By Charles Crenshaw, Central Virginia Genealogical Association

On Wednesday evening, June 3, 2015, the doors opened at the old Earlysville Union Church in downtown Earlysville, Virginia, for a Community Vespers Service. Walking in the door was like stepping back 150 years in time. Six kerosene lamps on the walls of the Sanctuary and one in the entrance area provided lighting, and the smell of kerosene filled the air just as it did years ago. The old wood floors have survived the years. The pulpit  is a slightly raised rounded area surrounded by a wooden fence. On the wall behind the pulpit is a picture of Jesus with lambs. In the center of the Sanctuary ceiling, the smoke stains are visible from the old wood stove stack. The pews, still in place, are of good hardwood, and no, there are no pillars. On either side of entrance area are very small rooms for Sunday School.

As people arrived, they were greeted by First Impressions member Andy Emert and one other at the doors and handed a Bible and hymnal. At seven o’clock the Ukuleaders played the old hymn, “Shall We Gather at the River,” followed by seven tolls of the hour by John Peterson. There were forty people in attendance on this evening.

There were scripture readings, songs, and prayer. Katie Alfano played her guitar and led in singing. The Chestnut Grove Baptist Church Choir kept us in tune and greatly enhanced the sound. Sarah Ford read scripture from Philippians 4:4-9. Edith Fisher offered the Guided Prayer, reading a line and giving us time to silently say our prayer on the subject of that line.

I sat close to the back and kept an infant entertained with finger and hand movements—even got some smiles. Sitting there I could not help but picture how things must have been in the mid-nineteenth century when this was the building that a number of churches called home, including Chestnut Grove Baptist Church. This location is where the name Chestnut Grove was adopted. I could picture my great, great, great grandfather, William Crenshaw, sitting there with his family in one of those pews. I wondered, could it be the pew where I was sitting? The urge came over me to sit in every pew after the service was over.

I could picture the horses tied up outside, and the horse and buggies parked and tied to hitching posts. The main road outside would have been dirt or mud. The huge old chestnut trees would have provided the shade for the horses and the church. Most of the people attending would have done a half day’s work feeding horses, cattle, hogs, chickens, and turkeys, milking the cows, making a fire in the wood cook stove, doing the cooking for breakfast, and preparing for the dinner when other family members would come after church for the noon meal. Breakfast was not just dumping Cheerios in a bowl; it was freshly made biscuits, eggs, fried ham, and red-eye gravy, maybe even some fried apples. These people had to be strong, tough, and hard-working to survive. I was brought back to the present day when I remembered the lawn outside was now parking for automobiles. Not a horse could be seen.

As people left, they turned in the Bibles and hymnals which were placed in boxes for the trip back to Chestnut Grove Baptist Church. After most had left, Edith Fisher climbed the ladder at each lamp to remove the glass cover and blow out the flame.

For those who may never have read the history marker at the Union Church, I stopped one day and wrote down the words. They are copied below:

Earlysville Union Church is a rare surviving early 19th-century interdenominational church constructed in Albemarle County. Built in 1833, this frame structure served as a meetinghouse for all Christian denominations on land deeded by John Early, for whom Earlysville is named. This building provided an early home for several local congregations of the Baptist, Methodist and Presbyterian faiths. The church is an excellent example of the 19th-century public architecture of rural Piedmont Virginia. It was listed on the Virginia Landmarks Register and the National Register of Historic Places in 1997. Department of Historic Resources, 2003

 © Charles Crenshaw 2015. All rights reserved.