Thursday, April 21, 2011

Westover Church

Westover Church Marker No. V-14Charles City County, VA

Marker No. V-14

Marker Text:  A short distance south is Westover Church. It was first built on the James River near Westover House early in the seventeenth century. About 1730 the site was changed and the present building erected. Defaced in the Campaign of 1862, the church was reopened for worship in 1867.

Location: On Virginia Route 5 (John Tyler Memorial Highway), 6.5 miles west of Charles City in front of entrance to the church. Erected by the Virginia Historic Landmarks Commission in 1968.

Westover Parish Church Building (Click to Enlarge)  Since it is Holy Week in the Christian faith, I thought it was a good time for another church related marker. Virginia has a variety of markers related to Colonial churches and later 1800's churches. The Westover Church is one of the oldest Colonial period church buildings originally established when the Church of England was the recognized church in pre-revolutionary America, later to become the Episcopal Church. This is the third similar church in Virginia I have included, the others being St. John's Church in King William County and Little Fork Church in Culpeper County.

Westover Church Marker V-14 next to Route 5

Photo taken on Virginia Route 5 looking east, they were constructing a bike trail along highway when photographed and is now complete.

  The second Upper Church of Westover Parish (which is now the Westover Parish Church) in Charles City County is less than a mile south of Virginia Route 5 and about four miles east of the junction of Routes 5 and 156 (the Hopewell Ferry Road). The church is high above Herring Creek, inside a bunch of trees, and the churchyard is accessed by a lane through open fields. The church is located on the section of Route 5 that runs between Williamsburg and Richmond. Virginia Route 5 is a road very much worth traveling if you have the time, it is rich in history along every mile. In addition to this church you will find several colonial plantations (many you can visit), many markers related to the American Revolution and Civil War, and some very interesting and undisturbed countryside, which still looks much like it did over the past two centuries.

  The church played any important role in the lives of the early families who settled here. The families of neighboring plantations, such as, Belle Air, Shirley, Berkeley, Westover, Mt Sterling, Sherwood Forest, and Evelynton have all been associated with the parish from earliest times. Among those who have worshipped in the parish regularly are Presidents William Henry Harrison, Benjamin Harrison, and John Tyler, as well as Colonial William Byrd.

Lane leading to the Westover Church from Route 5 This photo is looking down the lane from Route 5 toward the church, which is on the left of the photo.

  The Westover Church Parish is one of the oldest in the country and gained its existence and name from one of the early plantations on the James River. Westover parish was recognized as early as 1625 by governmental authorities. The parish was established sometime before 1652. In the year 1720, the western part of Wallingford Parish and the northern part of Weyanoke Parish were added to Westover Parish, and a couple years later the Western part of Wilmington parish was annexed. The parish's name originated from the West family to whom the West Hundred was originally granted. The present building was constructed in 1731. The church had been abandoned and used as a barn for thirty years after 1805 as a result of the Disestablishment. It is also said to have been used as a stable by Federal troops during the Civil War.

  In the churchyard there are colonial era graves, a fragment of one single stone dated 1748 remains. The first Westover Church existed a few hundred yards west of the Westover Plantation house upriver of the present church by the banks of the James River and has the earliest known tombstones in Virginia. The date of this earliest known tombstone (Captain William Perry) is not illegible but was 1637, when the first church was completed. There are eight other colonial tombs there ranging from 1656 to 1737.

Westover Parish Church Building Side view  Westover Parish Church is important not only for its numerous historical associations, but because it is an excellent example of the rectilinear for colonial Virginia church architecture. The Westover church building has long been a familiar landmark along Virginia's historic Route 5. The church has undergone several renovations beginning in 1867 when most of the interior and possibly tile roof were replaced. The latest restoration was undertaken by Orin M. Bullock, Jr., of Baltimore and involved the replacement of the roof, cornice and segmentally arched ceiling. The west moulded brick doorway and gallery window had been restored in 1956.

1 comment:

  1. I've missed your "Little Bits of History." I might talk to my traveling buddy, a girl I knew from 7th grade when her family moved to MacBeth up to present, to see if she is interested in traveling Route 5 in Virginia. Where do you suggest we begin our trip? As usual, I found the Westover Parish Church very interesting and would love to see it.
    Jean Lee Robinette