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Friday, August 7, 2015


Tabernacle Methodist Church, early 1950s (TUMC)

     In writing this history of Tabernacle Methodist Church, I have relied in large part on an excellent monograph published by the church, Tabernacle United Methodist Church History: September 1842-September 1984. I am also featuring here three photographs from the church's collection, as well as several portraits of pastors who have served Tabernacle during its long history. These portraits are included in another publication of the church, Timeline of Preachers, which is available under the Church History tab on Tabernacle's website. Images included in today's article from the church's collection are designated with (TUMC).
     Tabernacle had its beginnings in Spotsylvania near Mott's Run in the early 1840s. It is not known with certainty whether its early meetings were held in a church building or in the homes of its founders. Among these early members were Alpheus Jett and the Hilldrup family.

John Wesley Hilldrup (TUMC)

     Robert Taylor Hilldrup (1792-1872) of Caroline County moved with his family to Spotsylvania in 1842. Among his children was the aptly named John Wesley Hilldrup, born in 1840. The Hilldrups were devoted members of Tabernacle, and young John perhaps most of all. John Hilldrup is believed to have been one of Tabernacle's earliest preachers. In 1857, 17-year-old John was licensed as an exhorter by the Quarterly Conference of the Spotsylvania Circuit. In 1861, he was licensed to preach by the Quarterly Conference of the King George Circuit.
     On May 22, 1861, John enlisted in Company K of the 30th Virginia Infantry. In September of the following year, during fighting near Dunker Church at the battle of Antietam, Private Hilldrup was shot, the ball passing through his side and embedding itself in his lung. Believing he had little chance of surviving his wound, the regimental surgeon decided to leave John behind as the Confederate army retreated, entrusting his care to Union doctors. However, John did not die that day. On September 27, 1862, he was paroled by the provost marshal and was allowed to return home. After a long convalescence, he rejoined his regiment, first serving as an aide in the medical department and later taking up his musket once again. During his service with the 30th Infantry, John availed himself of many opportunities to minister to his fellow soldiers and to hone his preaching skills. He was surrendered at Appomattox by General Robert E. Lee on April 9, 1865. Over the next 30 years, Reverend Hilldrup served as a minister in a number of Methodist circuits in Virginia. He died in Scottsville in 1895, still carrying the Minie ball within his lung.

Map detail of Spotsylvania, 1863 (National Archives)

     On September 25, 1852, Tabernacle bought a tract of land at the intersection of Gordon and modern Harrison Roads, just south of today's Mount Hope Baptist Church. Here Tabernacle's members built the church that would serve them for the next 12 years or so. By 1855, there were 27 members on the church's rolls, including the Jett, Hilldrup, Parker, Dunivant, Lewis, McGee, Bowling and Orrock families. In the map detail shown above, Tabernacle would have been located near the center of the image, near where "Zion Ch." is indicated.

Stonewall Jackson's last map (National Park Service)

     In the archives of the National Park Service is an artifact that gives to Tabernacle a permanent place in Civil War history. The map shown above was drawn by General Thomas Jonathan Jackson (his initials appear in the lower left of the image) as he planned his storied flank march that would rout the Union army during the battle of Chancellorsville. A fascinating history of this map, written by Park historians John Hennessy and Beth Parnicza, can be read here.
     During the Civil War, Tabernacle was utilized as a hospital. After the church was used to house smallpox patients, it was believed that it was no longer safe to hold services there. The decision was made to burn the little white church. For the next few years, the congregation met in a barn during the summer, and in the homes of Robert Hilldrup and John G. Miller during the winter.

Oliver Eastburn (Rich Morrison)

     Until 1951, when it became a station church, Tabernacle was a member of the Spotsylvania Circuit. The early pastors who rode these circuits served as many as five to seven churches at a time. This meant that worship services, christenings and sacraments were held only during those Sundays when an ordained minister was present. However, Sunday school was held on a regular basis. Tabernacle's first Sunday school superintendent was Oliver Eastburn (1824-1903).
     A native of New Castle, Deleware, Oliver moved his family to Spotsylvania in 1866. He bought a farm on Hazel Run owned by a Mrs. Marlberger. Known as "Hazelwood" during the 19th century, this property has been better known for the past 100 years as "Hazelwild." The Eastburns were Quakers, who were a rarity in Spotsylvania 150 years ago. At Tabernacle the Eastburns found their spiritual home, and they and their descendants have been bastions of the church ever since.

John G. and Wilhelmina Miller (Central Rappahannock Heritage Center, Jerry Brent Collection)

     John G. Miller (1820-1903) and his wife Wilhelmina were German immigrants who came to America and settled in Wayne County, Michigan, where their two children were born. Frederick Theodore Miller (1843-1928) was one of the first (if not the first) photographers to open a studio in Fredericksburg. His sister, Rosa (1848-1926), never married and was devoted to Tabernacle her entire life. For many years, she taught Sunday school and was the church organist. One of Tabernacle's service organizations, the Rosa Miller Circle, was organized in 1959.
     By the early 1850s, the Millers had come to Spotsylvania, where they bought a farm on the south side of modern Old Plank Road just west of Andora Drive. In 1868, the Millers gave their blessing to the building of a new Tabernacle Church on their property. A picture of that church appears at the beginning of this post. It is said that during the construction of the new church, Rosa Miller carried in her apron stones for the foundation. As was the custom at the time, the church was built with two front entrances.
     Two of the builders of the church were Albert Jackson McCarty (1833-1883) and George Bundy. When the church was re-roofed about 1900 by Albert's son, Frank McCarty, and David Doggett, the names of Albert McCarty and George Bundy were found inscribed on one of the beams. During the Civil War, Albert served in the 30th Virginia Infantry. While he was away, George Bundy, a free black, lived as a caretaker on McCarty's farm on modern Route 3.

Miller deed, page 1 (Central Rappahannock Heritage Center)

Miller deed, page 2 (Central Rappahannock Heritage Center)

Miller deed, page 3 (Central Rappahannock Heritage Center)

     On November 14, 1870, John G. and Wilhelmina Miller deeded the new church to the trustees of the church: Meredith Marmaduke, Alfred Poole, Robert McCracken Harris, and John M. Smith (the long time surveyor for Spotsylvania County). The deed stipulated that Tabernacle would retain legal ownership of the property and building as long as it was used as a "House or place of worship."
     The Sunday school continued to be a focus of Tabernacle's mission. In 1878 there were 46 members on the rolls. That same year Oliver Eastburn reported that there were 69 members enrolled in the Sunday school. "Pastor S.O. Harris wrote: "We have no uniform system of lessons, but instruct the scholars as circumstances best admit. Great interest is manifested in this school and it is well attended by young and old. It closed for the winter due to weather, but not until after a Christmas entertainment which interested parents and children."

John Thomas Payne (TUMC)

     Until 1883, the non-local pastors who served Tabernacle - most of whom were single - stayed as guests in the homes of parishioners. That year, Tabernacle built its first parsonage during the ministry of John Thomas Payne. Reverend Payne went on to become principal of Bowling Green Seminary and then Gordonsville Seminary. He then returned to his calling as a church pastor. In 1918, he retired upon hearing the news of his son's death while serving in France during World War I. Reverend Payne never recovered from the shock, and died on December 23, 1918.

Joseph Patrick Henry Crismond

     One of the most colorful and well-liked of Tabernacle's ministers was Joseph Patrick Henry Crismond, who served 1873-74. Crismond was later elected clerk of court of Spotsylvania (as would be his son and grandson), and held that office 1883-1903. His life as a politician was not without controversy, a story that can be read here.
     The Children's Day Celebration in the Sunday school was first held in 1897. The program was described in detail in the June 15, 1897 edition of the Daily Star:


     Oliver Eastburn served a second term as superintendent of the Sunday school 1896-99. In the archives of Hazelwild, there is a Methodist hymnal published in 1897 that could possibly have belonged to Oliver:

(Rich Morrison)
(Rich Morrison)

(Rich Morrison)

     Sarah Eastburn (1841-1914) was a niece of Oliver Eastburn. In 1867, she married James T. Morrison. Their four children - Ida, Adlowe, Abbie and Bessie- were each devoted to Tabernacle, and their children would make substantial contributions both to the life of the church and to the community. One of Tabernacle's service organizations, the S.E. Morrison Circle, was named in honor of Sarah.

William Evan Thomas (TUMC)

     Ida Morrison (1868-1911) married Pennsylvania native Thomas Evan Thomas in Spotsylvania in August 1890. Their first son, William Evan, born in 1894, was granted a license to exhort in 1907. William graduated from Randolph-Macon College and Emory College in Georgia. As of 1984, he and John Wesley Hilldrup were the only two Methodist ministers to come from Tabernacle. Reverend Thomas died in Winchester, Virginia on May 1, 1947, just five days before he was to receive an honorary doctor of divinity degree from Randolph-Macon.
     Adlowe Morrison (1870-1950) served as Sunday school superintendent in 1900, taking the place of his great-uncle, Oliver Eastburn.
Mungo William Thorburn (Ancestry)

     Abbie Morrison (1872-1958) became the third wife of Scottish immigrant Mungo William Thorburn (1857-1940) in May 1904. They lived on a large farm a half mile west of Tabernacle, at the intersection of Old Plank and Catharpin Roads. Mungo and Abbie had three sons - James, Thomas and George.

Tom and Marion Thorburn

     Tom Thorburn married Marion Crawford, daughter of Allen Thayer Crawford and the former Alice Monroe, in April 1939. In 1940, A.T. Crawford bought the property adjacent to Tabernacle, which included the former Chancellor High School and Elementary School buildings. He renovated the latter into his residence. In 1956, Mr. Crawford offered to straighten the boundary between his land and the parsonage, thereby giving to Tabernacle more land behind the parsonage and the church building. Mr. Crawford served as Sunday school superintendent 1926-1930. (I still have the first dollar I ever earned, for cutting Mr. Crawford's grass in 1963).
     For many years Marion conducted the choir and played the organ. Tom Thorburn served as Sunday school superintendent in the 1930s and 1950s. Tom and Marion also served their community as two of the principal stockholders of the Fredericksburg & Wilderness Telephone Company, one of whose founders was Tom's father.
     The fourth child of Sarah and James T. Morrison was Bessie (1876-1942), who married Alonzo Pemberton in 1899. Their son, Alonzo, Jr. (known to everyone as "Bill" Pemberton), served as Sunday school superintendent in the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s. He was also a principal in the F&W Telephone Company with his cousin, Tom Thorburn.

Tom Thorburn (left) and Bill Pemberton

     Over the years, a number of improvements were made at Tabernacle. In 1880, $110 was raised to purchase the church's first organ. About 1918, the plaster was replaced with wall board, a metal ceiling was installed and large windows were added. The entry doors were moved to the center of the church, creating a single aisle. A vestibule and a rounded altar and pulpit were added. Two wood burning stoves were installed. Church services were held at Chancellor High School while these renovations were underway. A new parsonage was built in 1953.
     When my parents were married by Reverend Lee Roy Brown in 1952, this is how the interior of the old church looked:

     The following year, I was one of the last babies baptized at the old church, and my father joined Tabernacle:

     In 1953, a 14-member committee was appointed by Reverend Earle William Fike. The following year, the Board of Missions granted Tabernacle $5,000 to assist in building a new church. On April 1, 1954, the Board of Church Extensions approved the construction plans. On May 2, a secret ballot was taken on the question of whether the new church should be built. Of 126 members voting, 125 voted in favor, and one member was opposed.
Reverend Earle Fike (TUMC)

      Reverend Fike was appointed supervisor of Tabernacle's building project. It was decided that the new church could be built for $35,000 (the final number would be closer to $45,000). A contract was let to Jett Brothers Contractors, and excavation work began on June 23, 1954. During the construction, Reverend Fike acted both as supervisor and architect, and further savings were realized by the fact that many members donated their labor. A decision was made to add the educational wing and social hall at this time, as it would be more expensive to add the addition at a later time.

Tabernacle under construction (TUMC)

     On April 17, 1955, the Reverend James W. Smith, pastor of Fredericksburg Methodist Church, was guest speaker at the cornerstone laying service for the new Tabernacle Methodist Church. A number of articles were placed beneath the cornerstone, including a history of the church by the historical committee, a copy of the morning service and the Free Lance-Star article describing the event.

Laying the cornerstone, April 17, 1955 (TUMC)

Free Lance-Star, April 15, 1955

     Homecoming and consecration services were held on July 24, 1955:


     The old white church built in 1868 continued to stand for another dozen years. When I was a boy, it was used by the local Boy Scout troop. In April 1967, the congregation voted to dismantle the 100 year old church.
     Ten years later, on May 5, 1977, construction began on a new educational wing. The new addition was completed within a year and consecration services were held on May 18, 1978.

     Mentioned here are a few members, most of whom I remember from my youth, and their contributions to the church:

Orville Cleophas Zechiel

     O.C. Zechiel, with his wife, Hazel, and their adopted daughter, Helen, came to Spotsylvania about 1915 and bought the farm adjacent to Zoan Church. Mr. Zechiel raised beef cattle and was one of the owners of the W-Z Market in Fredericksburg. On April 15, 1917, he organized an Epworth League consisting of 19 persons. Hazel Zechiel kept the farm after his death in 1950, and we lived across the road from her. She was a lovely person. My memory of that time can be found here.

Camille Leota Scales

     Camille Scales taught 6th grade at Chancellor Elementary School for many years. In 1944, Tabernacle's first Vacation Bible School was held under her direction. She still wore that fox to church in the 1960s.

Mary Mason (Ancestry)

     Mary Mason taught school in Fredericksburg and lived on her family's farm on Route 3 at the site of today's Spotsylvania Town Centre. Mary was active with the Methodist Youth Fellowship and was the first president of the Young People's Missionary Society.

Reverend William Ernest Pollard (TUMC)

     Reverend Ernest Pollard served at Tabernacle for three years. His wife taught my sister and me to play piano, and their younger son became my best friend. Reverend Pollard helped me through my confirmation class and baptized me as a member in April 1963.