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:

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Aquia Church Interior

The interior of this church is the most original of all extant true colonial churches. I shall, with my non-architect’s eye, attempt to describe the general features.
Check the size of the church and be prepared to be overwhelmed by its sheer size and openness. The white walls and recessed window enclosures admit a brilliant amount of light on a fair day. The frames of both upper and lower windows are said to be original (Rawlings 195).
To the east is the altar and a magnificent reredos with well preserved moldings. (For a full analysis of the moldings, see Rawlings pages 190ff.) Below the beautifully proportioned pediment is the main panel bordered by ionic columns. The four insets bear, as they would have in colonial days, the Ten Commandments, the Lord’s Prayer, and the Apostles’ Creed. Compare this reredos to that of Abingdon Church that is too wide for the space between the chancel windows; Rawlings concludes that the Abingdon reredos was moved from another church. The cross, of course, would have not been displayed in a colonial Anglican church. Amazingly, the communion table is of colonial origin; Rawlings cites the lack wear such as kick marks an indication that it was always used for sacerdotal purposes.
The pulpit is also truly magnificent. It has fully three levels and a stairway with a sharp turn that was almost dismantled and sold just after the Civil War because the vestry, including a brother of R. E. Lee, found the elderly rector could not ascend the stairs. The three levels are from bottom to top: for the recording clerk, the delivery of the service, and for the sermon. I believe I have read that the other triple-decker pulpits such as Bruton Parish, Abingdon, or Lancaster are reconstructed in the image of this one.
The box pews are also original with some planning and alterations but have survived relatively intact. Rawlings (193) describes the panels as having a small horizontal panel over several vertical lower ones. Raised panels on pews face the altar rather than the sides or back. There are also original raised panels below the benches along the walls.
The west gallery is given a page and a half of development by Rawlings who waxes ecstatic over the moldings, pilasters (half columns fixed to the wall), and free columns. To my non-trained eye, it seems distinguishably crooked with age.
The floor tiles date from a restoration in the 1933 for the chancel and just after the Civil War for the crossing. Supposedly the crossing tiles were taken from a family cemetery at an antebellum plantation, Windsor Forest, belonging to the Moncure family.
I despair that I took so few pictures of the interior.