Walk Around and Inside the Church

A Walk Around 
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 our church 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 the 3rd church building stands today.

(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 and up Cattail Creek to complete their second church here in 1692. Moving into the Golden Age of the 18th century the congregation became more prosperous and built their third church, a larger and more substantial church. It 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 combined elements of the first crude shelters in Jamestown with Early Georgian style.  The rectangular 34 by 68 foot 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.  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 burned out 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 isle 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. 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, information about the graves can be found in the listing below this web site at http://1bob9.blogspot.com/2009/06/cemetery-old-section.html - Cemetery Old Section. In addition to the Old Section (to the south side of the church) there are 38 more gravestones (most placed in the 20th century behind the church and on the north side of the church), the Full Casket Burial Ground, Wall Columbarium, In-ground Columbarium, Memorial Garden (Scattering Garden), and three graves in the floor of the church. 

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 Cattail Creek’s tributaries. Called Cattayle Branch on the below 17th century map we see  from the size of the creek long ago how it was used to hall materials by barge for construction of Church No. 2 in 1692 and our present church in 1736. If we drive ½ mile up North Witchduck Rd from the church we can see water to the right and left, Cattail’s main course ending just south of the Lynnhaven House, at 4405 Wishart Rd.  The first tributary off Cattail is Robinson Neck dividing the land between the church and the 1st Ferry Farm Plantation, home of our famous Walkes from 1782 to 1828 and the 2nd Ferry Farm Plantation built by George F. McIntosh (1768-1863) in 1830 for his son. 

The Mcintosh’s lived at Thalia’s Summerville across the west branch of the Lynnhaven River (called Thurston Branch at that location). Thirty-two year old George McIntosh first saw the beautiful sixteen year old Elizabeth Walke standing on her veranda gazing at the moon from his porch just a short distance away across the river (see "4" and "5" below).  In 1800 Elizabeth married George, an event at Old Donation Church hailed as the wedding of the century with a week long celebration at the church, Ferry Farm and Sumerville.

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… 
(8) In the woods behind Pembroke Meadows Elementary School is a 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.
Tour Inside Old Donation Episcopal Church
Our tour begins at the back of the church and will proceed up to the chancel. If there are any questions along the way, please feel free to ask. The first stop is a plaque to our founder Adam Thorowgood who built our first church at Church Point in 1639. 

Overcome by the rising river our second church was completed in 1692. With the increase in wealth by the congregation, the third and present one 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 is Reverend Robert Dickson’s 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.

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) and at the vestibule entrance, are the people who helped with the restoration of the church from 1912 and 1916. Note that these three died in the same year, about one year before the October 11, 1916 christening ceremonies of the rebuilt church.

Moving into the nave, the first thing that you will notice is a font used for baptisms in church one. It was recovered from the Lynnhaven River in the early 20th century. It was for many years used as an anchor. We look upon this font as being saved from the Lynnhaven and born again to serve out its purpose.

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 winter. They were accessible along a catwalk from the upper balcony and looked like a theater box seat suspended by iron tie-rods from the ceiling.  

Most of the other windows are still as they were in 1916. Called wavy glass windows, the distortions and 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, the old floor 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. Notice that the floor has not been 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 Episcopal Church 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.

Moving up the entrance to the chancel please take hold of one of the kneelers. Notice the hand-sewing 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 Dec 18, 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 replacment chair

The altar and pulpit were the gifts of St. Paul’s Church, Norfolk,VA.  

The Pulpit

The Altar

In like fashion we donated our Jesse Woodberry pipe organ to Hickory Neck Episcopal Church in Toano, Virginia.

The  Jesse Woodberry Tracker Pipe Organ 

When a digital Johannus organ from the Netherlands was found for the bargain price of $98,000. Look back up at the balcony. Those pipes are all ornamental.

The Digital Johannus Organ
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 are the Ten Commandments and at its top is the Hebrew word “Yahweh” or “God” written in Hebrew.

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. On Oct 11, 1916 christening ceremonies of the rebuilt church were held. This is another important date for our church’s rebirth after being unoccupied for 60 years. The church was named Lynnhaven Parish until 1822 when the name was changed to Old Donation.

As you exit the church through the Vestibule, look to your left. The top framed certificate designates our church as one of 25 places in Virginia Beach on the National Register of Historic Places, and below that are pictures of church relics, a Queen Anne Communion Chalice of gold and silver alloy given to the church in 1712 and in 1716 a large two-quart Queen Anne Communion Flagon.  In the middle of the picture is a Silver Paten Plate given by Maximilian Boush II in 1711. He was the prosecuting attorney against Grace Sherwood (the infamous Witch of Pungo). Since 1711 the Altar Guild has been entrusted with these valuable relics, bringing them out for special occasions such as Christmas, Easter, and for the Bishop’s visits.

On the opposite wall (to your right) is a plaque dedicated to those people who worked to restore the church between 1912 and 1916. The plaque inside notes that William Etheridege Biddle was the first Warden and Vestryman of the church during the restoration period. For some reason he is not listed here. 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.