In remote woods in far northwestern Loudoun County, a pre-Civil War house of worship has been discovered. The stone building rests in a hollow off Harper's Ferry Road, surrounded by century-old daffodils and a stone terrace. No one recalls the church's name before the war, but it was part of a farm known as Mountain View. After the war, it was called the John Long Meetinghouse by its mother congregation seven miles away, the Brownsville Church of the Brethren in Maryland's Pleasant Valley.
I first learned of the meetinghouse 12 years ago, when the late H. Austin Cooper, a Brownsville Church member since 1934 and a Brethren minister since 1944, wrote me a letter asking whether I knew the whereabouts of the "Long house" or the "Long Meetinghouse."
He wanted to include it in a history he was writing of the Brownsville Church. He gave me two hints as to the building's location -- it was near Neersville, and "we think it was the old farmhouse near the Bob Waters house."
Cooper, who was born in 1911 and grew up in nearby Brunswick, Md., had visited Bob Waters and his wife, Annie, when he was young. Annie Waters was the sister of the man who would later become Cooper's father-in-law, Orville Younkins, and at the Waters house, he remembered Younkins talking about the Long Meetinghouse.
But in 1990, when he drove south on the Harper's Ferry Road, he could not find the Waters place, which had been right by the road. I wrote to Cooper and told him that I had never heard of a Long Meetinghouse and did not know where the Bob Waters place was. I suggested sources he might consult
There the matter rested, and I filed Cooper's letter in my "Waters" folder, for I assumed that the Bob Waters place was near the village of Waters, about three miles southeast of Harper's Ferry, near Ebenezer Methodist Church. Cooper's 542-page book, "The Church in the Valley," came out in 1993, and contained a single mention of the John Long Meetinghouse, its first name supplied by Long's daughter, the late Pinkey Potter. She had told Cooper that her father had been an elder of the Long Meetinghouse.
The church's Pleasant Valley, cut by Israel Creek, is the northerly extension of Loudoun's Between the Hills valley. Both are framed by the Blue Ridge on the west, called Elk Ridge in Maryland, and an eastern range called Short Hill in Loudoun and South Mountain in Maryland.
In June 1999, Robert and Dee Leggett purchased a Between the Hills property, 894 acres on which they have established the Blue Ridge Center for Environmental Stewardship. That fall, they graciously guided me and others on a tour of some of its historic sites, and we passed right by the still anonymous Long Meetinghouse.
No one in the group had a name for the old building, but it struck me as unusual for its era -- the early or mid-1800s -- as it had no fireplaces. Someone mentioned that Franklin stoves were once attached to the single interior chimney.
During the next few years, I took several of my field history classes for teachers past the building and told them that the house was one of a few pre-Civil War dwellings without fireplaces. But in the 1850s, I added, coal debuted as an area fuel, and because coal came by rail from western Virginia to nearby Harper's Ferry, that was probably what the occupants used.
But I kept wondering whether that was true. The stone house measured about 18 feet by 36 feet, small enough that anyone living there could not have been of means. Coal was more expensive than wood -- $5 a ton compared with a dollar or two for a cord. And, to reach Harper's Ferry before the Civil War, one had to take a toll bridge across the Shenandoah River, 50 cents round trip, and later a toll ferry after the bridge was destroyed in the war.
Early this year, I began to rewrite and expand a 1982 history of the village of Waters I had written for the Loudoun Times-Mirror. The new version appears in Volume 5 of the "Loudoun Discovered" series, published by Friends of the Thomas Balch Library. The five books detail the history of the approximately 120 Loudoun County communities, corners and crossroads.
I re-read H. Austin Cooper's letter and then scanned his book so I could add the Long Meetinghouse to my Waters essay. But the information in the letter did not appear in the book, and I learned from Brownsville's pastor, the Rev. Dan Johnson, that Cooper and Potter had died.
By now. my curiosity had grown, for I learned that the Bob Waters place was called the Levi Waters place during the Civil War and that Confederate Lt. Thomas Turner had died there. Turner, one of ranger John Mosby's stellar officers, had been wounded in a January 1864 skirmish -- Mosby's worst defeat -- on the present Blue Ridge Center property. I had included the story of this skirmish in my Waters history.
Several phone calls to area residents established the location of the Bob Waters place, which old-timers remembered as the last store in Waters village, run by John and Mae Demory from the late '20s to the early '40s. It turned out that Cooper hadn't found the Waters place in 1990 because the state had moved it 120 feet back from the road when that section of Harper's Ferry Road was paved in 1948. Over the next 40 years, tree and shrub growth partially obscured the view from the road.
Cooper's letter said Brethren services were held at the Long Meetinghouse before the Civil War until about 1910, and I thought that the building might have crumbled or been torn down in the intervening decades. Regardless, I wanted to find the precise site. I wondered whether there was an adjunct graveyard.
A few phone calls verified that the person who had lived in the immediate area the longest was Wilbur Wortman, who immediately identified the Long Meetinghouse as the "Long house." His father, Henry L. Wortman, had owned the farm and Long house in the 1940s and '50s. In the '30s and '40s, it had been occupied by Philip Long.
Sure enough, Wortman's Long house was the same building we had passed on our tour of the Blue Ridge Center, and I thought it Loudoun's historical find of the year.
No readily available record states whether Philip Long was related to John Long, the Brethren elder, a Marylander who lived in either Washington County or Frederick County, just across the Potomac River from Loudoun.
Having identified the meetinghouse, I wanted to find the records mentioned in Cooper's letter, but neither Johnson nor church historian June Higdon knew immediately where they were.
Johnson and Higdon, however, gave me background on area Brethren history, as I had asked why there were no other Brethren churches in Loudoun -- especially in the Lovettsville area, first settled by immigrants from Germany, where the faith was founded in 1708. There were many Brethren churches in Washington and Frederick counties, which had also been settled by Germans, and the faith remains strong in those areas. Johnson's congregation numbers about 500.
Brethren did not believe in slavery and were noncombatants. With Mennonites and Quakers, they are called by theologians the "historic peace church," though Johnson told me that beginning with World War I, not all Brethren have held to that position.
Brethren believed in baptism by trine, or triple immersion in a creek or pond -- forward, not backward as customary in the Baptist faith. Through the 1930s, Brethren were commonly called "Dunkers" or "Dunkards," from the German "tunken," to immerse.
Johnson also emphasized that Brethren believed in adult baptism and in what Johnson termed "radical discipleship" -- obeying God, no matter what.
Such tenets may not have sat well in Loudoun County, which in May 1861, a few years after the Long Meetinghouse was organized, cast 1,628 ballots in favor of seceding from the Union and 726 ballots against. Waters precinct's vote was 39 to 26 against secession, largely a referendum against slavery and an indication that the Brethren's influence had taken some hold.
Cooper's letter mentions that at that time, services were conducted by Emmanuel Slifer of Burkittsville, Md., and a member of the Brownsville Church. In 1879, Slifer would found the Pleasant View Brethren Church, still strong, in Burkittsville.
But in early June 1861, Col. Thomas Jonathan Jackson's Confederates burned the Potomac River bridges to Maryland, and Slifer could no longer minister in Loudoun. "Then the church was supplied by the elders from Berkeley County, Virginia," Cooper wrote me, quoting an unnamed source. That church today is Mountain View Church on Route 9 west of Opequon Creek in what is now West Virginia. "Members around Neersville and Mt. View Church were interrelated," Cooper wrote.
Cooper noted that in "about 1868," ministers from Middletown, Md., and the Manor Church in Washington County served the Long Meetinghouse. Then, "about 1890 the elders from Brownsville again served the Neersville [John Long] meetinghouse. The last known elder to go to Neersville was Elder Eli Yourtree, who ministered to about 10 or 15 families."
"It isn't clear about dates, etc.," Cooper continued in his letter, adding that services stopped "about 1910." The meetinghouse was converted into a home, and its last occupants were Sidney Wortman, son of William L. Wortman, and his family.
Sid Wortman helped his father run the Mountain View dairy farm in the 1940s and '50s. His son, David Michael Wortman, told me that the family moved from the Long place in 1959 and that it has been unoccupied since.
Last week, I spoke to David Lillard, executive director of the Blue Ridge Center, who said he and his staff will save the meetinghouse, study it and determine its best public use.
Eugene Scheel is a Waterford historian and mapmaker.