Saturday, April 23, 2011

One of My Favorite Virginia Churches

One of our daughters and her family are driving up from Richmond for Easter weekend. They will be passing one of my favorite churches. I am always taken by the quiet peace of the tiny but elegant Emmanuel Episcopal Church in King George County, Virginia

The 1859 Gothic Revival church, completely surrounded by acres of flat farm fields, is located at old Port Conway, where the colonial King's Highway (now U.S. Route 301) crosses the beautiful Rappahannock River to the historic town of Port Royal in Caroline County on the opposite bank of the river. The community was a waterway and gathering place of some importance in the 18th and 19th centuries.

Just a few years after it was built, during the Civil War (1861-1865), the church was damaged by Federal soldiers. It was reportedly saved from further destruction by a Union soldier who began to play the pipe organ and felt so at home in the little church, that he persuaded his comrades to do it no harm.

After the Civil War, Friends of the Episcopal Church in the North raised funds to help war-damaged churches in the South, and tiny Emmanuel was restored using these funds.

Charles Peale Polk (1767-1822). Eleanor Rose "Nellie" Conway Madsion (1732-1829) of Belle Grove married James Madsion Sr 1749. Belle Grove Plantation.

Emmanuel Church sits just at the edge of Belle Grove plantation. In 1751, future President James Madison (1751-1836), the 4th president of the United States, was born at Belle Grove, the childhood home of his mother, Eleanor Rose "Nellie" Conway.

Charles Peale Polk (1767-1822), Col. James Madsion, Sr. (1723-1801) of Orange County, Virginia. (His father, Ambrose Madison (1696-1732), who owned 29 slaves, was killed in 1732, when 3 slaves poisoned him.) Belle Grove Plantation.

In 1987, Emmanuel Church was added to the National Register of Historic Places, and it was renovated in 1997, retaining the charm & simplicity of its original state.

1783 Miniature Portrait of James Madsion (1751-1836) by Charles Willson Peale at the Library of Congress.

Perhaps I perceive the church as peaceful and quiet, because there is seldom anyone there. Worship services are held at the church only on the 3rd and 5th Sundays of each month at 10 a.m. But when the church does celebrate communion, hymns are played on the building's original 1860 tracker pipe organ.

1799 Charles Peale Polk (1767-1822). Eleanor Conway Madison Hite (1760-1802) & Son James Madison Hite (1793-1860). (James Madison Hite had been named for a brother who was born in 1788 but died in 1791.) Belle Grove Plantation.

The funny thing is that for several years, while I worked at the Maryland Historical Society, the large, quirky Charles Peale Polk portraits of James Madsion's parents and sister dominated my office, just before they moved to their new home in Virginia. This family, which surrounded me every workday, seeped into my subconscious, and there they remain. Perhaps I am drawn to the tiny Victorian church, so close to Belle Grove in time and space, by forces beyond my ken.