A Brief History of Emmanuel Episcopal Church (founded 1859)
Officially the Episcopal Church came to this part of Virginia in 1649 with the "Proprietary of the Northern Neck," King Charles II's grant of five million acres of land between the Rappahannock and Potomac Rivers to eight of his supporters. However, it was not until the 1730s that the first settlers arrived, the tenants and squatters who moved the stone, cut down the trees and built the farms, houses and early churches in our corner of the world. Emmanuel Church of Piedmont Parish traces its roots to Leeds Parish founded near the town of Hume in 1769.
Prior to the building of Trinity Church in Marshall in 1849, the establishment of Piedmont Parish in 1850, and the addition of Grace Church in the Plains to the parish in 1855, Episcopalians in the vicinity of Oak Hill, a small community near the Marshall family home, worshiped at two of the five churches in Leeds Parish, a chapel of ease, known as "the log church," and later at the Cool Spring Meeting House. Sometime before 1858, it became apparent that both the "log church" and the Meeting House were in such disrepair that they would have to be abandoned. The Methodists and the Episcopalians, who had shared the same house of worship for many years, decided to build separate churches.
Trinity Church in Marshall, four miles away, was found to be too distant from the body of the congregation at Oak Hill and it was decided to build a church nearby. John Thomas Smith and Margaret Lewis Marshall Smith gave the land for the Episcopal church. The land was a portion of the property Mrs. Smith had inherited from her father, Thomas Marshall, the son of the fourth Chief Justice of the United States, John Marshall. At a cost of $1,600 they built a small white frame church with tall clear arched windows set in a grove of oaks and poplars close to the road that connected Thoroughfare Gap and Ashby's Gap. On July 23, 1859 Bishop William Meade consecrated it Emmanuel Church and it became the third church in Piedmont Parish.
One Sunday in the autumn of 1859, a few months after Emmanuel's consecration, the congregation was startled to hear the shriek of the engines on the railroad that passed through Piedmont Station (now Delaplane). It was an unusual sound as all Sunday travelling was forbidden during Edward Carrington Marshall's tenure as president of the railroad. Soon a horseman dashed up to the astonished crowd and announced that Governor Wise had sent up Captain Ashby Turner to give the alarm that the Yankee Abolitionists had collected a large force of armed men to rescue "Old John Brown, the fanatic," from the jail in Charles Town. Fielding Lewis Marshall, the oldest man in the congregation, his brother Tom and James Jones left the church to join the other cavalrymen.
In December 1860, The Rev. Charles H. Shields who had been rector of Piedmont Parish for nine years, resigned and the Vestry applied to Bishop Meade to send one of the young men who were graduating from the Virginia Seminary. On the June 13, 1861, the Vestry held a meeting and decided:
"Because of the distracted state of the country as a result of the war raging between the Northern and Southern States, and the number of gentlemen who had been compelled to enter the army, and so to withdraw, in some instances, themselves as well as their families from the parish, and of the many demands upon the poeple by the existence of the state of war, that it was inexpedient to have a minister sent to them at this time ... the more so as Dr. Joseph Packard, one of the professors from the Seminary, was a refugee then residing in the parish and was willing to officiate as our pastor for anything that we might be able to give him." Dr. Packard was considered a refugee because the Seminary was being used by the Union troops as a hospital.
Dr. Packard assumed charge of the parish in May, but left for Staunton in November. Soon afterwards the Rev. Robert Baker, who had just graduated from the Seminary, was called by the few remaining parishioners. Because of the frequent incursions of Federal troops and the inability of the Parish to raise enough money for his keep, he left before the end of 1862.
During the war both Union and Confederate troops used Emmanuel as a shelter and a hospital. Names of some of General McClellan's soldiers were inscribed on the walls of the wood room along with other names and the notation "9th Ill. Cavalry."
The parish remained without a minister until July 1865 when the Rev. William F. Gardner was called. Mr. Gardner had served as a rifleman in the first battle of Manassas where he was wounded. He then studied for the priesthood and was a Confederate Army chaplain for a year. In a report of the Diocesan Convention in 1865, he wrote:
"Piedmont Parish has been without a minister for a long time ... Since 1862, divine service has been held not more than three or four times, unitl I took charge of these churches, informally, on the 17th day of April, 1865, that being Easter Monday. I have since received a call from the Vestry of the Parish. This Parish has suffered heavily during the war. Farms have been laid waste, barns burned, dwellings pillaged, and more, many valuable lives lost. Among the departed it is proper to mention Col. Jon. A. Washington and Col. Thos. Marshall, both vestrymen of the parish, both gallant men and sincere Christians, slain in battle.
"The members of the parish are much reduced in means: and the Church buildings were much injured by the Union troops. All three Churches were sadly defaced amd two of them now stand mere naked walls roofed over. But the prospect of the parish is encouraging and we hope soon to have all three buildings in good order."
- The Parish Register (1861-1866)
In 1869, Trinity Church in Marshall and Grace in The Plains petitioned the Council of the Diocese and received permission to form a new parish called Whittle Parish. Emmanuel Church remained as the sole member of Piedmont Parish until 1915 when Trinity Church petitioned the Diocese to allow them to return to Piedmont Parish. In 1917 the two churches were reunited in Piedmont Parish. It was agreed that each church should be entitled to six vestrymen, that the church services would be equally divided between the two churches, and that each would pay its proportionate share of the rector's annual salary of $1,000 based on the number of communicants.
As for most of the country, times were lean during the 1930s, and the loyal parishioners of Emmanuel were hard put to preserve their own church. Although means were meager and needs were great, they managed to preserve the undisturbed sanctity of their little country church.
In 1941 the two churches of Piedmont Parish, Emmanuel and Trinity, were combined with Grace Church, The Plains, the sole remaining church in Whittle Parish. Each agreed to remain a separate parish, but to be under the charge of one rector who would have, as his assistant, a student from the Virginia Theological Seminary. The Rev. Howard Harper was the first minister to take charge of the three churches for the first time in seventy years.
On July 23, 1959, Emmanuel celebrated its one hundredth anniversary. The church overflowed with attendance. Many old and distant friends came in tribute to the vitality and vigor of the little church and the celebration continued for the whole day, with services and a bounteous luncheon.
The frequent "hootenanies" during the 1960s reflected the spirit of the decade and the choir often performed the American Folk Mass with joy and enthusiasm.
In 1967, Piedmont and Whittle parishes again separated so each could have its own rector. While attendance rose and fell during the next three decades, the vitality and loyalty of the congregations remained. However, in 1995, the burden of maintaining two churches became financially untenable and the services at Trinity Marshall were discontinued. The congregation at Trinity was encouraged to attend services at Emmanuel and the church, for all intents and purposes other than routine maintenance, was closed. Fortunately it did not remain so for long. In 1997, the Vestry was approached by the leadership of the St. John the Baptist Anglican Church asking if they could lease the church for their own use. The request was approved by Bishop Lee and this arrangement continues today. St. John's has made significant improvements to the structure and they have a place to worship which they could not otherwise afford.
That same year, Emmanuel launched what was to become one of their most ambitious undertakings, the Delaplane Strawberry Festival. Faced with a slight deficit in the annual budget, several ladies of the church, Mary Scott, Kitty Lee Pritchett and Betty Ann Trible, decided to resurrect the Delaplane Strawberry Festival, which had been held in the village of Delaplane for a couple of years in the 1980s. They chose a new venue, Sky Meadows State Park, and hoped to raise a few thousand dollars to meet the budget. Much to everyone's surprise and delight, word spread about the new festival and several thousand people arrived to enjoy the view and the day. Not only was enough money raised to offset the deficit, but the church decided to distribute the net profits to needy organizations in the community. And so began Emmanuels largest mission project. Today nearly 10,000 people visit the two-day event which has become one of the premier events in the Commonwealth of Virginia. Hundreds of thousands of dollars have been raised and distributed locally, nationally and internationally to support the outreach ministries of the church. While it is a major undertaking for a church of our size, we are blessed by the experience. It brings us together as a community, enables us to share the beauty of our area with thousands of people, and allows us to help those less fortunate than ourselves.