The Little Country Church

During the time that Carolinus Turner owned Belle Grove Plantation; he started slowly acquiring the half acre lots of Port Conway and returned them to the property of Belle Grove Plantation. He did however; donate a one acre lot to the local parrish to build a small church on. This church would become Emmanuel Episcopal Church.

Before 1859, church parishioners had to take the ferry across the Rappahannock River to attend St. Peter’s Church in Port Royal or travel to St. Paul’s in Owens. After 1843, they also could attend St. John’s in King George. Carolinus Turner, owner of Belle Grove Plantation donated a one acre lot of Port Conway to build a church for the local population.

St Peter’s Church
Port Royal

The church was thought to be designed by a Baltimore design firm, architects Nierness and Neilson. J. Crawford Neilson and John R. Nierness were known to have designed other churches in Virginia in a Gothic style similar to Emmanuel Episcopal Church.

J. Crawford Neilson was born in Baltimore in 1817 and studied civil engineering in Brussels, Belgium and established his practice in the United States. John R. Nierness came to Baltimore from Vienna, Austria, where he attended Vienna Polytechnic. In 1848, Neilson and Nierness entered into a partnership.

Emmanuel Episcopal Church is constructed of stretcher-bond brick and has a gable roof. The front of the church is dominated by a 2-story entrance tower. The principal entrance is set with an equilateral arch consisting of paneled double doors topped by a wheel –like motif transom. The windows are elongated pointed arches. There are two windows that face the front and two on each side of the building. There is a basement entrance is located outside of the building on the south wall.

The interior of the church is painted white, but is thought to have had an original decorative paint scheme. There is a central aisle that is flanked by wooden pews that are painted white. These pews have a Gothic ends and are thought to have been varnished and later painted white. The front of the church has a raised sanctuary where the recessed altar is framed by an arch. This part of the interior is thought to date to the 1960s. There is a Gothic style wainscot running along the west wall.

Interior of St Peter’s Church – Port Royal
Emmanuel’s Interior is very similar.

At the back of the church there is a gallery with additional seating. This gallery also contains the original Henry Erban organ which is housed in a Gothic Revival style case. The room is illuminated by a brass pseudo-colonial chandelier.

St Peter’s gallery and organ.
Emmanuel’s interior is very similar.

The side and back section of the church yard contains grave sites that date back to 1800s. The oldest grave site is that of Major Henry and Elizabeth Turner. Their tombstone, which dates to 1751, was moved from its original location to the church. Their bodies were not moved with their tombstones and remains in an unknown location. Notable families that are buried within this small cemetery are the Turners, Strothers, Robbs, Jetts, and Hooker Families. Most of these family members were born, lived or died at Belle Grove Plantation. The exception would be that of the Strother Family. This family was from the Milbank Plantation that is next door to Belle Grove Plantation.

Tombstone of Maj Henry Turner 1731 and Elizabeth Turner 1752
The stone was moved, but not the remains.

Tombstone of Maj Henry Turner 1731 and Elizabeth Turner 1752
English Symbol

Tombstone of Carolinus Turner – Owner of Belle Grove Plantation (1839-1876)

Tombstone of Caroline “Carrie” Turner Jett
Daughter of Carolinus and Susan Rose Turner
Wife of Dr. William Jett
It is her etching in the window upstairs at Belle Grove

Tombstone of George Turner and his wife Jane
Only son of Carolinus and Susan Rose Turner

Tombstone of John Palmer Hooker
Owner of Belle Grove Plantation (1930-1974)

Tombstone of Mary Ensley Murrell Hooker
Wife of John Palmer Hooker
She was the last resident of Belle Grove Plantation (1981)

Tombstone of John Hooker (1929)
Infant son of John Palmer and Mary Hooker
He is the youngest grave in the cemetery

There is one monument other than Major Henry and Elizabeth Turner tombstones that represents a family that is not buried in this cemetery. This monument is the Hipkins-Bernard monument. It is a six foot obelisk that has the date of 1849 and the name J.H. Bernard on it. It also has a plaque that was added in 1983 that states that this monument was once located on Belle Grove Plantation. It was to mark the unmarked grave site of John Hipkins, Elizabeth Pratt Hipkins, Frances “Fannie” Hipkins Bernard, Eliza Bernard, William Bernard II and five of William’s infant children.

Tombstone Monunment for the Hipkins – Bernard Family
The remains of this family are not located in the cemetery

Plaque for the Hipkins-Bernard Monument – There is a mystery here!

The church is surrounded by a brick wall that was erected sometime in the 1960s. The church was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in the 1970s.

View from the entry of Belle Grove Plantation

In 1861, the Reverend Alexander Shiras was rector for both St. John’s Church in King George and Emmanuel Episcopal Church. During 1862, he reported the following:

“The war borne somewhat heavily upon the Parish (Hanover Parish), scattering its families, carrying off its young men and almost dissolving the congregation. Regular services were steadily kept up and others held for the soldiers occasionally stationed in the neighborhood.”

The area of Port Conway and Port Royal saw many struggles between the Union and Confederate forces during the American Civil War. Most homes were either destroyed or damaged. Churches would also see the same fate. Emmanuel Episcopal Church somehow managed to survive. That is a story that has been handed down as to the fate of this small country church.

During the Civil War, when Port Conway was occupied by Union forces, a soldier walked into Emmanuel Church and sat down at the organ. The building had seen some damage from shots fired at it. The soldier started playing the organ. It warmed his heart and made him homesick for his church back home. He was so moved by it that he convinced the other soldiers not to destroy Emmanuel Episcopal Church. This sweet, little country church was spared and was repaired after the war.

The Reverend Henry Wall, who became the rector in September of 1865, reported the following:

“Emmanuel Church at Port Conway was now fit for occupation. It has been repaired by aid of the liberality of kind friends of the Church in Baltimore and New York and my personal friends of the subscriber in Alexandria.”

Today, Emmanuel Episcopal Church still holds services every 3rd Sunday of the month.

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42 thoughts on “The Little Country Church

  1. terry1954 says:

    this reminds me so much of the little country church i attended to for so many years……………..i have a fascination with old cemetaries, nothing pshycotic or anything, just the age of them and the names on the stones

    • I am with you about cemeteries! The art of the old tombstone is just beautiful. And what stories they tell. This church is just 200 yards from the main house at Belle Grove. There is a wooded area that falls between so you can’t see the house from the church. I have an old map that shows that there was once a road from the front entry gate at Belle Grove to the Church. My hope is to rebuild that road. I think it would be so lovely to have for our guest to scroll over to the church.

  2. These photos are so interesting! And I have that fascination with cemeteries, too. Something about the stone and stillness. Great shots.

    • Thank you! Believe it or not as I did my research and I learned all the names of the families, I would go to visit the cemetery and talk to them, telling them how much I love their old residence and how I want to bring it back to life and how I want to restore the history and honor them for the struggles they went through.

      • What a kind thing to do. And I really do believe they heard and are watching you, with approval.

      • You know, when we met with the owner for the first time, as we were leaving I looked at Brett and told him that the “Family” was happy we were coming to the plantation. As I walk the grounds and find little treasures (artifacts) I know that it is coming from them. Kind of a way to show they approve. I know it’s silly but I really to “feel” them there.

      • Not silly at all. I get it. 🙂

  3. belocchio says:

    This is a lovely post. The church is elegantly beautiful. I would love to wander through the churchyard. When I spent time in Edinburgh and the north of Scotland I hit every cemetery I could reading the inscriptions on ancient tomb stones.

  4. Just beautiful, wow.

  5. What an interesting post, thanks for sharing!

  6. Myrna says:

    What beautiful churches!

  7. xpat92 says:

    Hello!
    Thank you for visiting my blog.
    I love History and old buildings such as Emmanuel Episcopal church. Just so beautiful. When my hubby & I travel, we love to visit anything of Historical interest, including churches. I was espeically partial to the church cemetery as I am a hobby genealogist. I love visiting old cemeteries :).

    Cheers to you both!

  8. simongregor says:

    I know what you mean about cemeteries – very beautiful and still places. I do quite a bit of church photography, and always take time to look at the churchyard and get pictures of some of the more intricate gravestones.

    • I agree, I love walking through cemeteries and seeing the artwork of the tombstones. I also love knowing the stories behind the tombstones as I do these. It like having family there.

  9. mixedupmeme says:

    I moved from Virginia over 40 years ago to the land of cactus and rattlesnakes. I miss the beautiful trees and greenery of Virginia.

    I have taken the liberty to post about your blog on my blog. I hope my words do not scare anyone away. 🙂

    http://mixandmatchmeme.wordpress.com/2012/07/24/belle-grove-plantation/

    • Thank you so much for sharing us with your readers! It means so much to us! When I joined the military I had to go to school in the desert area of California for six months. I remember how much I missed seeing the color green (not olive drab). When I got home the grass and trees were just so green. I can still to this day even 30 years later, remember how green it was. Hopefully one day you can return and stay with us at the plantation!

  10. Dianna says:

    Beautiful little church. And aren’t cemeteries interesting? But – marking the gravesite of FIVE infant children…?? How sad.

  11. Anne Bonney says:

    Interesting history and, again, terrific pictures. Cemeteries can tell us so much. Thanks!

  12. squirrel circus says:

    Add me to the list of people who are fascinated by cemeteries! I actually grew up right next to one, but it was a newer memorial garden….not very historically interesting, but we did enjoy riding our bikes on its miles of roads. 🙂 The cemeteries around here (Lancaster,PA) are super fascinating, and I enjoy exploring them….when its not quite as hot as it has been lately.

    • Thank you for stopping by! Yes! I agree with you as well about cemeteries. I have been through Lancaster, PA. What a beauitful place! Yes, it has been a little to hot to get out and enjoy the outdoors, but it will be over soon and we will be back to snow.

  13. D.E.Bishop says:

    Thanks for liking my blog, Freegan.

    This is great. I love history, used to teach Am History in high school a few decades ago. Same for old cemeteries – fascinating. I’ve done most of my traveling in the western US. (I live in MN) I have been to Atlanta and Baltimore, but only for business conferences. Didn’t get to explore the back roads and other parts that are so much fun. Otherwise, Chicago is pretty much it for my eastward travel. I do want to get to the southeast one of these years. Economy needs to improve first.

    Thanks for the great blog. I will keep an eye on what you are writing.

    • You are so welcome! We look forward to seeing more of yours! We are glad that you have joined us for this wonderful journey! We have so much more ahead and can’t wait to share it with everyone! We hope one day you will be able to find your way to our plantaiton! It will be so worth the trip! We are huge into history as well!

  14. There is an insular serenity about old churches; a peculiar atmosphere at once somber and exhilarating. Here in NYC, while the frantic pace of city life rushes by, Trinity Church in Lower Manhattan appears oblivious to the clamor of its surroundings.

    With country churches, such as St, Peter’s, these qualities are even more pronounced…in other words, even more beautiful.

    Yet another stop has now been added to my To-Visit list. Thanks!

    • I just love your view on old churches. You put into elegant words what I feel about our little church. We are glad that you have placed us on your to see list! We can’t wait to meet you one day at the plantation!

  15. Jen says:

    What a lovely church and marvellous churchyard! I adore visiting old cemeteries. They have a wonderful history in this country—their dual purpose, or at least the intentions for that—and really, as a history buff…they are so difficult to resist.

  16. NinikBecker says:

    Dear Belle Grove Plantation Bed and Breakfast, I think your blog is great, I nominated you for two awards ! The One Lovely Blog award and The very Inspiring Blogger award. Congratulation !

  17. chefbill says:

    very nice photos, I love old cemeteries… i wonder if anyone else has noticed that you have a lot of hookers in your graveyard lol,

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