Jeffrey Jackson wants to be able to show his grandson the church where his ancestors worshiped, near the graves where they are buried.
Reginald Simms envisions a museum honoring Loudoun County’s African American veterans.
Lee Lawrence would like to see a display depicting the long-standing ties between white Quakers and the African American community in the western Loudoun village of Lincoln.
Area residents offered these and other ideas for restoring the abandoned Grace Church building during a four-hour design workshop last month at the Goose Creek Friends Meeting House in Lincoln. Architects then sketched drawings showing how the two-story stone structure that housed an African American congregation from the 1880s through the 1940s might be restored and put to use.
The meeting was facilitated by members of Loudoun’s Design Cabinet, a group of architects, planners, engineers and other professionals who meet periodically with community groups to help resolve development issues. Participants included area residents whose ancestors worshiped at Grace Church and members of the Lincoln Preservation Foundation and the village’s Quaker congregation.
Their dreams for restoring the church were tempered by concerns about the impact that some potential uses for the property — such as weddings and school field trips — would have on the small village.
Carol Morris Dukes, vice president and founder of the Lincoln Preservation Foundation, said her group has been raising funds for the project since the organization was formed in 1999.
“It’s been a tough row to hoe,” she said, describing challenges the group has faced in obtaining grants. Many organizations that offer grants are not willing to give money to restore old structures unless they are used for educational or historical programming or events that attract visitors, she said.
The federal government denied a grant application because the property is still under the control of Grace Annex United Methodist Church in Purcellville, Dukes said.
Neighbors of Grace Church said Lincoln’s roads and other infrastructure could not handle large numbers of visitors for weddings and other major events.
“Why would you build something so that there would be conflict?” asked Kristin O’Rourke, 36, who lives near the church. “Why would you even start that process in the first place?” O’Rourke said she supports the restoration and preservation of the building, but not for programs or events that would draw large numbers of visitors.
“The concern is, how do you fund it without having events?” said Michael Rohrer, 68, of Lincoln. “How do you raise the money to do restoration?”
Stirling Rasmussen, 75, of Lincoln cautioned against “skewing the goals of the project” to please the granting agencies.
“There’s a lot of support for restoring it as a church and a museum, the history of the people who built it and used it,” Rasmussen said. “But to then open it up to larger events raises question of traffic and infrastructure not being able to support it.”
Simms, 81, of Purcellville, pointed out that the church was there before houses were built around it. He said a museum at the church would be a meaningful way to honor Loudoun’s African American veterans.
Lawrence, 59, who lives near Lincoln, said a museum could shine a light on the long history of harmonious relations between the races in Lincoln, where Quakers educated African American children before and after the Civil War, and helped the black congregation build Grace Church in the 1880s.
During the work session, consensus gradually emerged in favor of restoring the church but limiting the scope of events there. There also was support for a suggestion to control traffic near the site by directing visitors to park at nearby Mount Olive Baptist Church and walk down a footpath to Grace Church.
Design Cabinet Chairman Alan Hansen of DBI Architects said county staff members would compile the drawings and public comments to help those interested in preserving the church decide what steps to take next.
Jackson, 64, of the village of St. Louis, said afterward that he was moved that so many people are interested in the restoration effort.
“It just warms my heart that maybe this is going to come to fruition,” he said.