Basking in Boxwoods

Basking in Boxwoods

Boxwoods and history are celebrated at Pleasant Grove Church and museum

John Douts’ boxwoods are a secret that has slowly slipped out to the community over the years. The Old English boxwoods he roots have become legendary around McLean since he started donating them each year to Pleasant Grove’s annual fair. This year the fair will be held on May 15 at the old church and museums grounds on Lewinsville Road.

“I bought two a few years ago because I thought they were cute. Now I’m there every year to get more. They don’t grow fast, not at all, but they are wonderful,” said Allison Jenkins. “I’ve got one row started already that’s growing well. I’ll probably pick up four or five this year.”

Douts works with the boxwoods for several years before they are ready to be sold at the fair. “I root them from cuttings. They are probably 6 or 7 years old by the time they are sold. They are slow growing. There are other varieties that are better for someone who wants one that’s going to grow more quickly,” said Douts. He begins cold-framing the boxwoods in July to prepare for the next year.

The boxwoods are about 6 inches tall and are sold in 1-gallon buckets for $7. “They grow about an inch a year. That’s what you can expect,” said Douts. He gives roughly 100 boxwoods to Pleasant Grove every year to help them raise money to maintain the church.

The boxwoods have been a feature of the Pleasant Grove fair for nine years. The event, however, has been held for 20 years. “It’s our major fund-raiser event. We’ve been doing it every year since we started to repair the church,” said Garry Jewett.

PLEASANT GROVE CHURCH occupies a spot in McLean’s history books. The church was started by freed slaves and was the center of the black community for many years. It was abandoned after changing hands decades ago and fell into a state of disrepair. A local antiques broker later purchased the property and began salvaging the stained-glass windows and tin ceilings for profit, when the Jewetts and other concerned neighbors stepped in to save the building from being demolished.

The church has since been repaired, with help from original church members and their descendants, to its original glory. In the basement of the church is a living history museum, which contains artifacts from the Sharper family, whose determination and will built the church in a time when there was hostility toward African-Americans in the area.

“We use the money we collect from this [fair] in the continuing restoration and maintenance. The restoration is largely behind us, we hope. That entailed getting the building stable,” said Jewett.

Garry Jewett and his wife, Joan, live across the street from Pleasant Grove Church and have been the major drivers in its restoration and upkeep. In 1992, after restoring the church and high-pointed steeple, the pair were devastated when lightning stuck the steeple and destroyed it. They simply started all over again and replaced the steeple with another new one.

The charred remains of the ornately carved steeple are on display in the basement history museum. The Friends of Pleasant Grove are hoping residents will take advantage of the open house that takes place during the fair to view the artifacts that have been collected about the forgotten part of McLean’s history.

“This is the history of McLean right here. It’s a 100-year-old building. We’ve got the artifacts of the church here on display,” said Jewett.

THE MUSEUM IS open to the public only for prearranged tours and by appointment. It will be open all day during the fair.

Jewett knows he’s competing with McLean Day to get residents to come to the event but believes Pleasant Grove has something to offer that would be an excellent precursor to the rides at McLean Day. “People can come here to have lunch, come to our fair and listen to some live music. Then tour the museum and see what a household in McLean looked like 100 years ago, then go to McLean Day,” said Jewett. It’s his version of see the history, then celebrate it.

The Pleasant Grove Fair offers several other draws that attract nearly 200 people each year. This year Fred McCalub will be performing live bluegrass; noted local chef Chick Cullen is preparing lunch on site; and there will be an “attic treasures” sale of household items donated by residents.

The bake and plant sales are also popular, according to Jewett. “We have an excellent bake sale, and we have a carefully selected plant sale, that experienced gardeners select,” said Jewett.

Money is already being collect by Pleasant Grove from sales of raffle tickets for a handmade quilt. Silvia Gaskin, whose family members were original parishioners at the church, makes a new quilt every year for Pleasant Grove. Raffle tickets are just $2 each, and the winner will be awarded at 2 p.m. the day of the fair.

Pleasant Grove Church is located at 8641 Lewinsville Road. The fair will be held from 10 a.m.-2 p.m., on Saturday, May 15.