It had been a while, perhaps not since 1933 or so, that he last stepped into Wakefield Chapel, but William Besley, 84, could still vividly recall the two iron stoves on opposite ends of the pews that kept the congregation warm during the cold winter days.
Back then, men sat together on the left side of the pews while women sat on the other side, he said, and when church service ended, a green curtain was drawn across the room to separate the chapel into four Sunday school classes.
"The whole neighborhood went to church here," said Besley, scanning the room where parishioners once thronged. "But you know, it looks a lot smaller than I thought."
The chapel, on Toll House Road in Annandale, no longer is a place of worship, but Sunday the entire neighborhood got together once more to celebrate its 100th anniversary.
"It's the pride of the community," said Supervisor Sharon S. Bulova (D-Braddock), whose office helped coordinate the centennial celebration. "Had the neighborhood not stepped forward, the church would have been destroyed."
Indeed, whether the chapel could survive at all was a question that had dogged it for decades, since it was last used for worship in 1951, when the congregation dismantled. Until trusteeship of the church was deeded to the Fairfax County Park Authority in 1975, the church had remained empty and become a target of vandals.
County officials and residents say much of the credit for saving the chapel goes to Victor and Gloria Danisavage, who live across the street and in 1974 mounted a neighborhood campaign to save the landmark from being destroyed.
At the urging of the community, the Fairfax County Park Authority eventually assumed trusteeship of the property and began renovating it for public use. But the chapel still faced a bleak future as funding dried up during the recession and the park authority briefly considered shutting it down once more.
Then seven years ago, an idea arose for creating a division within the park authority that would rent historic properties for private functions, including weddings and community meetings.
Since then, the chapel has hosted more than 1,000 weddings. The county rents the property for about 200 weddings a year. Sometimes three or four weddings are held on a Saturday, making it the busiest nondenominational chapel in Northern Virginia.
"What we find is that because we're in such a mobile community, most haven't found a church yet and they don't want to get married in a hotel," said Karen Lindquist, manager of the park authority's historic properties division. "Lots of people like the simple, quaint feeling of the chapel."
As such, Sunday's celebration didn't have much in the way of historical talk or exhibits. Instead, the community was treated to a wedding--actually a re-creation of a turn-of-the century wedding--that included women wearing Victorian laced dresses and men with top hats.
A reception afterward included two cakes--one each for the bride and groom, the tradition then--and petit fours baked by the Annandale High School culinary department using turn-of-the-century recipes.
The reenactment reflected the popularity of the chapel's latest incarnation, but historians say weddings were rarely held in churches, which often held funeral services instead.
Still, Simon Benson-Kaffka was one of those who recently traded vows in the chapel. It was her second marriage, and she wasn't looking for a lot of pomp.
"I love my church, but it didn't promote the intimacy I was looking for," said Benson-Kaffka, an events coordinator in Kings Park. "It only seats 90 people, so it was just perfect for the kind of wedding we wanted."
Because of rain, Sunday's celebration did not include a scheduled performance of John Philip Sousa music by the Annandale High School Marching Band or period children's games, such as croquet, marbles and hoop rolling.
But it did include quite a bit of nostalgia and history as longtime Fairfax County families relived the days when the county was dominated by small dairy farms and muddy roads. Among the notable reunions was between descendents of the Rev. Elhanan Winchester Wakefield, the first minister at the chapel, and the Besley family, many of whom attended the church.
Besley, whose grandfather donated the land and lumber for the chapel, recalled that the county had 250 dairy farmers and began reciting the names--the Simpsons, Farrows, Rosses--before he was interrupted by Bonnie Fairbanks.
"My family were farmers, too," said Fairbanks, who played the groom's aunt in the mock wedding.
"Well, then. Did you know Paul Kincheloe?" Besley asked, referring to the Fairfax County judge whose family once owned a dairy farm in the area.
"Oh my, he was my boyfriend," she said.
CAPTION: Pat Sowers, left, Bonnie Fairbanks and Sue Perlin leave Wakefield Chapel in Annandale after a mock wedding to mark the church's centennial.
CAPTION: Rick Sowers prepares to give away the "bride," Whitney Thomey, on Sunday in the church, which a fan calls "the pride of the community."