- Associated Press - Saturday, August 26, 2017

BRANDY STATION, Va. (AP) - Steve Pollett likes to joke that God must be paying him back for all the years he didn’t attend church.

“He’s got me going to church every Sunday now,” said Pollett.

Every other day, too.

As the owner of the iconic Fleetwood Church easily seen from U.S. 29 North in Brandy Station, Pollett spends many hours each week trying to save the church from total ruin.

So far, he’s done his best to clean up and maintain the property. He patched many of the leaky holes in the church’s roof and replaced windows on one side of the building where invading rains damaged the interior.

His current goal - just stabilize the structure.

“So far, I’ve gotten about 90 percent of the water stopped, but there’s still water coming in through the steeple,” said Pollett.

It’s that weathered wooden steeple - painted a peculiar shade of blue and topped with wooden shingles - that makes the building immediately recognizable to anyone who travels the highway between Culpeper and Warrenton.

Pollett purchased the church in 2014 when it hit the market. Several other buyers showed interest at the time, and Pollett wasn’t sure he was ready to make that kind of commitment to an orphaned, dilapidated building.

He left town for the weekend to visit family, resolved to “put it in God’s hands” and purchase the property if he returned to Culpeper and it was still available.

“I don’t know why, I’m just drawn to this place,” he said.

Now, he’s not sure if the church is a blessing or a nightmare.

“It’s just a shame that a house of God ended up looking like this,” Pollett, a native of Fairfax who moved to the area 18 years ago, said. “I’m just trying to keep it going.”

One day, while Pollett tended to the grounds, he thought he saw a woman looking out the window, beckoning him to come inside.

He walked over to the Brandy Station Foundation’s Graffiti House, just a couple of doors down, and bumped into some members of Culpeper Paranormal Investigations.

The group immediately set up an investigation at the church and has returned several times, but hasn’t yet recorded anything that it’s confident defies explanation.

The members did, however, take the plight of the church and its owner personally.

“While we thoroughly enjoy investigation the haunting and learning about all aspects of history, we genuinely care about the locations and people who are involved,” said Culpeper Paranormal Investigations founder Kim Lillard. “We want to help in any way possible, whether it’s reaching a goal or whatever the case may be. Situations such as Fleetwood are what continue to make our journey as paranormal investigators worthwhile.”

The group recently raised about $600 toward the effort by raffling off an acoustic guitar provided by White Dove Studios at CulpeperFest.

They’ve also gotten some support for the effort from the Brandy Station Foundation.

“We’d love to see Mr. Pollett receive the help he needs to restore this historic location,” Lillard added.

Despite its iconic appearance, relatively little recorded history exists about the church, and in some cases records contradict each other.

According to a forward in a Fleetwood Methodist Church cookbook from the 1960s, Daniel Wine originally donated the land on Fleetwood Farm for the new church. It notes that parishioners completed construction in 1880 and recorded a deed in the Culpeper County Court House on Aug. 6, 1881.

Wine, E.J. Nottingham and W.J. Whitlock served as trustees.

The Rev. John W. Carroll led the first congregation, traveling the “Culpeper circuit” in the area and “leading the church to great heights of activity and service.”

Wine remained active as a church officer for many years until his death in 1898. His son, Charles Wine, served as Sunday school superintendent until 1908 and, in 1882, presented the church with silver communion goblets, currently housed at the Museum of Culpeper History.

In 1958, the church became part of a four church charge and the circuit was renamed the North Culpeper Charge.

The cookbook also noted plans to relocate the church to a parcel of land owned by the Pound family and to construct several school rooms and a sanctuary.

“The future of the church appears to be as glorious as its (past) is glorious,” the cookbook forward stated.

That dream went unrealized and by the mid- 1970s the building no longer served as a church.

Evidence of the past fills the current sanctuary. The teal paint covers horsehair plaster, which went out of fashion between 1920 and 1940, crumbling in places. The wood floors, in surprisingly good shape, still take on a luster when polished.

The front of the church was clearly the building’s rear in its heyday. An area that likely housed large stained glass windows was sealed off to create a small addition with an office.

“That was probably the preacher man’s room,” said Pollett.

And someone sealed chimneys on opposing ends of the sanctuary, which likely funneled the smoke outside from two small woodstoves to keep the worshipers warm in the winter. An original, larger, chimney still exists, walled up on the inside.

Pollett believes the building may have existed prior to 1880, possibly without the steeple. He says he’s found bullet fragments along the foundation that may have come from Civil War skirmishes in the area.

Photos of the area from the 1860s provided by local historian Clark “Bud” Hall don’t show the eye-catching steeple rising beyond the Graffiti House.

A cemetery between the church and the railroad tracks also haunts Pollett.

According to the cookbook, family members relocated many of those buried in the small church plot, but several grave markers remain.

Pollett says that available records aren’t adequate; he suspects there may be at least 30 bodies remaining. He’d like to get a forensic anthropologist using ground penetrating radar to survey the site.

One remaining headstone belongs to Gertrude Rice, born in 1818. She died in 1893.

“It looks more like something you’d see in a slave cemetery,” Hall said of the tiny cemetery. “The stones were very modest.”

Pollett says he can’t bear to think of those who may be left behind. It upsets him to think there may be people buried beneath the large shed on the property.

“Those people had nobody to speak for them,” he said.

At some point between 1970 and the present, the church property served as both a car lot and an antiques store. It also bore bright white sides and red trim, visible in spots beneath the layers of blue.

Pollett estimates it will take about $30,000 to restore the steeple and jack up the foundation to insure the building’s future.

Beyond that, he’s exploring the idea of establishing a non-profit organization, but hasn’t made a decision about that. He wants to keep the church restorations as historically accurate as possible and, perhaps, donate the finished project to the Brandy Station Foundation.

Paul Warmack, of CPI, said he’s considering creating a Go Fund Me page for the church.

“We need to give a huge thank you to the Brandy Station Foundation for accepting donations for us and for reaching out to the community on our behalf,” Warmack said.

For now, Pollett keeps toiling, trying to stay a step ahead of the damaging elements.

“This is a poor man’s church,” he said. “It needs to be saved so that people can see what it was like years ago.”

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