Bacon Race Church, the weather-beaten landmark along Davis Ford Road in Prince William County, succumbed to 50 years of neglect on Christmas Day when it "leaned over and died."

The one-story clapboard church now rests in ruins among the graves it has watched over for 100 years.

"It was like it just lay down to die," said Marie Tassa, who lives next door to the church. "There were no loud noises or nothing. It was more like a garage door opening."

Like its unobtrusive existence, the abandoned church leaned quietly to one side at 3 a.m. on Christmas Day, according to Tassa.

"It's kind of sad," said Tassa, whose five children gave clandestine tours of the abandoned church to friends. "It was a big thing for the kids to go over there."

Like Atlas, a six-foot wood beam keeps the front wall with the entrance to the church standing in hopes, it seems, of at least keeping the facade alive, but it, too, looks as though it will collapse.

One of the trustees of the church, Arthur Carter, also the last surviving member of the last Baptist congregation to meet under the gable-roofed church, said he will not try to restore it. "The old building has fallen," he said.

Legends say that the Rev. William Smoot, the builder of the church who died in 1937, had remarked shortly before dying that he would return to preach at the church. He is also said to have asked that until he returned no one else should be permitted to preach there in his absence.

"That's just {a} plain-out lie," said Carter, 76, who recalls riding buggies to church. "Smoot made a statement to me that the 'next preacher will preach harder and better than I.' After he died in 1937 I had no intention of getting another elder."

Since then the church, surrounded by 200 gravestones bearing such familiar county names as Fairfax and Davis, had withstood the elements without the benefits of improvements or repairs.

According to the Virginia Historic Landmarks Commission, the original Bacon Race Church was built before 1794 and that several churches may have been built on the same site since then.

Carter said, however, that the original building burned down during the Civil War and that Smoot built the new church on the same site in the 1880s.

Bacon Race Church was where Confederate Col. Wade Hampton's brigade kept supplies in the Battles of Manassas and was the reserve position for Maj. S.D. Lee's artillery battalion during the winter of 1861-62.