Virginia City Presbyterian Church. Virginia City, Virginia
Posted by: Groundspeak Regular Member UberHOKIE
N 36° 55.094 W 082° 20.825
17S E 380010 N 4086648
Quick Description: The Virginia City Church, erected c.1895 by coal camp residents on land donated by the Russell Creek Coal Company, is the only surviving structure from the once bustling mining community of Virginia City. The structure also served as the first schoolhouse for Virginia City. Although maintained by the Presbyterian Church, anyone was welcomed to preach in the church, and so it was used by many different denominations.
Location: Virginia, United States
Date Posted: 12/27/2008 8:26:57 PM
Waymark Code: WM5EDV
Published By: Groundspeak Premium Member silverquill
Views: 9

Long Description:
Virginia City formed during the last decade of the nineteenth century but vanished by the mid-twentieth century. The area was settled in the early –mid-nineteenth century by mostly Scots-Irish families such as the Wrights, Trents, Hales, and McReynolds. Germans, such as the Hilemans, were also represented in smaller numbers. By 1860 there were approximately 35 families living in the Virginia City area. By 1880 there were about 55 families in the area.

The Norfolk and Western Railroad had much to do with the beginnings of Virginia City and the subsequent exploitation of major coal seams in the region. The N&W built a line into the rich Pocahontas coalfields in Tazewell County, Virginia, about 1880. The railroad profited handsomely from transporting vast amounts of high quality coal from Pocahontas and nearby mines, and soon began laying track into to the west, into Wise County. The new line was completed to the town of Norton about 1890, passing through the fledgling, future Virginia City. Speculation that huge amounts of coal would be encountered throughout the Virginia City area fostered optimism and
fueled growth of the little community and it was soon named Virginia City.

The Virginia City Post Office was established on June 1891, with William G. Harrison as its first postmaster. The Russell Creek Coal Company opened a mine and a company store. This was one of the first, if not the first coal mine in Wise County.2 The first load of coal was removed from Wise County in 1892, the first load of coke in 1895. The subsequent coal boom brought a 500% population increase to Wise County between 1890 and 1920.

Before the Virginia City Church was built, preachers held services in the homes of community members. The preacher’s denomination was not an issue as long as he preached from the bible. In 1895 the Russell Creek Coal Company donated the land for the church and helped raise money for building materials. Community members came forward to provide the labor. Between 1895 and 1922 the church had no pastor or single preacher. It was open to all.

Some of the preachers who visited the church during the period were Orbin Wells, Tommy Porter, and Cyrus Stallard.4 Later ministers included Jim Smith from Big Stone Gap who served for ten years or more, and Charles Ruff, who came as a student minister and returned after finishing at the seminary. Most of the population was Baptist or Methodist. The next largest group was Presbyterian, but in the early mining days in Wise County there were many Catholic immigrants working locally.

The Russell Creek Coal Company was one of several coming into the area simultaneously and competing for workers. The natives were reluctant to work in the mines at first, especially for poor wages. After some experienced miners were brought in from Pennsylvania, young local men were more easily recruited; but the companies had their own interests in mind when sponsoring the construction of churches and other amenities for the workers. An overall labor shortage during the early years meant necessary steps to attract and retain workers. Moreover, contented employees would be more stable and productive.

The miners of the 1905-1916 period earned as little as 15 cents an hour, working 10-hour days. Thereafter, the pay began to increase and the normal working day reduced to 8 hours. In the 1920s the N&W Railroad ran four passenger trains each day between Norton and Bluefield, Virginia.
The first coal tipple at Virginia City was located about one-half mile north of the Virginia City Church. It was a large wooden structure with metal shakers originally operated by a steam engine and later by electricity from the local power station. The power station, located near the coal tipple and powered by steam, was built around 1915 by George Lambert. It produced electricity for the mines and company store, as well as the homes of a privileged few.

As it turned out, the quality of the coal beneath Virginia City was not comparable to the better grades of coal being discovered in other parts of Wise County, such as Toms Creek. Therefore after only a few years the Russell Creek Coal Company abandoned the mine and moved on, leasing it for ninety-nine years to a father-son partnership by the name of Rhodymire. A few years later the Rhodymires sold their lease to George Lambert, who for a period of time operated two mines in Virginia City, called Number 1 and Number 2. Lambert in turn sold his leases to the Virginia Iron, Coal and Coke Company (VICC), which operated the mines until 1921. The mines were closed from 1921 to around 1927, when Number 2 was reopened for only about a year. The company then sold all the mining equipment including the tipple and the power station to junk dealers who came and disassembled everything and hauled it away.

Mrs. Mary S. Martin, a native of nearby Washington County, Virginia, started work as a missionary in the Dry Fork section (including Virginia City) of Wise County, in May 1922. She was 57 years old when she began. She rescued the Virginia City Church from neglect and disrepair, and made it her home base, expanding her mission work into nearby coal camps. After several years she was able to raise funds to build three more Presbyterian chapels: Bethany (1929), Mt. Olivet (1931) and Bull Run (1932). She is said to have personally taught Sunday school classes at each church herself. Reverend James M. Smith kept a busy schedule preaching at each church. Mrs. Martin also organized a Christian Endeavor [charitable] organization and carried on a “flourishing auxiliary.” An attractive little house was provided for her by the VICC. In 1932 the Abingdon Presbytery established the Mary Martin Memorial Church, consisting of the four chapels she had built, with 50 members, three elders and three deacons.

In 1937, a beautiful brick Gothic Revival edifice was erected in her name with donations totaling some four thousand dollars. In about 1941, Mrs. Martin made a tour “in the interest of the Assembly’s Home Missions” to churches in Washington DC, Norfolk, Harrisonburg, and Charleston, West Virginia. In Washington she found willing supporters of her work, writing later that “Nearly every man who shook hands with me left me money in my hand…Central Church gave me a piano for the Virginia City Chapel.” The piano may be one of the two that can still be found inside the chapel. Mrs. Martin remained in Virginia City for the rest of her life. She died in at a hospital in Norton in 1942. Today, in 2005, the Mary Martin Memorial Church holds the deed to the Virginia City Church, and is working to maintain it with historic character fully intact.
Date the Church was built, dedicated or cornerstone laid: 1/1/1895

Age of Church building determined by?: Other reliable source

If denomination of Church is not part of the name, please provide it here: Presbyterian

If Church is open to the public, please indicate hours: From: 9:00 AM To: 5:00 PM

Indicate the time that the primary worship service is held. List only one: 12:00 AM

Street address of Church:
Bull Run Road
St. Paul, Va USA

Secondary Website for Church or Historic Church Building: [Web Link]

If Church holds a weekly worship service and "all are welcome", please give the day of the week: Not listed

Primary website for Church or Historic Church Building: Not listed

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vhasler wrote comment for Virginia City Presbyterian Church. Virginia City, Virginia 12/24/2009 vhasler wrote comment for it

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