Bloomery Presbyterian Church

This article appeared in the Hampshire Review on August 11, 1926
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A large congregation, estimated to be about 800, gathered Sunday, August 1, to participate in the celebration of the one hundredth anniversary of the Bloomery Presbyterian Church. The services were held in a grove on the road to Paw Paw about one mile west of the church.

Below appears the historical paper prepared and read by Dr. Charles D. Gilkeson, superintendent of home missions for Winchester Presbytery:

Little is known as to when or by whom the valley of the Capon was first settled. It is supposed that it was largely settled by the same people, the Scotch-Irish, who about 1730 began to move in large numbers from Pennsylvania across the Potomac into the Valley of the Shenandoah. Many settled in the great valley, while others found homes in the fertile valleys along Back Creek, Capon and the South Branch.

The Scotch-Irish, as you know, were Scotch, who about the middle of the seventeenth century emigrated to the north of Ireland. By their industry and thrift they made the desolate wastes of Ulster blossom as the rose. They were engaged largely in farming, wool growing and the manufacture of woolen goods. The English, becoming jealous of their success as manufactures of woolen goods, forbade the manufacture of their wool into cloth. This broke up the weaving industry. When the thrifty Scotch began to sell their wool in other than English markets the English government forbade them selling in another market.

Outraged by these and other injustices these sturdy liberty-loving people emigrated in large numbers to America, and, as history records, played a very important part - more then any other people - in winning the Revolution and the founding of our nation. They settled in Pennsylvania by the ship loads. Then the Pennsylvania Quakers became jealous of them and treated them badly, so when the country between the Blue Ridge and the Alleghenies was opened to settlers they came in great numbers across the Potomac Virginia.

This tide of Scotch-Irish began to flow towards the Shenandoah Valley and regions adjoining about 1730 or 35. about the first we know of this valley is that in 1753 Braddock's army of about 2,500 men, with Washington in command of the Virginia troops, with its long train of baggage wagons, passed down Bloomery valley and crossed the river at the Forks of Capon on its way to the disastrous defeat by the French and Indians near where the city of Pittsburgh now is. There were no doubt quite a number of families in this section at that time.

view from the parking lot above the church

Braddock's defeat exposed the settlers between the Alleghenies and the Blue Ridge to constant raids by the French and Indians. As a protection, lines of forts or places of refuge were built along the South Branch and Capon rivers. The names of twenty-three of these forts have been preserved. There was a fort near the present site of Wardensville; another Fort Edwards, at Capon Bridge, which at one time had a garrison of one hundred men; another at or near the Forks of Capon; this does not seem to have been a very important one and was abandoned in 1757. These forts failed to offer adequate protection, and many of the early settlers were killed in these raids and many more were forced to abandon their homes. The massacre at Fort Sibert in Pendleton county, is an illustration of the atrocity and cruelty of the Indians. A Captain Mercer and his company were ambushed on the Capon in Hampshire County. He was killed and his company almost annihilated. Historians tell us that if the French and Indian war had lasted two or three years longer the settlements along these valley would probably have been wiped out.

Our first definite information as the presence of Presbyterians in the Capon Valley is a request sent up from Cape Capon to Donegal Presbytery April, 1761, that ministers be sent to supply them with preaching. Cape Capon is one of about eight variations of the name given the Capon river in the records of Hampshire county. Presbyterians must have prospered on the Capon, for seven years later these same people ask, not for supplies, but for an ordained minister who shall assist in forming them into a regular congregation, and six months later they ask for a church organization. Rev. Moses Hoge, then living at Moorefield, was appointed to supply the Forks of Capon, there was evidently a church building at the Forks of Capon and doubtless there are persons in the audience this morning who remember that their parents told them of an old Presbyterian church that once stood at or near the Forks. The name Cape Capon appears for the last time on old church records in 1781. what happened to this church we can only surmise.

In 1800 a young scotchman, born near Londonderry, Ireland, Robert Sherrard, then only about twenty, built a large stone mill which was known as Bloomery Mills and later (because perhaps his ancestors were woolen manufactures in Ireland) built the woolen mill. The old stone mill is still doing service. The woolen mills continued in operation until 1861, Colonel Robert Sherrard's son, Robert Bell, taking up the work after his father's death in 1845. The product of these mills were hauled to Alexandria. At the outbreak of the Civil War the woolen mills were manufacturing cloth for the Confederacy. A raider from the Yankees put an end to that, and the mill never resumed work.

Bloomery is said to have gotten its name from the word "bloom" which is a name given to iron at a certain point in its manufacture. If that is true, the iron ore here must have been used in making iron at a very early date. It is said that iron made in Hampshire was shipped to Georgetown and cast into cannon with which Perry won his victory on Lake Erie.

The furnace, whose ruins are still standing, was built by a Mr. Priestly, and was in operation in 1833. Large quantities of iron were shipped in rafts and flat boats over the Capon river to Georgetown. The furnace was in operation, as I gather, as late as 1875.

Now we are ready to ask again what became of the old church at the Forks of Capon? No doubt, when these industries started at Bloomery the old church moved to Bloomery Mills, and so Bloomery, the centennial of whose organization we celebrate today, is the successor of the old church at the Forks.

On the first page of the records of Mount Bethel Church this record is found: June, 1812, the societies formerly known as Springfield, Romney and Capon were by general consent united and formed into one congregation, hereafter to be known by the name of Mount Bethel. It is worthy of note that the first recorded action of the session of the church thus constituted it as follows: By act of session. Recommended to and enjoined upon the heads of families to have their children taught to commit to the Westminster Assembly's Shorter Catechism.

The first congregation or society to withdraw from this union of the Presbyterians of Hampshire County into one church called Mount Bethel was Bloomery. At a meeting of the session at the Bloomery meeting house June, 1825, the following minute was entered: A petition, signed by sundry members of Mount Bethel Church, residing on Big Capon, and in the neighborhood of Bloomery Mills, requesting, on account of their peculiar situation, to be set off as a church, was presented to the session. Session determined that the request was reasonable and referred the request with its approval to the Presbytery of Winchester. Winchester Presbytery, at a meeting in Leesburg, Va., April, 1826, ordered the organization of the Bloomery church. The first meeting of session, Dr. William H. Foote moderating the meeting, was held at the home of Moses Hoge on Timber Ridge, June 2, 1826. These sundry members numbered 20, and their names are recorded in the minutes of the Bloomery church. None of these names, so far as I recognize them, are to be found in this community at this time. I have not been able to learn when the Bloomery church was built. As the session met in the Bloomery meeting house June, 1825, its erection must antedate 1825; possibly it was built soon after the stone mill.

The first elders were Noah Larew, Moses Hoge and Zebulon Sheets. Mr. Larew and Mr. Hoge were elders in the Mount Bethel church. Mr. Larew seems to have been a French Huguenot and is spoken of by Dr. Foote as a man of strong character and deeply interested in the advancement of Christ's kingdom. He died shortly after, 1827. Mr. Sheets seems to have been very highly esteemed in the community and the removal of the family to the west in 1835 is spoken of in records as a great loss to the community. Mr. Hoge served the church as elder until his death about 1861. the session often met at his home on Timber Ridge. Who was Moses Hoge and what relation, of any, to Dr. Moses Hoge, who in 1768 was appointed to supply the Forks of Capon and who afterwards became the president of Hampden-Sidney College, and one the great preachers of this day? I have not been able quite to prove it, but I am inclined to the belief that he was a grandson of James Hoge, of Middletown, Fredrick county, and if so a nephew and namesake of the distinguished Dr. Hoge.

In 1832 there was a great revival of religion, and in one year there were 243 additions to the Mount Bethel Church, which at that time included Romney, Springfield, Patterson Creek and Mount Bethel, and was served by Dr. William H. Foote. The revival began at Bloomery at a communion service held by Dr. Foote and Rev. W. N. Scott. Forty-eight were added that year to the Bloomery Church, among such familiar names as Vance, Peacemaker, Heiskel, Sherrard, Kump, Alexander Keiter, and Offit. Again in 1837 there were a number of additions; among them we find these names: Groves, Buzzard and in 1843 Somerville, Powell, Rider, Mills.

looking forward from the pews

The church seems to have been supplied with preaching by temporary supplies and by pastors of other churches in the Presbytery coming in to hold meetings and conduct communion services until the coming of the Rev. Mr. Jennings in 1848, who remained until 1861.

Other elders who served the church before the Civil War were Dr. Joseph Scott, David Buzzard, W. S. Grove, William Somerville, Robert Bell Sherrard. Presbytery met with the Bloomery church in September, 1857. from 1861 to 1871 there seems to have been but one meeting of the session (1867). Mr. R. B. Sherrard was present, the only elder left, and he, it would seem, had moved from the community years before. In 1871 Daniel Gano was elected elder and served till his death in 1901.

In 1874 Rev. J. W. Walkup came as an evangelist in the field. A church roll made up in 1877 shows 91 names on the roll, but there were scattered from Wardensville to Bloomery, perhaps most of them living at Capon Bridge. In 1883 the members at Wardensville were set off in a separate church nine of them. During Mr. Walkup's ministry the manse at Capon Bridge was purchased (1881). The names of the trustees and the agreement entered into at the time are found on page 101 of the old minute book and is of present interest to the churches now grouped with Bloomery. Mr. Walkerup left the field in 1890.

Rev. E. C. Barclay, M. D., was called in 1894 and remained on the field until November, 1895. During his ministry the Capon Bridge church was set off, thirty members withdrawing from Bloomery to form the church at Capon Bridge, leaving but a handful at old Bloomery. The next pastor was the Rv. J. A. Thomas, who seems to have remained but a little over a year. In October, 1902, Dr. W. J. Webster, of sainted memory, came to the field. Mr. John Gano and Mack Hook were elected elders the same year. Dr. Webster remained in the field until the spring of 1908, when he accepted a call to Front Royal. He was lovingly known all over his field and in the Presbytery as Dad and his consecrated wife as Mam. He died at Hancock, Md., in 1922, and his wife just a few weeks ago.

During the vacancy that followed the churches in the group were supplied during the summers by students among them Rev. T. H. Daffin, now at Kernstown, Va.; Rev. W. W. Morton, now assistant pastor at Lexington, Va.; Rev. C. B. Craig, now at Laurinburg, N. C. In 1914 the Rev. A. M. Earle came to the field and remain till 1919, when he accepted a call to his present field, Stoval, N. C. He was a most faithful pastor and is loved to this day by all who knew him. During the summers of 1920 and 1921 Rev. W. L. Foley, now at Maxton, N. C., supplied the field. In the spring of 1922 the present pastor, Dr. J. G. Reveley, a sound and able minister of the Word, came to the work.

Bloomery has never in its history been a large church cannot be by reason of its situation and the small number of people within reach of it, but let us look back and see what has in the years, come out of Bloomery.

Colonel Robert Sherrard, who was for years a member of Bloomery and whose remains rest in the old graveyard, was twice married. A daughter by his first marriage, Mrs. James Stewart, was the mother of the Rev. J. C. Stewart, D. D., who was for years the pastor of a Presbyterian church in Richmond, Va. By his second wife he has a son, a minister, who is still living, Rev. Joseph L. Sherrard, Crozet, Va. Mr. Sherrard was written a letter expressive of his deep and abiding interest in Bloomery, the place of his birth and early childhood, his interest in these exercises today and his regret that because of the infirmities of age he cannot be with us.

looking down from the church balcony

Mr. William Somerville, born at Bloomery, and for years an elder in Bloomery, has a son, the Rev. C. W. Somerville, D. D., a prominent minister and educator now living at Charlotte, N. C. Mr. Somerville himself began to prepare for the ministry, but on account if his health gave it up and studied medicine. For years he practiced his profession at White Post, Clarke county, and was an elder in the Ninevah church.

The Rev. J. W. Walkup, the pastor of Bloomery for years, has two sons in the ministry. A son of the present pastor. Dr. Reverley, is a candidate for the ministry under the care of Winchester Presbytery. Bloomery has therefore, five sons or grandsons in the ministry.

But it is not necessary to be a minister to be a good, useful and honored servant of the Lord Jesus Christ, and there are sons and daughters of the families that I have mentioned and doubtless of many other families, that have been connected with Bloomery, who have lived useful and honored lives in this community or have gone out from it to bless other communities by their lives, example and service.

I could, if it were the proper thing, mention many other by name. I will mention one other an old classmate, George A. Walkup, a son of Rev. J. W. Walkup, was received as a lad into the Bloomery church. He is now filling an important chair in the University of South Carolina, a useful and honored servant of the Master. Dr. Walkup was invited to be here today and to take a prominent part in its services. He wrote expressing his regrets that other engagements prevented his presence here.

Bloomery has had many friends and has held a warm place in the hearts of others who belonged to other denominations. In this connection it is but just that I should mention the name of the man who by interest and large gifts made possible the erection in 1919 of the handsome stone wall that surrounds the old church and graveyard, and the memorial gate, the late Mr. Fisher, of Winchester.

What is true of individuals is also true of churches the Lord asks us simply to be faithful in the sphere he has placed us, not successful as the world measures success. Bloomery has reason to be thankful to Almighty God for what He has enabled her to accomplish. Time brings many changes in the world, but no change in the grace, mercy and love of God to them that serve Him. What He has planted here will in some way abide forever.

As it enters on its one hundred and first year, may Bloomery church take on new life and receive a new baptism of God's Spirit. Though your numbers are small, God will not fail to reward faithful service on the part of his servants. May I express the hope and prayer that as a result of this day's service the membership of this church may be greatly strengthened, and that you soon may be able to report your church was fully organized with a session, a Sunday School and a growing membership.