No toilets: But plenty of history at Earlysville church
The history of religions is often bloody, and the idea of different denominations sharing one building could be risky. But Earlysville founder John Early had faith it was possible, and he deeded land to the community for an interdenominational church. Baptists, Methodists, and Presbyterians divvied up, apparently without rancor, use of the simple frame structure, now known as Earlysville Union Church, built in 1833.
Today the 170-year-old church still stands. Rather than lament its lack of electricity and bathrooms, three enterprising women on the executive committee of the Friends of the Union Church– Jodie Webber, Sylvia Jones, and Edith Fisher– first had it added to the Virginia Landmarks Register and the National Register of Historic Places in 1997, and now have scored a historic highway marker, Earlysville's first.
"The land was given to the community and belonged to no one until the 1990s," says Webber. "Miss Elva Wood, whose husband owned the Warren Wood Store across the street, took care of the grounds." When she became unable to do so, she persuaded Chestnut Grove Baptist– an offshoot of the Union Church– to seek ownership by having the other denominations sign quitclaims on the property.
"There was never any money that changed hands," says Webber. "She was just trying to get someone to have legal responsibility for it."
The building is completely unimproved, just like it was over 150 years ago. "We know it was a special old place," says Webber. "You don't see buildings like that."
So how did the Methodists and Baptists keep from squabbling over who got to use it? "Two Sundays a month could be Baptist, two Sundays a month could be Methodist," Webber explains.
The church is still used for community events such as the annual, oil-lamp-lit Carol Sing on Christmas Eve. Also, "We encourage people to use it for weddings," Webber says.
The Union Church has such good friends that it didn't take a fundraiser to raise the $1,225 cost of a historic marker– the money was already raised for the church's general upkeep.
And the marker won approval in record time. "We applied April 18 of this year," says Jones. When word came the marker had been approved September 10, "We were real surprised."
There are approximately 48 historic road markers in Charlottesville and Albemarle County, according to the Department of Historic Resources. UVA just unveiled a marker on September 18 honoring Edgar Allen Poe.
For Earlysville, this isn't an everyday occurrence. The Union Church marker is "the first and only one in Earlysville," says Jones. They expect to have it up by Christmas.
Earlysville Union Church used to be surrounded by chestnuts before a blight destroyed the trees.
PHOTO BY JEN FARIELLO