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Tuesday, September 8, 2015

A History of Shady Grove

Shady Grove Methodist Church, 1934

     For almost 200 years, Shady Grove Methodist Church has served a devoted membership in western Spotsylvania County, including four generations of my own family. The precise dates and circumstances of its origin remain shrouded by the mists of time, but here we will begin with what is known.

Western Spotsylvania County, 1863

     The original site of the church was located about a half mile southwest of its present location, on a two-acre lot given to Shady Grove by the will of William Powell, who died in 1829. Twelve years later, William's widow, Ann Powell (1775-1848), deeded two acres to the trustees of the church in lieu of the land previously given by her husband. The first trustees of the church, to whom Ann Powell gave her land, were Alfred Poole, Benjamin Walker, George Powell, John P. Williams, Benjamin Spindle, John S. Spindle and Bernhard Kube. An additional acre was given by a Mr. Graham, to provide sufficient space for a cemetery.
     In the 1863 map detail of Spotsylvania shown above, Shady Grove Church can be seen at the bottom of the image. Since 1841, the church has been located on modern West Catharpin Road near its intersection with modern Robert E. Lee Drive. Across Catharpin Road, the map shows the farm of William Buchanan [1]. Mr. Buchanan bought this property in 1825 from William Brent, who operated a tavern there. William Buchanan called his farm "Shady Grove," and the church adopted the name. The Buchanans still lived on this property until at least the 1940s.

     Services were originally held in a log structure that was moved to the Whitehall Gold Mine when the second church was built prior to the Civil War. This log building was later moved to a location on Catharpin Road, where it was still standing as late as 1908. During the earliest days of Shady Grove's existence, camp meetings were held at the church site. Log huts were built for the campers on the rear of the property, behind where the cemetery is now located. A log kitchen with a grill was also constructed. Religious services were held under a brush arbor. This was made by setting posts in the ground, connecting them at the top with poles and piling brush on top for a roof.
     Shady Grove Church survived the violence of the Civil War, but not for long. In early 1866, it was destroyed by fire one Sunday after services had been held and members had already returned to their homes.
     During the years when there was no church building, Shady Grove's congregation met during the summer months at an arbor at the old camp meeting site. During the winters, the people met at the homes of various members. A school house built on the property of Alfred Poole (seen on the map above just northwest of William Buchanan's farm) and called "Poole's Gate," served as a meeting house until a new church could be built. The church's Sunday school began in this building, with Alfred Poole as its first superintendent.

Reverend Richard Monroe Chandler (Tabernacle United Methodist Church)

     Rebuilding the church took a very long time, primarily due to the economic devastation visited upon the region during the Civil War. In 1876, new impetus for rebuilding the church came from the leadership of Reverend Richard Monroe Chandler (1846-1923), who had served in Company C of the 9th Virginia Cavalry during the war. Even with Chandler's encouragement, however, construction proceeded at a slow pace. Reverend Chandler sought to hasten completion by announcing that he would hold services in the new church on a certain Sunday. When he arrived that day, the unfinished church was still boarded up. So, the minister and a few early-arriving members pulled down the boards, with which they fashioned a few crude benches, and services were thus held. Ultimately, windows and doors were added, and money was raised by means of entertainments and oyster suppers to plaster the walls.

George Washington Estes Row (image restored and colorized by Deborah Humphries)

     One such evening's affair at Shady Grove was described in a letter written on October 26, 1879 by my great-grandfather, George Washington Estes Row (1843-1883). The letter was written to his wife, Elizabeth "Lizzie" Houston Row, who at the time was under a doctor's care for neuralgia in Rockbridge County:

     "Abby [2] and I went over last night to the soiree at Shady Grove, had music on organ and vocal rendered by Misses Miller [3], Higgins, Landram [4], Alrich [5] and other ladies. Gents Alrich [6], Eastburn, Morrison & Crocker, also a lecture on love by Mr. [Reverend S.O.] Harris the preacher. Refreshments, etc. I don't know what amt. was realized. Not over a hundred or so, I don't think. We got back after 12 and I assure you we were properly cold. Saw Miss Huldah & Bill Hawkins, Robbie Scott [7] & Meg Alsop [8]."

Bible class notes of George W.E. Row

     Although he never became a confirmed member of Shady Grove, George W.E. Row served during the last years of his life as superintendent of the Sunday school and as teacher of the men's Bible class. Shortly before his death, the men of the church presented to him a moustache cup, pictured below, as a token of their appreciation.

Moustache cup of George W.E. Row

     During the summers, revival meetings were held at Shady Grove Sunday through Friday. On Saturdays, the converts would be baptized. During these all-day meetings, people looked forward to the noon hour, when table cloths were spread under the shade of the trees and members enjoyed such delicacies as fried chicken, Virginia hams and pies.

Mary Elizabeth "Lizzie" Houston Row

     As a young girl, George Row's future wife, Lizzie Houston Row, was raised in New Providence Presbyterian Church in Rockbridge County by her devout parents. After marrying George in 1875, she accompanied him to his home in Spotsylvania, where she became a member of nearby Shady Grove Methodist Church. She continued to be a faithful member there until her death in 1928. In 1899, Lizzie Row was sorely tested by twin tragedies, which occurred with days of each other. On June 3, her mother died in Rockbridge County. Lizzie traveled there to attend the funeral and to spend time with her brothers and other relatives. While there, she received news that her oldest son, twenty-one-year-old Houston Row, had fallen ill at their home in Spotsylvania. Elizabeth raced back to care for Houston, who died of pneumonia on June 12, 1899.

Reverend Charles Henry Williams (Tabernacle United Methodist Church)

     Four months after Houston's death, Lizzie received from Pastor C.H. Williams a letter of stunning insensitivity:

"Spotsylvania, Va.,
Oct. 21, 1899.
Dear Sister Rowe:
     Your note I read with great appreciation. I am pleased to know that any of my sermons have been of help to you.
     We extend to you our heartfelt thanks for the dollar which you sent the baby; I will remember you to brother Thomas.
     Houston partly promised to give me 50 cts. on the missionary collection. I expected him to give it to me the 3rd Sunday in June. But he did not get there that day, he was in another world that day. Would you object to paying the 50 cts.? And I would like for you and Mabel [Lizzie's daughter] each to give me 25 cts. additional. I would not ask you for this amt. $1.00 but for the fact that I am very much behind in the collection at Shady Grove this year. And I am so anxious for the church to pay out in full this my last year. May God bless you and yours abundantly is the wish & prayer of your retiring pastor.
C.H. Williams"

     My great-grandmother, who had by now lost her husband and two of her three sons, was not pleased with the tone and substance of Reverend Williams' letter. Her reply must have cut Williams to the quick (at least I hope so):

     "Here is the 50 cents you say 'Houston partly promised to pay you for missions' but was 'in another world that day.'
     The mission board could give you credit for being an urgent collector."

Reverend George Henry Ray (Tabernacle United Methodist Church)

     By the turn of the century, it was becoming increasingly apparent that the church building erected in 1876 was no longer adequate to Shady Grove's larger and more prosperous membership. The 1876 church was small and poorly built. At one time, the top of the church spread apart and had to be drawn together and braced with iron rods.
     Starting construction in 1907, Shady Grove's members built a new church (which still stands today) directly in front of the old one. The new church was built under the leadership of Reverend George Henry Ray (1832-1911). During the Civil War, Ray had served as chaplain of the 3rd Virginia Cavalry 1861-62.
     The new church was 55 feet long and 32 feet wide. "The pulpit is of highly polished walnut and the carpet is rich and looks costly. The whole building is in keeping with the prosperity of the people [9]."
     Dedication ceremonies for the new building were held on August 16, 1908. Officers of the church present for the dedication were: John Hicks, Pelham G. Finney, Arthur Alsop, Bowie Cordon Dickinson, W.R. Hicks, Montreville Poole (son of Alfred Poole), Rosser Harris, Wesley Wright,  James Hicks and A.H. Kellar.
     On the day the new church was dedicated, visitors came from as far away as Washington, D.C. and Baltimore. Only a fraction of the crowd could squeeze inside the church to hear the service. By request, a hymn was sung by Arthur Hancock Crismond [10]. The dedication sermon was preached by Reverend James Cannon, Jr., president of the Blackstone Female Institute [11].

James Cannon, Jr. (Wikipedia)

     The protracted meetings which followed the dedication continued until the following Thursday. There were six professions of religion, the first of which was by 12-year-old Susie M. Harris, daughter of Leonidas and Alethia Bartleson Harris.

Rosebud Missionary Society, 1908

     The photograph above, dated 1908, may very well have been taken during the dedication ceremonies at Shady Grove. Founded in 1879 by Reverend Thomas H. Campbell, and named for his daughter, the Rosebud Missionary Society operated under the auspices of the Virginia Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South. Chapters of the organization existed for decades throughout the state. Shown in the picture above are seven young women of Shady Grove, each holding her rosebud. From left to right, they were (with their married names in parentheses): Lillian Kellar (Pulliam),  Agnes Hicks (Howard), Ruth Kent (Payne), Eva Bartleson (Pierson), Grace Bartleson (Kent), Lula Bartleson (Sothoron), and Alice Hicks (Jones).

Missionary Centenary pledge

     In 1917, Lizzie Row's son Horace married Fannie Kent. Horace and Fannie Row remained active at Shady Grove all their lives, as did their son, George, whose children also were members of Shady Grove. Despite the kerfuffle between Lizzie Row and Pastor Williams, the Rows continued to support the missionary work of the church, as shown above.

     In 1939, the year he died, Horace Row served as a trustee of the church. William Wirt Buchanan, whose grandfather established the Shady Grove farm in 1825, was also a trustee (and his wife Goldie was the organist). Horace Row's son George was a junior steward and second vice president of the Epworth League. My grandmother was secretary of the Women's Missionary Society.

Shady Grove, 1968.


[1] William Buchanan's house was the scene of a dramatic episode during the battle of the Wilderness, which can be read here.
[2] Absalom Alpheus Row (1868-1931), oldest son of George Washington Estes Row.
[3] Rosa Miller, the regular organist at Tabernacle Methodist Church. She was invited to play at other churches in the area as well.
[4] Annie Landram (1856-1938).
[5] Mary Ella Alrich (1857-1944), daughter of John Roberts Alrich and Jane Frazer Alrich.
[6] Samuel Wessel Alrich (1854-1927), who married Annie Landram shortly after this event at Shady Grove.
[7] Robert Scott (c. 1830-c. 1880), one of the most mysteriously intriguing figures in Spotsylvania at the time.
[8] Margaret Ann Alsop (1852-1924), who married Joseph Brock Trigg in 1881.
[9] "Dedication of Shady Grove," Daily Star August 25, 1908.
[10] Arthur Crismond was the son of former Spotsylvania clerk of court Joseph Patrick Henry Crismond. Arthur himself served as clerk of court 1912-1940, and his son Cary succeeded him as clerk and served until 1975.
[11] Reverend Cannon was active in the temperance movement and was superintendent of the Virginia State Anti-Saloon League. He was one of the many driving forces that ensured passage of the 18th Amendment, which mandated national prohibition.

"Shady Grove M.E. Church, Spotsylvania County, Va." Monograph printed by the church in 1939. William Lee Kent was acknowledged as one of the primary sources of information.

Barnum, Mildred. "Shady Grove Farm," W.P.A. Historical Inventory Project, November 16, 1936.

"SPOTSYLVANIA: Shady Grove Church. Interesting History of Former Structures On This Ground."
Daily Star August 19, 1908.

"Dedicating Shady Grove." Daily Star August 25, 1908.