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St. George's Chapel

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c. 1772. .1 mile north of WV 51, 1.8 miles west of Charles Town

Over the years, these ruinous limestone walls have been the subject of as much conjecture, lore, and legend as any building in West Virginia. As early as 1845, Henry Howe, who showed a woodcut labeled “ruins of Trinity Church, Norborne Parish” in his Historical Collections of Virginia, called it “a venerable and picturesque ruin [whose] age is unknown.” The building was long thought to have been a chapel of ease erected for the convenience of nearby plantations, but it is now acknowledged that this was the actual parish church, built about the time coterminous Norborne Parish and Berkeley County were established. In February 1776, Philip Vickers Fithian, a Presbyterian missionary, writing in his journal, called it “the most elegant Building, for a Place of Worship, that I have yet seen in this Colony.” In all likelihood, vestryman John Ariss, one of colonial Virginia's most noted builders, had a hand in the design and construction.

After the Revolution, when Virginia's Anglican church was disestablished, the building ceased to be used. When Episcopalianism was reinvigorated, a new church, Zion, was established in nearby Charles Town. As early as 1811, the colonial building was described as “going to ruin”; by 1836, it definitely had. Still, according to Henry Howe in 1845, “the cedar-wood of the windows [was] yet sound and fragrant.” Paradoxically, as the walls continued to fall, stories of former grandeur grew in stature. Among the apocrypha that accumulated were rumors of a leaded (or copper) roof, a tiled floor, and a pulpit imported from England. The name St. George's Chapel, a late-nineteenth-century appellation with no basis in fact, helped foster the notion that the church had originally been a chapel of ease.

Howe's woodcut shows that the coursed rubble limestone walls formed the shape of a broad letter T, that the windows in the lower tier were rectangular, and that those in the upper tier were arched. In all likelihood, the church resembled several brick contemporaries farther east. St. Paul's Episcopal Church (1766) in King George County, Virginia, and The Falls (1769) and Pohick (1769–1774) churches in Fairfax County all have two tiers of windows, with round-arched second-tier windows.

A HABS team that measured the ruins in 1937 determined the base dimensions. Remaining walls were stabilized in the 1970s as a bicentennial project but have deteriorated since then. Even in their current state, the mute stones testify to the strength of Virginia's Anglican establishment in this prosperous corner of the colony immediately before the Revolution.

Writing Credits

Author: 
S. Allen Chambers Jr.
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Citation

S. Allen Chambers Jr., "St. George's Chapel", [Charles Town, West Virginia], SAH Archipedia, eds. Gabrielle Esperdy and Karen Kingsley, Charlottesville: UVaP, 2012—, http://sah-archipedia.org/buildings/WV-01-JE8.

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