Historic Churches

Historic Churches in Jefferson County


When settlers first began moving into western Virginia around 1730, the Anglican Church, or Church of England, was the established church of the colony of Virginia. All residents were required to pay taxes for the support of the church. However, as settlers began to move into the Shenandoah Valley and the Eastern Panhandle of West Virginia they were promised that they could set up their own churches and worship as they pleased. This was necessary because most of these settlers were dissenters, or people who did not agree with the beliefs and practices of the Church of England. These new settlers were Presbyterians, Lutherans, German Reformed, Quakers, Mennonites, as well as Anglicans. There were almost no Methodists, Baptists, or Catholics amongst these early settlers.


It is believed that the first church established in West Virginia around 1719 was Presbyterian and was located in the Shepherdstown area. The first Quaker congregation in West Virginia was the Hopewell Church founded in 1734 on the Opequon Creek. The first Lutheran Church in West Virginia was organized around 1765 in Shepherdstown. The first Anglican Church in West Virginia was founded in 1740 at Mill Creek, a branch of the Opequon. The first Baptist Church in West Virginia was formed around 1743 at Mill Creek.


Charles Town Churches


About two miles west of Charles Town are the ruins of St. George’s Chapel, a small Episcopal Church in which members of the Washington family, including George Washington himself, worshipped. The church was built in 1769 by wealthy landowners of the area and is said to have been one of the most beautiful small churches in the Shenandoah Valley.


In the vestibule of the Presbyterian Church on E. Washington Street hangs a deed signed by Charles and Mildred Washington dated 1787. It conveyed to the Presbyterian congregation a lot on the corner of Congress and West Street where the first church was built. The present building, the third to serve the congregation, was erected in 1851.


The Zion Episcopal Church on E. Congress Street is a red brick, ivy covered church built in 1851. Surrounding the church is a cemetery in which the graves of about 75 members of the Washington family, in addition to many Revolutionary and Confederate soldiers. (See YouTube video on Zion Episcopal Church & the Washington family)


In 1792, the first Baptist church in Jefferson County was formed at the home of Christopher Collins two miles northwest of Charles Town. This later became the Zoar Baptist Church. In 1801, the Zoar Baptist Church moved into its first permanent building two miles south of Shenandoah Junction.

From the Catholic Diocesan history it is noted that St. James Parish, Charles Town, celebrated its 100th anniversary on May 28, 1989.


Over the years many other churches have been built by other denominations in the Charles Town area. We have just touched on some of the more notable ones from a historical perspective.


Shepherdstown Churches


It is believed that the first church established in West Virginia around 1719 was Presbyterian and was located in the Shepherdstown area. In the late 1700’s, churches of the dissenting sects of the Presbyterian, Lutheran, and German Reformed Church were permitted to erect houses of worship within the town limits where previously only the Episcopal or Church of England had been recognized. From the Catholic Diocesan history it is noted that the St. Agnes mission (formerly known as Immaculate Conception) in Shepherdstown was established in 1899. Over the years many other denominations have also built churches in the Shepherdstown area.


Harpers Ferry Churches


On the hill above the stone steps is St. Peter’s Roman Catholic Church, built in 1830. During the Civil War, this was the only church in Harpers Ferry that conducted regular services undisturbed by either army. On the slope above and to one side of the Catholic Church are the ruins of St. John’s Episcopal Church. The church, unused since 1893, was used as a guardhouse and hospital during the Civil War. The Lutheran Church on Washington Street was built in 1850. This church building was used as a Federal hospital and stable during the Civil War.

Middleway Churches

Soon after it came into being, the people settling in Middleway (formerly known as Smithfield) felt a growing need for a church. In 1753, the Mill Creek Baptist Church was established about five miles from the village. There was a Presbyterian Church established in Smithfield in 1773, called the Hopewell Church. The Methodist Church was built in 1797 and re-built as a brick building in 1816. With the coming of the German people, there came the need to establish a Lutheran Church for those of the Reformed Church faith. In 1792, Reverend John David Young, pastor of St. Peter's Lutheran Church in Shepherdstown, met at the home of Nicholas Shaull Jr. to hold services, and a congregation was formed. A lot was purchased and a stone church, which still stands but is no longer functioning, was erected in 1798. This church served for a century until the relocation of its members led to the church being disbanded.

In the 1820s, a small group of Episcopalians moved to the Middleway area, and services of that faith began in the Methodist Church. Then in 1851, with the help of Dr. Mann Page Nelson, Dr. Samuel Scollay, and Dr. McCoughtry, Grace Episcopal Church was built. In 1888, a confederation of mission churches, including Grace, was established and was known as the Nelson Parish, in memory of Dr. Mann Page Nelson. Grace Church purchased the Stone Church, known as Union Church, from the Lutherans in 1964 and renovated it with community help. This parish hall was used by the public school system, the Boy Scouts, senior citizens, and other groups.

With the help of local whites, the black people erected two simple frame churches where they congregated and conducted their services: a Free Baptist Church and an African Methodist Episcopal Church. The African Methodist Episcopal Church later became the Full Gospel Pentecostal Church. These churches no longer stand, but the Slabtown Cemetery, used by the churches, still exists.


Summit Point Churches
On September 22, 1737, Rev. William Williams took the ministerial oath to preach on his plantation. This was the beginning of what would become the Bullskin Presbyterian Church, near Summit Point. According to the records of the Presbytery of Donegal, a church building was actually located near the headspring of the Bullskin Run, near Summit Point, as early as 1740. The regional Potomoke Presbytery appears to have referred to this church as the Bullskin Church; in ecclesiastical records it is referred to as "Hopewell." Itinerant preachers usually served the small Presbyterian churches in the county and frequently held services at irregular intervals. By 1800, the small church building was in decay, and the congregation decided to join the Lutherans at a new church in Middleway.

In the 1880’s, two new churches were constructed in the village. The Methodists had been meeting for almost forty years in Summit Point and had built a small white church one and one-half blocks from the train station after the Civil War. This church was destroyed by fire; and in 1883, the Methodists built a new church only one block from the train station, opposite the Episcopal Church. In that same year, the construction of the Episcopal Church of the Holy Spirit was completed.

In 1897, the Baptists decided to build a church, which still stands. In 1913, the Methodists decided to build a larger church. The church they constructed in 1883 was destroyed by a cyclone by 1890. Thereafter, the congregation met in a small one-room red brick church, built on a lot across the street from the former church. The cornerstone of the present Summit Point Memorial Methodist Church was laid on this lot in 1916. After learning of the destruction of the old Methodist church near the White House during the Civil War, the United States Government donated $2,000 towards the construction.

Leetown Churches

Leetown was the home of four active churches until the late 1990s, when the Church of the Brethren building was sold. St. Bartholomew's Episcopal Church, built in 1848, was used as a hospital during the Civil War. Services are still held at the small board-and-batten wood church, which is a Jefferson County Landmark. The Baptist and the Methodist churches also continue to serve the community.

Shenandoah Junction Churches

The Shenandoah Junction Presbyterian Church, an offshoot of the Elk Branch Church, was built in 1884. Their church membership declined during the depression and it finally dissolved in 1939 and its property was sold. Other churches in the area were the Grace Baptist Church and the Shenandoah Junction Methodist Church.

Kearneysville Churches

Within a period of fifteen years, three churches were constructed. The first Church was the Presbyterian Church which had a plan approved in 1869. In 1880, a basement was dug for a Free Will Baptist Church in the area known as Hartstown. Land had also been purchased a year earlier and this was the beginning of St. Paul Baptist Church. In 1884, land was donated and Grace Reformed Church was constructed and dedicated in 1885. All three churches have been used as centers for social and community activity. A fourth church, a Methodist Episcopal church sometimes referred to as Stewart Chapel, was opened about 1890, but closed in the 1940s.

Bakerton Churches


The first public building in the area was Zion Chapel which was constructed in 1837. The church had close ties to the Elk Branch Presbyterian Church in Duffields. William Engle, who owned much of the land in the area, was primarily responsible for erecting the chapel.


Kabletown Churches


The first church in Kabletown was built of logs. It was used until it was replaced by the old stone church in 1850. This church served as a hospital during the Civil War. In 1920, the Methodist congregation built a new brick church, Kabletown Methodist, in another location and abandoned the old stone church.

Rippon Churches

St. John's Episcopal Church was established in 1873. The first church building was replaced in 1890 with the Gothic style structure that still stands on U.S. Route 340. The bell tower, porch and choir room were added in 1893. In 1910, a parcel of land was acquired on Withers-LaRue Road to build a parish hall. The hall was replaced by a modern parish facility attached to the back of the church in the mid 1970s. In 1890, the town also contained an Episcopal Church as well as a Presbyterian church which was located about one mile from the village, on the Bullskin Run.

Rippon also had two Baptist churches for the black residents; the Old School Baptist Church, later known as the Second Zion Primitive Baptist Church, and the New School Baptist Church, now called the Sylvannah Baptist Church. The Old School Baptist Church was founded sometime in the late 1800s. The New School Baptist Church changed its name to Sylvannah Baptist Church in 1908.

African-American Churches

 Some of the African-American churches that have been established in Jefferson county over time include: Free Will Baptist churches in Johnsontown and Charles Town, the Shepherdstown Black Baptist Church, Zion Baptist Church, African Methodist Episcopal Church, Ebenezer Mount Calvary Holy Church, Halltown Memorial Chapel, and many others.

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