- The Washington Times - Monday, February 20, 2006

KING WILLIAM, Va. — Only in Virginia can you find a Colonial church that’s so old, even its restoration is considered historic.

“There have been a lot of dedicated people all these years,” said Meade Jones as he swung open a pair of arched double doors and entered the sanctuary of Old St. John’s Church in King William County.

Inside, the smell of paint and varnish was still fresh from a recent painting that completed a renovation begun 80 years ago.

Mr. Jones, who is president of the St. John’s Church Restoration Association, considers the effort an interdenominational triumph.

“People around here — Methodists, Baptists — any of them — felt this ought to be saved and have been giving [money] over the years,” he said as he stepped across the cold flagstones that pave the sanctuary floor.

Most of the church’s interior, including its box pews and wood-paneled pulpit, were built in the past four years.

The reproduction was necessitated by, quite possibly, the only visitors capable of ignoring the building’s austere calm.

Union soldiers during the Civil War, and — Mr. Jones thinks — British troops during the American Revolution, used the abandoned church as a stable and apparently helped themselves to the woodwork for campfire fuel.

“The only thing left from the wars are the balconies,” Mr. Jones said.

Now the T-shaped church looks much as it did in 1776 when Carter Braxton, a congregant who lived nearby, journeyed to Philadelphia to sign the Declaration of Independence.

It was the Revolutionary War that caused St. John’s to be abandoned and begin its long decay.

Built for the Church of England in 1734 and then enlarged around 1765, the church fell into disuse when the Colonies split from Great Britain.

The restoration association was formed in 1926, Mr. Jones said, to undertake the job of restoring and maintaining the church after years of neglect.

A roof replacement that year almost proved disastrous when the weight of the slate shingles caused a wall in the 1765 addition to shift.

Mr. Jones said the structure was subsequently reinforced with steel rods, but the wall still displays a bulge.

The church, standing in a grove of oaks just off Route 30 between the King William courthouse and West Point, is owned by the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia.

It was listed on the Virginia Landmarks Register in 1972 and joined the National Register of Historic Places a year later.

“It’s an outstanding example of the Colonial masons’ craft,” said Calder Loth of the Virginia Department of Historic Resources, whose published reports note its “sparkling Flemish bond brickwork and molded brick pedimented doorways.”

This most recent step in the church’s restoration also included the building of restrooms, a utility building and sidewalks.

The association also built a kiosk in the churchyard with illustrated panels that tell the centuries-old story of Old St. John’s.

The association offers the church for special events, including weddings, and holds an annual homecoming when the only service of the year is held at the church.

This year’s homecoming will be held Sept. 24.


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