St. John’s Parish came into being in 1680 with the division of Stratton Major Parish, which covered the equivalent of several modern counties, into smaller areas as the population grew. There were initially two churches in the parish. The lower part of the parish was served by Pamunkey Neck Chapel (c.1650-80), within the boundaries of what is now the town of West Point. The only remaining evidence of the site of this church is what was evidently the graveyard, near the side entrance of the First Baptist Church of West Point. The second church serving the parish was the Upper Church (1685) of St. John’s Parish, and probably known by that name. No evidence of this church remains, although it appears to have been further north and east than the later church known as St. John’s.
In 1729 the vestry of St. John’s Parish expressed concern over the decay of the two churches and agreed to set about replacing them. The church to serve the lower part of the parish was to be built first, and both churches were to be “of equal dimensions and goodness.” But the levy imposed was insufficient to construct two churches, so in 1731 the vestry decided to build only one. The site chosen for it was on the colonial road between King William Courthouse and Pamunkey Neck (the present location of the town of West Point). Today the restored church is located approximately ten miles north of West Point on State Route 30, about 150 yards west of the highway and the historical marker identifying the church.
Though it has been conjectured that the church was built in 1732, it seems more likely that is was completed in 1734. Someone carved the later date into the brick of the door facing the highway, on a wing or transept which was added on the north side some time after the original construction. Except for this addition and the raising of the floor of the nave approximately twelve inches, St. John’s in it structural aspects remains the same today as it was in 1734.
The brick is laid in English bond below the water table, and in Flemish bond with all glazed headers above the water table. The east and north doorways are gauged brick. The east doorway has a segmental head, and the north one a triangular pediment, of which the field is gauged. The west doorway is flanked by pilasters, one of which fell to pieces and has recently been restored. In its construction the church offers a fine example of the colonial brick mason’s art.
Both the interior and exterior of the church building have been meticulously restored. The original interior furnishings have not survived, and have been recreated based upon research into the interiors of other churches from this period. Electricity, heating and air conditioning have been installed to help preserve the integrity of the building and to facilitate its use for special occasions. A service is held during the summer each year, with guests bringing dishes for lunch, in the manner of an old-fashioned “homecoming”. This provides an opportunity for descendants of those communicants of long ago to worship as their ancestors once did.
While the church is owned by St. John’s Episcopal Church of West Point and thus the Diocese of the Episcopal Church, the restoration and maintenance of the building has been an interdenominational endeavor, funded by contributions from many interested individuals and organizations. Situated on Washington’s Burgess Route to Williamsburg, on the road that was used by George Washington and so many other famous Americans, the old church has probably seen as many great men and women from our country’s past as any other in the nation. It is therefore fitting that it has been preserved and restored to its former glory.
Regular Sunday services are not held at the church, but the sanctuary is available for weddings and special events. Contact St. John’s Church Restoration Association for information. The Association also gratefully accepts contributions, for the ongoing preservation and maintenance of the church.