In Eagle Rock, in northern Botetourt County, a little church is coming back to life. Parishioners from St. Mark's Episcopal, in Fincastle, are taking an interest in this rural community (about ten miles away) and have decided to try to restore this beautiful white frame church. Built in 1885, a classic example of the style known as Carpenter Gothic, Emmanuel was the first church in Eagle Rock, and served as the heart of the community for many years. By the 1960s, however, the population of this rural town had dropped off, and the decision was made to curtail the services to just twice a year. Then, about two years ago, Fr. Stephen Stanley, Priest Missioner for St. Mark's, pledged to find a way to begin holding services there again and to explore possibilities for his Fincastle congregation to participate in the life of Eagle Rock.
Two parishioners, Sidney and Tommy Hunter, who live in Eagle Rock, are delighted with this initiative. They have cheered us on, despite the daunting problems. For one thing, there were thousands of honey bees happily ensconced in the walls, so various "bee removal" experts had to be consulted. The interior walls were covered with mold and mildew, so work crews had to be recruited to wash and scrub. The doors have now been painted bright red, and a beautiful new sign announces the name - Emmanuel Episcopal Chapel.
The diocesan youth coordinator scheduled a "Mass on the Mountain" service in May, and then brought the youth back again in July to help paint the interior. Members of the local Ruritan Club also joined in on the fun, offering us the use of the Fire House, and other forms of hospitality. A new organization has formed, called Friends of Eagle Rock, giving us a chance to better coordinate all the projects as they unfold. The Ruritans, by the way, are working to renovate and reopen a community center that had been scheduled for demolition. Their enthusiasm is contagious!
We are now hoping to find grants to support the next phase of work, involving major repairs to the sacristy and roof, and repainting the exterior. Perhaps you can help. We are looking for historians and architects who know something about the history of Carpenter Gothic Churches. In 1883, church trustees borrowed $250 from the American Church Building Fund, in New York, and paid it back within two years. It would be nice to know if the Church Fund provided plans and materials, and perhaps shipped them to Virginia by train.
We discovered that another church in our diocese, Stras Memorial, in Tazewell, was constructed about the same time, in just two months! It would have been hard to build a church in such a short time unless there were ready-made plans, and even, perhaps, a shipment of materials…just like the Sears mail-order homes of the early 20th century. After doing some research online, I discovered that these churches, with pointed windows and steep roofs, were popular in rural communities throughout the United States from about 1870 to 1900. A word of caution, though - before you know it, you'll have found a Carpenter Gothic church in your hometown and launched a renovation project of your own!
Ellen Apperson Brown
Friends of Eagle Rock