof is the pronounced kick of the eaves which flatten them, giving the entire church a distinctive look. (Mason 79; Rawlings 30). Of course, the present slate roof is not the original one. (Rawlings 30). The roof truss construction is of considerable interest since it is the earliest known example of a king-post truss that is bent at the feet to allow a curved ceiling (see Upton p 44 Fig 24 for a diagram of the elaborate roof trusses.). The present surface is a semi-domed plaster ceiling completely concealing the truss structure (Upton 43-44). It was common for ceilings to be painted blue with clouds though this in not mentioned in regards to Merchant’s Hope (Upton 3).

Symbolism and Structure
This church contains the most pure example of the essential elements of a rectangular room church (Upton 60-63) that include:
Dimensions of approximately 60’ east-west by 25’ north-south.
Lack of a rood screen separating the chancel from the pews.
Oriented with the chancel facing east.
Main doorway on the west wall: vestry door on the south east corner.
Lack of bell tower or south porch.
Plain exterior lacking a bell tower or south porch
Display of tablets containing The Lord’s Prayer, the Decalogue, and the Apostles’ Creed (Upton 60-63: 118-121).

In addition, Upton writes extensively on the symbolism embedded in the general features of the building citing particularly the tendency toward pediments and domes:
· The pedimented doorways used on many churches are part of a continuous tradition running from Rome through early Christian and medieval building to post-Reformation England; they recall the gateway symbolism of Mediterranean and medieval architecture, and it turn refer, largely unconsciously to the triumphal arches of imperial Rome. They signal the transition for the secular world to the exalted world of the Church.” (Upton 117).
· “Pedimented doorways thus partook of the vault/dome/canopy tradition in dignifying the approach to the honored place, and in their shape. The pediment . . . conveyed honor in itself.” (Upton 117).
He also states that the combination of a compass pediment on the west door and a triangular pediment on the south was characteristic of early eighteenth century churches in Virginia:
· “ . . . every surviving pedimented church before the 1750s uses a segmental pediment for the main (west) door and a triangular pediment over any secondary doorways . . . in doing so, the gateway/canopy was linked to the compass ceiling and the more general principle that curved or compass forms were more dignified than straight or ‘square’ ones.” (Upton 117).
Hence the plaster, domed ceiling that symbolically suggests the transition from the secular to the rarefied spiritual world.

This transition is also accomplished by the symbolic journey a parishioner takes when entering the church; he progresses from the secular world through the arched west doorway, passes the baptismal font symbolic of entry to the church (Upton 48), walks under a representation of the sacred dome to the pews from which he progresses to the east, toward Jerusalem (Rawlings 13), to take the communion meal at the chancel rail from which he can see the sacred texts through the clear light from the large east windows (Upton 3-4, 48, 142).

Another aspect of the physical structure of Virginia’s colonial churches was the social status given to seating. One’s social status was reflected in the nearness to the chancel, so parishioners of higher rank sat closest to the pulpit and the chancel while those of low status sat near the west wall. Men and women were also separated by seating on different sides of the aisle (Upton 3-4).

Friday, May 9, 2008


I have found a number of sources useful in my reading on these old buildings.

  • Meade, William. Old Churches, Ministers, and Families of Virginia. 1995 Philadelphia: Genealogical Publishing Co, Inc, 1847.

This is the basic reference available in two volumes as a reprint. I bought it off Bishop William Meade did an extensive physical survey of Virginia's colonial churches and recorded their condition in the early decades of the 19th Century. He exhaustively documents the parishes, families associated with parishes, the ministers, and anecdotes about the churches. He shows a clear evangelical bias and remonstrates against excesses of clergy and formal Anglican practices. Like Heroditus, he accepts many questionable stories, but to err on the side of completeness is not necessarily a historical sin. An invaluable resource.

  • Meade, George C. Colonial Churches of Tidewater Virginia. Richmond, Va.: Whittet and Shepperson, 1945.

George Meade complied this book after a long years of visiting sites and publishing articles in various periodicals. It is organized by counties and contains maps and some illustrations of the churches along with admirable summaries of parish and building histories. I purchased a used copy and found it was signed by the author. What a bonus!

  • Rawlings, James S. Virginia’s Colonial Churches: An Architectural Guide. Richmond, Va.: Garrett and Massie, 1963.

The canonical reference. Sporadically available on Organized by date of construction of each church with a succinct summary of parish history and lucid descriptions of the condition of each building's exterior and interior from the experienced eye of an architect. A must take on church jaunts. If you have to have one book about the churches, this is it. It contains a limited number of photographs of selected churches in color. He finds Merchant's Hope to be the stereotypical church, and it is hard not to agree with him.

  • Upton, Dell. Holy Things and Profane: Anglican Parish Churches in Colonial Virginia. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1986 (1997).

A brilliant book that examines not only the architecture but the social, historical, and cultural influence of these beautiful buildings. An absolutely must read. Upton brings to light aspects of colonial churches that are novel and transcending.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

St John's, King William County Reredos

Some time ago, I found this early Twentieth Century image of the reredos replaced in the recent renovation. Rawlings hypothesizes it was taken from a nearby church, probably Stratton Major.

Monday, May 5, 2008

St. John's, King William Interior

Here are some shots of the inside of the church. Why didn't I take more? The recent restoration has added a new reredos (chancel backpiece between the two east windows) that, unlike the one Rawling's cites (1963) is appropriate for the size of the room and window interstice. The only jarring note are the turnbuckles used to support the walls from north to south. Colonial parishioners preferred the wide space -- according to Upton (1995) these may have been the only buildings of such size that most colonial parishioners saw.

The font pedestal is from a nearby parish, Acquintin Parish, and was placed there in 1978. It is of yellow sandstone and similar to pedestals common in the Eighteenth Century (Upton 145).

Also in the north wing is an Eighteenth Century Bible, King Jame's Edition.

Note the rough plaster on the ceiling: is this an original feature?

Pardon me for nitpicking as this is a noble and loving restoration.

St. John's, King William County Organ Concert

Here are some new pictures of this restored church during the organ concert featuring the organ from the Presbyterian Church in Williamsburg and Dr. Tom Marshall who played a reptoire of pieces from the Eighteenth Century to modern music.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Rural Traces

I am writing a book of lyric poetry about my wife's relatives from the mountains of Western North Carolina titled Rural Traces. Here are some samples at

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

St Paul's Parish Church, King George County

N 38°19'57.03" W 77° 7'28.48" 1766 1766-67

I wondered about the state of this church after reading about it, but was pleasantly surprised to find the brickwork in better condition than I thought although the classic purity of the architecture is ruined by the bricking up of the original, huge doorways and the insertion of rectangular doors in the wing in the early Nineteenth Century.

The building immediately gives the impression of immensity in both width and height. It is in the shape of an equal armed cross (a Greek cross) with dimensions of 61' 10" for the each total side with the arms being 20' 10" wide and 16' in length from the center. Like Aquia Church and several Northern Virginia ones (Pohick, Christ Church Alexandria, Falls Church), St Paul's has two stories of windows: the lower being rectangular with segmental arches, the upper typical compass windows. The walls seem quite high, some 25 feet at least so the total effect is of an imposing edifice. The brick is laid in English bond in the water table and Flemish bond above it. The transition from the water table to the walls is via a beveled brick. Rubbed brick is used at the corners and around the windows while the use of glazed brick is irregular and sparse. The walls are 21" thick.
Major changes were undertaken in 1813 when the building was converted for two decades into a school. The original doorways were bricked up (they extended from ground level to well into the second story, reminding me of the the doors at Christ Church, Lancaster in size. These were located on the west, south, and north facades. Smaller, rectangular doors were then cut into the structure on the sides of the south wings and side. The windows were also altered significantly, some being bricked up and the top row with wooden frames for the compass window tops. I presume (perhaps incorrectly) that the window frames are not original. Compared to the massive changes to the doorways and windows, the repairs to the walls themselves seem minor and are catalogued in great detail in Rawlings (212 ff).

We were unable to see the interior as no one was on site, but through the windows we could see that little colonial structure remains. The church was abandoned after the Revolution and when it was converted to a school, interior rooms and partitions were inserted. In 1830 the building was again converted to a church and the partitions removed, but the rooms on the northern wing were kept as offices. As a result the church was converted into a T-shaped room bearing little resemblance to other cruciform churches. Rawlings cites Aquia Church as the general twin to this building, so a look at its interior will give the viewer the impression of the original interior. The graves in the surrounding churchyard also contain many interesting monuments.

All in all, this remains a pleasing edifice with much to be admired in the brickwork despite the drastic changes to doorways, windows, and interior. It stands on a small knoll not far from Route 301 where it crosses to Maryland, and we found the rolling country pleasant for a Mini Cooper mad drive. The nearby town at Dahlgren has several restaurants close by; we ate at one of the Chinese buffets which we found cheap, friendly, and satisfying.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Fork Church

Fork Church N37°51'12.81" W77°31'53.92” 1736-1740

Fork Church is a charming rectangular church located close to Richmond at the western end of Hanover County. To reach it go north on Route 1, paralleling I-95 to the west, and turn west on Routh 738 for a refreshingly bucolic trapse.

It is slightly larger than typical churches at 74’ x 34’ and has gorgeous brickwork noted by Rawlings (1063 142ff). The bricks are laid in Flemish bond with glazed headers throughout. A supremely ugly brick chimney is placed between the two chancel windows. The water table seems relatively high (I should have measured it.) and is laid in English bond. Beautifully toned rubbed brick marks the corners and the windows with some regularity. On the spring day we visited, the light brought out all the subtleties in those tones from deep red to rosy red. The windows themselves are in the form of beautifully proportioned segmental arches. The brickwork at the east and west end tops is obviously replaced; Rawlings hypothesizes this as evidence of original clipped gables (143).

The doorways have been altered by the addition of cumbersome, pillared porches with crude triangular roofs and equally clumsy decorative eaves (modillions) and matching half-columns (pilasters) on the walls. The columns are made of white painted brick and taper from bottom to top (classical entasis). Rawlings dreams fruitlessly of the restoration of the original doorways in his 1963 text (144).

For lovers of intricate window frames, this is Elysium. Rawlings describes them in some detail on page 144. I should have thought to take close-up pictures of them. Maybe next time.

The pews are largely original but substantially altered in height from a 1930 remodeling while the pulpit was moved from the north to east to north again. The oak floors are very likely original; this church never had the common flagstone floors typical of most colonial churches. There is a west gallery that is original along with an organ from the mid nineteenth century (Rawlings 145).

There is a large marble font from Mattaponi Church in King and Queen County, but no parish silver as it was destroyed in a 1936 fire.

The churchyard has many internments but none of colonial times and has the strangest, most clumsy wall around some of the older graves. It was erected from the east end of the church ten or so feet from the chancel wall and runs in a thin rectangle for a hundred feet or so. The brickwork in the wall is sloppy and irregular as is the wall capping. The graveyard, though, is worth a good hour of exploration.

Dolley Madison and Patrick Henry along with the novelist Thomas Nelson Page at least occasionally attended here and the actress Katherine Hepburn’s grandfather, S. S. Hepburn, was rector from 1893 to 1903.

All in all, Fork Church is a charming edifice with admirable brickwork. As a editing experiment, the first image shows the east edifice without the chimney.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Slash Church

Upper Church, St Paul’s Parish (Slash Church) 1729 N37.71924 W77.41387

Slash Church is in a rarity of three in Virginia: a clapboard church surviving from colonial days. Remarkably close to Richmond, it has survived relatively intact except, as in most pre-revolutionary places of worship, having massive alterations to the interior configuration. It is easy to find; take the 656 exit on I 95 North of Richmond straight along Sliding Hill Road until it turns into Mt. Hermon Road. The term slash refers to elevated areas in the generally swampy terrain (similar to lights in the Great Dismal Swamp).

The original building, with a similar , but separate structure added a few feet to the north of it in 1955, is surprisingly intact with the clapboards showing inevitable wear yet still relatively undamaged. Its measurements are 60’ x 20’ (measured by Rawlings as 60’ 7” x 26’ 6’’ – as if it changed in post colonial construction?). This makes it just average in size for a rectangular church. Rawlings claims, too, that only isolated clapboards on the east, south and west walls are original while the present pastor asserts that they are largely original with the exception of the northeastern wall which was damaged in a fire in the 1970s along with the floor in the same area. Standing on the top of a small rise to the northwest of Mt. Hermon Road in Hanover County, the first impression is of a pair of buildings similar in construction and proportion to a colonial edifice. It is quite charming and reminds the viewer of stereotypical country churches.

The doors are of simple construction and the west door is of colonial origin as are the sills of the two lower east windows. The eaves contain a toothed decorative motif (modillion cornice) that is original and, in 1963, the interior wainscoting, the handrail, and the west gallery that the pastor claims is structurally sound despite seeming slightly askew. The original wooden foundation sills are still intact but have been set on brick foundations.

Rev. Steve Lesher was kind enough to leave his Bible study group to let us inside and lead Tom, Bill, and me on a guided tour of the inside. The present congregation is vigorous and, pleasingly, composed of both old Hanover residents as well as a sizeable proportion of young families with children filling the building each Sunday. It is good to see these venerable structures still alive and thriving. Their denomination is the Disciples of Christ whose stark worship resembles that of the Anglican simplicity of the Eighteenth Century.

If I make it back again to this church, I will beg to be allowed to stand on a stepladder and see the roof structure which consists of diagonal purlins and beams fastened with wooden pegs that Rawlings says “are arranged in a curious, triangular form . . . [with] no ridge beam.” (104).

Dolley Madison, Patrick Henry, and Henry Clay are claimed as members of this parish, and Henry’s uncle was rector for forty years. Nearby Fork Church also claims Patrick Henry as a communicant? The building was abandoned after the Revolution and was shared by the Methodists and Disciples of Christ until 1842 when the latter denomination acquired its sole use. It was supposedly used as a school and a Civil War hospital? There also was a significant skirmish between Confederate and Union troops on May 27, 1862 in one of the first skirmishes of the Seven Days Battle.

Links to Slash Church are: