By Eugene Scheel
Sunday, December 14, 2008
Two rural churches in upper Fauquier County, Emmanuel Episcopal and Cool Spring United Methodist, are celebrating their 150th anniversaries this year. Their beginnings go even further back, to 1769, when the Virginia legislature created the Anglican parish of Leeds, acknowledging the growth that had occurred in Fauquier's western sliver.
The parish's Episcopalians and Methodists worshiped at Goose Creek Church, built about 1776, and later at the Goose Creek Free Church, before they outgrew that facility and in 1858 founded Emmanuel and Cool Spring a mile from each other.
When I contacted 103-year-old Molly Ramey Cunningham, Emmanuel's senior member, to discuss the church's history, she thought better of meeting me at the church on a wintry November day. So we met at her home, Molly's Folly, which is west of Marshall, lined by barbed wire at the end of a long, dirt lane. Not many people remain on a farm at age 103.
Why the name Molly's Folly? "In 1966, I squandered my dollar to move it, and felt I had the right to name it," she told me, explaining that the original site of her 1780 house was in the path of Interstate 66.
We were joined by Emmanuel members Jim Herbert, who is Cunningham's second cousin, and Janet White, in charge of planning the anniversary observances.
Cunningham said that some of her reminiscences were a little fuzzy. She told me a story she had heard from her grandmother, an Emmanuel parishioner who taught at the Ada School in the 1880s. Ada is a village at the fringe of a hilly region between Warrenton and Marshall known as the Free State, and Emmanuel often sent clothing to the Free State poor.
"These two mountain women came down and started fighting over one pair of men's pajamas, so their man could wear them to church on Sunday," she said. "Can you imagine, pajamas in church? And then you wonder whose people's grandmothers or grandfathers could have been the people in the story."
Cunningham singled out the Rev. Edwin S. Hinks, Emmanuel's pastor from 1890 to 1894. In 1892, when her uncle was 3 years old and lost his mother, the Hinkses took him in.
Jim Herbert, 90, was not averse to joining me at Emmanuel in the cold weather. He and Cunningham both remembered how their church, like Cool Spring and most Piedmont country houses of worship, was warmed by wood stoves and lighted by coal-oil lamps in the 1920s. Two outhouses stood at the building's rear, de rigueur at rural churches until the 1950s.
As Herbert sat in his pew, he recalled that twice he and Jim McCarty, a former chairman of the Fauquier Board of Supervisors, were the only attendees at Sunday worship.
In 1954, McCarty said he could build the foundation and walls of a parish house for $5,000, Herbert remembered. "We farmers all knew a bit about building," Herbert said. He recalled McCarty's words: "I'll put a roof on it if you finish it."
They did, in 1956, with many pitching in, and the congregation at Emmanuel grew.
Herbert, after flying 57 solo combat missions over Europe in World War II, farmed the 500-acre Woodside property close to the church and thousands of acres at eight other farms, including Glen Welby when it was a weekend home of Washington Post Publisher Phil Graham.
On a fall Sunday in 1956, Herbert did not notice at first the men in dark suits outside Emmanuel, the larger-than-usual congregation inside or the presence of Adlai Stevenson, who was running against President Dwight Eisenhower for the second time.
Graham turned to Herbert before the service, Herbert recalled, and said: "Jim, I don't know everybody here, so I'll introduce you to Mr. Stevenson, and you can introduce him to everybody else."
Normally, the rector introduced dignitaries, but Graham and Herbert were friends, and Herbert and Stevenson were Princeton graduates.
Like Cunningham, Dorothy Rose, 92, the senior member at Cool Spring United Methodist, chose not to go out on a blustery November day and met me at her home. Her grandfather helped build the church.
Her farm's setting brought back memories for me, for many years ago I went there to buy the distinctive oak gates fashioned by her husband, Herbert Rose. When I told her of those past visits, she said, "Last night I received a call from a man who wanted some of his farm gates. I told him Herbert's been dead 18 years."
She and her husband were responsible for getting Cool Spring out of the doldrums. "When we joined the church in 1946, there were usually seven people there," she said.
Her husband was well known in the area as a school bus operator and owner of the Delaplane store. With the bus and a station wagon that seated 16, they would scour 30 miles of countryside early Sunday morning, picking up children as far away as Paris and Rectortown to take them to church.
"Well, Miss Rose, we got no clothes," Dorothy remembered many a child telling her. Using the store's stock, they dressed the children in their Sunday best.
"Our creed was no Sunday school, no riding [Herbert's] ponies or going to the pool after church," she said. "We'd have 35 to 40, all children of farm help, from old enough to walk to teenagers, and six morning classes. We'd fix lunch for them, occasionally invite them for dinner -- the only entertainment they had."
Cool Spring's congregation today numbers about 50. Gary Rose, Dorothy's son, told me, "We contribute food to the needy. We never have turned anybody away. You never know when you might be in need."
Emmanuel, with a congregation of perhaps 110, has an educational and medical mission helping orphaned children in southern Sudan. This year, the congregation will send 150 10-dollar bills to the mission.
Local filmmaker Tom Davenport has made a DVD about Emmanuel Episcopal Church that includes vignettes of foxhunting, the Upperville Horse Show, the Warrenton country music festival and other local traditions. Called "Memories of Old Fauquier," the DVD can be ordered at http://www.davenportfilms.com or by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Eugene Scheel is a historian and mapmaker who lives in Waterford.