After being empty for so many years, the pews of the Frying Pan Spring Meetinghouse were filled Sunday afternoon for the building's restoration celebration.
Ancestors of church members, history buffs and Fairfax County officials filed into the meetinghouse to celebrate the completion of an 18-month restoration, stabilization and documentation process of the 214-year old building.
Before filing into the freshly painted, non-air conditioned building, residents gathered behind the building that sits off of Centreville Road in Floris.
While the Floris United Methodist Church Choir sang in a circle in the old graveyard, residents walked around looking at tombstones, mingling with each other and looking at photographs detailing the building's history over the last 100 years.
Lucille Thomson from Rice, Va., attended the ceremony with her family to show them the church her great-grandfather used to attend. His minutes were on display for ceremony attendees to read for a history of the church's happenings.
IN 1783 ROBERT "Counselor" Carter promised a deed of land that included Frying Pan Spring to a group of Baptists so they could construct a meetinghouse, according the Fairfax County Park Authority. The church's first official meeting was recorded in May of 1791.
The church provided services for black and white residents of the area to worship together, although the black attendees were required to worship from the balcony.
To reach the balcony, church members had to climb a steep staircase from a side door in the back of the church. The balcony has a low ceiling and anyone over five-and-a-half feet tall would have to duck before sitting down. There are recordings that during the winter attendance among the black community dropped because of the lack of heating in the balcony — the main floor has two wood burning stoves on each side, the balcony has nothing.
According to the church minutes, anyone with the same beliefs was welcome to worship and baptisms, admonishments, dismissals and burials were noted in the minutes for all members, regardless of their race.
During the Civil War, documents show the church was used as hospital for wounded soldiers, according to Steve Wolfsberger, interpreter Fairfax County Park Authority.
Wolfsberger works at Frying Pan Park and offers interpretation of the area's history for residents who want to learn about the former farm community and Civil War battleground. Also a Civil War re-enactor, Wolfsberger was on-hand for the celebration dressed in "civilian" clothes to give an account of the building's history.
ACCORDING TO SOME stories, John Singleton Mosby used the church as a meeting point and one of his rangers is said to be buried in the cemetery in an unmarked grave. That information is questionable because there is no documentation of the burial, said Wolfsberger.
But, based on information that was available, it is believed that fallen Civil War soldiers and black church members were buried in unmarked graves in an area that has now become forested behind the existing graveyard, he said. Church minutes also show that people continued holding funeral services at the church, but then were buried at the Chestnut Grove cemetery, according to Wolfsberger.
One of Mosby's men, E.V. White, did stay at the church to become a preacher following the Civil War, he said.
In 1984 one of the last surviving trustees of the meeting house left the property to the Fairfax County Park Authority to preserve the building and the land, according to the Park Authority. Because of that the building and its surrounding land have gone untouched as the rest of Western Fairfax County has been quickly developed. The meetinghouse is recognized as a Virginia Landmark and National Register of Historic Places site.
William G. Bouie, Hunter Mill District representative, Fairfax County Supervisor Catherine Hudgins (D-Hunter Mill) and Chairman Gerry Connolly (D) attended the ceremony and cut the ribbon with those who helped make the restoration possible.
The building will now be used by the Fairfax County Park Authority for educational purposes.