Tour Inside Old Donation Episcopal Church
Our tour begins at the back of the church and will proceed up to the chancel (altar area). If there are any questions along the way, please feel free to ask. The first stop on the back wall is a plaque to our founder Adam Thorowgood who built our first church at Church Point in 1639.
Overcome by the rising river, we moved up the West Lynnhaven to our second church, completed in 1692. With the increase in wealth by the congregation, the third and present building we are now in, was completed in 1736. Of interest is the fact that the local jail once stood here and was occupied for seven years by our famous Grace Sherwood who was accused in 1706 of being a witch.
The next plaque of interest on the back wall is in memory of Reverend Robert Dickson who took over running a school for orphan boys in 1748 in church no. 2. Upon his death in 1777 he donated his farm to be used for the continuation of the school. The gifted property was called “Donation Farm” but the term “Old Donation Church” did not appear until a Vestry Record entry in 1822, and officially renamed Old Donation when the church was re-opened in 1912 .
Other plaques on the wall, George Woodhouse (July 3, 1840 - Oct 24, 1915), May Etta Belle Fentress (May 17, 1870 – Nov 2, 1915), and William Etheridge Biddle (Nov 6, 1856 - April 1, 1915), are people who helped with the restoration of the church from 1912 to 1916. Note that these three died in the same year, about one year before the October 11, 1916 re-opening of the rebuilt church.
Moving into the nave, the first thing that you will notice is a font used for baptisms. The first mention of the font appeared in Reverend Alfriend's “History of Lynnhaven Parish,” written in 1918. He states, “The Baptismal font, Communal service, and one pewter collection plate are the same ones used in the original church at Church Point.” Obviously, Reverend Alfriend must have been wrong about the communal service (donated between 1712 and 1716), and also the font. During the twentieth century several Virginian Pilot articles carried the font story based on Reverend Alfriend's “History of Lynnhaven Parish.” Finally, Dell Upton in his 1997 book “Holy Things and Profane” dates the font as being acquired for the present church when it was completed in 1736.
Look up at the small windows. They were cut between 1736 and 1767 to provide light for four private hanging pews hung by notable church members to provide a better view and warmth in the summer. They were accessible along a catwalk from the upper balcony and looked like theater box seats suspended by decorative twisted iron tie-rods from the ceiling.
Most of the other windows are still as they were in 1916. Called wavy glass windows, the distortions & ripples in the antique glass panes are part of the historic charm of old windows, a result of how glass was made back in 1916.
In 1960 during an Easter service the walls and roof began to separate. The church was “condemned” by the county until major structural repairs could be made. The five steel spanner bars (visible above) had originally not been tied into the wall properly. Steel beams were built into the side walls and tied into these bars to prevent outward thrust from the gabled roof.
Again in 1966 after much deterioration had occurred, renovations included the return of the church to its original Colonial “Prayer Book” design (the 1916 rebuilding reflected the then popular Gothic chancel design) by moving the choir and organ up to the balcony, adding kneelers, and relocating the lectern and prayer desk adjacent to the pulpit. Repairs included stripping and resurfacing the wall and replacing the rotten wood floor which was found to be sloped six inches between side walls. After the floor was leveled the north wall windows were six inches higher from the floor than the south wall windows. Do you notice the difference?
Walking down the center aisle, notice the gravestones. Rector Tucker was buried there in June 2014. He was rector for 31 years, from 1953 to 1984. In the future his wife Julia will be buried beside him and the floor will be sealed. The tradition to have the clergy buried in the church is taken from European cathedral church customs.
Waking further down the nave we come to another set of graves in the floor. The Reverend Alfriend was the first to be buried in the central aisle in Jan 1923 followed twenty-nine years later by his wife, Mary. Sharing his time with Emmanuel in Kempsville, he was responsible for building a new congregation in the early 1900’s during the time plans were being made for restoration of the burned out church. The "May 15 1916" reconsecration date was most likely taken from Reverend Alfriend's type written 1918 letter which stated this date. The reconsecration of the church was May 15, 1918 after notes to the bankers in New York were paid off.
Moving up the entrance to the chancel please take hold of one of the kneelers. Notice the hand-sewn embroideries. A small contingent of Episcopal Church Women worked many long hours sewing the names of fifty-two deceased church members along with inscriptions by family members. These precious articles were dedicated to the church in Dec 1988.
Next is a handsome carved oak chair. Sometime in the 1970’s our Bishop’s Chair was stolen. This handsome replacement has been used by presiding ministers since. While not considered a Bishop’s Chair, when the bishop does sit in the chair, it becomes the Bishop's Cathedra Chair.
The Bishop's Chair, stolen
The altar and pulpit were the gifts of St. Paul’s Church, Norfolk,VA.
In like fashion in 2004 we donated our Jesse Woodberry pipe organ to Hickory Neck Episcopal Church in Toano, Virginia.
It was replaced by digital Johannus organ from the Netherlands for $98,000. Look back up at the balcony. Those pipes are all ornamental.
The primary focal point at the head of the church is a 9 by 15 foot high solid wood reredos, also a 1916 gift from Norfolk St. Paul's Church. On it is the Ten Commandments. At its top is the Hebrew word “Yahweh” or “God.”
Finally look over at our flag that has two dates and two names. On May 17, 1637 Adam Thoroughgood held the first service in his home. We celebrated that date in 2012 for our 375th anniversary. The other date, Oct 11, 1916, denotes re-opening of the rebuilt church. This is another important date for our church’s rebirth after being unoccupied for 60 years. The church was named Lynnhaven Parish until 1916 when the name was officially changed to Old Donation at the re-opening of the church.
On the opposite wall (to your right) is a plaque dedicated to those people who worked to restore the church between 1912 and 1916. Also of interest is the builder, Charles Sherwood, who is possibly a descendant of Grace Sherwood's husband James Sherwood.
That concludes the tour of our historic church. I hope you have enjoyed this tour. If you are not a member of this church, you are invited to come back and worship with us.
A Walk Around
Old Donation Episcopal Church
Old Donation Episcopal Church
The various stops are marked 1-8.
(1) We begin our walk in the herb garden. On July 10th 2014 the stone below was dedicated to Grace Sherwood who was accused in 1706 by a church member of being a witch. Looking down Witchduck Road, you might want to visualize her being marched 1-1/2 miles down this dirt road (named after her ordeal) with hundreds of local folks gathered to witness the event of the only ducking in Virginia of a woman thought to be a witch. Bound cross body she was thrown into the Lynnhaven River. When she surfaced they tied a 13# Bible around her neck, but she was able to untie her binds and swim ashore. Since the waters did not consume her, she was judged a witch and thrown into the jail located where our 3rd church building now stands.
(2) A plaque in front of the day school marks the approximate location of the second church built in 1692. Old Donation had its beginnings in 1637 when Adam Thoroughgood held the first services in his home. Two years later the first church was completed at Church Point. When the church became overrun by the river, the congregation moved 3-1/2 miles up the west branch of the Lynnhaven River to complete their second church here in 1692. As noted before, church 3 was completed in 1736 and is the church standing today.
(3) Moving over to Church #3 built in 1736, the most striking feature is the difference in brick color, the darker bricks being the ones used to rebuild the church in 1916 after it had been destroyed by fire in 1882. The church is a good example of Colonial Architecture which combines elements of Early Georgian style. The rectangular 34’ by 68’ brick building was laid in Flemish bond, created by alternately laying headers and stretchers in a single course. The influence of Georgian architecture is evident with use of horizontal lines, rounded window headers and a slate-covered gable roof. The entrance narthex and side sacristy were added during the 1916 reconstruction.The 19th century Lynnhaven area suffered hard times, with most folks moving to the more populous Kempsville area. Abandoned for services in 1856, the church fell into a state of disrepair. Finally the sides buckled and the roof caved in. Then a woods fire burned most of the church in 1882. After Virginia passed a law that churches not used within a calendar year reverted to the ownership of the Commonwealth, members of Kempsville’s Emmanuel Episcopal Church made annual pilgrimages to the church to hold services. Later the Rev. Thurmer Hoggard IV took over this responsibility, followed by his son and two daughters and then Lay Reader Richard Alfriend. Rev. Alfriend was buried in the center aisle of the church in 1923.
Behind the azaleas at the northeast corner of the church is a corner stone with a time capsule inside, its contents remaining buried for future folk to discover. The famous Judge Benjamin Dey White had his Masonic Lodge install the stone at the 1916 dedication of the rebuilt church. He was Senior Warden at the time and, along with Charles Barnett, secured financing in the amount of $7,000 for the church’s reconstruction.
In 2014 the Historical Traditions Commission began discussing plans to remove the time capsule from the cornerstone for the 100th anniversary of the church reconstruction. On Friday morning, 16 Sep, 2016, the cornerstone was cut from the church. The only contents proved to be an 1888 one cent Canadian coin, and a damaged and unreadable set of folded papers. On October 11, 2016, the stone was ceremoniously replaced by the Ancient Free & Accepted Mason Lodge. Church members offered sacred reminders that were placed in the time capsule. A picture display is on the wall of the church library. The stone was actually replaced 20 Dec, 2016.
(4) In front of the church is the Bell Tower erected in 1923. At one time there was a bell tower or lychgate at the entrance to the cemetery (no longer standing). Bodies were placed here before being taken into the church for funeral services.
(5) Moving along to our historic cemetery (to the south side of the church) there are 33 gravestones. There are another 38 graves placed in the 20th century behind and on the north side of the church. The cemetery also includes a Full Casket Burial Ground, a Wall Columbarium, an In-ground Columbarium, a Memorial Garden (Scattering Garden), and three graves in the floor of the church.
The above yellow are the six founders and patriots in our cemetery.The six founders and patriots in our cemetery are part of the thirteen honored and listed on a plaque dedicated by the DAR/SAR at a service and wreath-laying ceremony Saturday, May 17th, 2014.
Shown below are some of the more notable graves.
1- Capt. Jonathan Saunders - 1726 – Jan 1, 1765(stone moved from Pembroke Farms without remains)
2 - Colonel Edward H. Moseley - (1743 - 1814)
14. Reverend Anthony Walke (1755 - 1814) He conducted sermons with his horse Silverheels tethered near the door of the church. When he heard those hunting horns, he would immediately turn the service over to his clerk, Dick Edwards, and hurry off on Silverheels, not seen again until late in the day.
Less than a month after America declared war on England, on July 10, 1812, Sgt John Brownley, Pvt John Henderson and Pvt Anthony Walke, our three War of 1812 celebrated patriots, as members of the Princess Ann County Militia, participated in capturing an English ship off Cape Henry, the first ship captured in the war. The Militia had skirmishes with British landing parties throughout the war.
10- John Henderson (1769 – 1825)
21- Pvt. Anthony Walke (1778 - 1820)
30- John) Brownley (1780 - 1819)
15- Colonel Anthony Walke I - (1692 - 1768) His large vault was moved from the Walke family cemetery at the old family plantation, “Fairfields,” in Kempsville.
25. David M. Walke - (1800 - 1854) was the 6th child of Rev Walke (1755 - 1814). He used his father’s Walke Manor House (built in 1782) for gambling parties. In 1828 a drunken guest tipped over an oil lamp and burned the plantation to the ground.
The Ferry Plantation House was built on this site in 1830.
31. William Dixon – (1807 - 1853) partially buried in a tree and
32. Sarah Dixon – (1812 – 1873) replaced in Feb 2020
Leaving the cemetery we journey to the “Forever Friends Garden” by walking past the Wall Columbarium through one of Pembroke Meadows Neighborhood Park’s paths.
The path splits a little way down. We take the left fork.
Make note. We’ll be returning by way of the right fork.
The path, covered with oyster shells, dips down into the now dry bed of one of Cattayle Branch’s tributaries now called Cattail Creek.
This 17th century map of the West Lynnhaven River shows future locations of (2) Old Donation Church and the (3) Lynnhaven House bordered by (1) Cattayle Branch. We see from the size of the creek long ago how it was used to haul materials by barge for construction of our two churches and the Lynnhaven House. If we drive ½ mile up (6) North Witchduck Road from the church, we can see Cattail Creek to the right and left.
A view looking SE where Cattail Creek passes under North Witchduck Road
Robinson Neck divided the lands between our church and (4) the Walke Manor House (now the Ferry Farm Plantation) built in 1782, home of the famous Walkes from 1782 to 1828. Also living there was sixteen year old Elizabeth Walke. George F. McIntosh (1768-1863) lived at Thalia’s (5) Summerville across Thurston Branch. In 1800 thirty-two year old George married Elizabeth.
The trail then follows along the fenced Day School Playground to a stone walkway leading to the Forever Friends Garden behind Alfriend House. Alfriend House was built as a rectory residence in 1957 and is now used for Sunday School and meetings.
(6) The Forever Friends Garden was dedicated in Oct 2005 by the Animal Resources of Tidewater and our church. As a celebration to pets and their owners, Animal Resources promotes protection of pets to ensure humane treatment. A special bulb planting ceremony is held yearly in October blessing donor’s pet.
(7) We continue over to Donation Dr / Afriends Trail and walk a few feet along the curb to Pembroke Meadows on the right, crossing a foot bridge over the dry bed of Cattail Creek. Just past the bridge, note a path to the right which is the route we’ll take going back to the cemetery. Walking up a slight incline we come to a small amphitheater.
(8) In the woods behind Pembroke Meadows Elementary School is this small amphitheater, the Elizabeth Nuckols Outdoor Learning Center. It is a quiet place for solitude and refection. On the wall are 165 bricks with donors’ names from 1999 – 2003. At the entrance (other side from your walk) a plaque reads: “In memory of Elizabeth E. Nuckols, May 11, 1983 – October 24, 1995. Heaven needed an angel and chose Elizabeth. ‘Life is not measured in years but by the love we touch.’”
We complete the walk by going back through the Pembroke Meadows Neighborhood Park path to the cemetery.