The church has long been an important institution in Black communities. Following Emancipation, establishing a church of their own was a priority for Black Waterfordians. Initially, this was achieved with the construction of the school building on Second Street (now the site of the Second Street School Living History Program), which from its inception was intended to serve dual use as a school during the week and a house of worship on Sundays. Most of Waterford’s African American community were Methodists, and they soon outgrew the small space in the one room schoolhouse.
Learn about the effort to build a proper church for Waterford’s Black Methodist-Episcopal congregation in this excerpt from A Rock In A Weary Land, A Shelter In a Time of Storm:
“They dreamed and planned for a proper church of their own. In March 1885 they enlisted the help of the white community.
The members of the Methodist Episcopal Church (Colored) of Waterford, Loudoun County, Virginia, desire to make an appeal to the generous public, to aid them in the purchase of a lot and building of a house of worship. As we have no place now that we can call a house of worship, and the building we usually occupy [the one-room schoolhouse on Second Street] does not accommodate the congregation. We therefore ask the good people of Waterford and Loudoun County to help us in this good cause. Our membership being small and for the most part poor, they therefore rely chiefly upon the liberality of the friends of Christianity among the people of the town and county. We promise that if the money thus raised be not appropriated for the above purpose, it shall be returned to those who contribute it. Dr. G.E. Connell, of Waterford, has kindly consented to act as Treasurer for us and will hold all money collected and comply with the above made promise. The object we have in view should commend itself to the Christian charity and liberality of the people through their gratitude to God. It is not a question of how many friends the colored race can find among them, but how many can be found who are the real friends of Him who said: ‘Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these, my brethren, ye have done it unto me.’
We pray that God may touch the hearts and lips of our citizens that they may speak in our behalf and to cause the sympathy and aid of our white friends to flow toward this object which we know to be one of divine concern. He that giveth to the poor lendeth to the Lord.
Respectfully submitted to the public.
Pastor in charge of the Waterford circuit.
“A year later, as Pastor Moten concluded his assignment with the circuit, he was able to report good progress ($127.10) toward the goal of a new church–and good relations with all the local white churches.
As the time for my departure from this vicinity is at hand, I desire to express to the people of Waterford, Hamilton, Hillsboro, and Lovettsville in particular and the community in general my appreciation of their kindness and thanks for their hospitality shown me during the past three years. I have found warm friends among all classes and denominations, both white and colored. The Baptists have shown their respect, regardless of color or class. The Presbyterians are kind to the poor everywhere. The Lutherans are quick to do good and help the needy. The Quakers were strange to me at first, but after living in a town among them, I found them to be “Friends” indeed to the poor colored people and thus worthy of their name.
“By 1888 the Black community was finally able to select a site for their building. They bought a fifth of an acre at the corner of Bon and Liggett Streets from Mary Jane Hough, a Quaker widow. Her son Edgar had managed a livery stable on the premises, but he had died of typhoid fever in the early 1880s and she no longer had any need for the property. In February 1889 the Loudoun Telephone reported that “the colored people have bought a lot in the west end of town near the mill and have dug out a foundation preparatory to building a new church.” A returning resident noted the next month that “… a new [structure] is now being erected on the site of Hough’s old stable.”
“Edward Collins, a stonemason skilled at “blind ditching”–building stone culverts–laid the foundation for the church with help from fellow war veteran James Lewis. Descendants recall that the women held lanterns for the men late into the night as they worked on the church after their regular day jobs. The long-awaited Gothic-revival building was dedicated at last in 1891 as the John Wesley Methodist-Episcopal Church. “For years!” thereafter the congregants held ice cream socials and other events to pay off the debt.”
The John Wesley Methodist-Episcopal church had a thriving congregation until Waterford’s Black population began to decline in the first half of the 20th century. By the 1960s the church had closed its doors due to dwindling numbers. The Waterford Foundation purchased the building in 1999 to ensure its preservation. The Foundation donated a preservation easement to the Virginia Department of Historic Resources in 2000 that protects the interior and exterior from inappropriate change.
Read more about Waterford’s Black community in A Rock in a Weary Land, A Shelter in a Time of Storm by Bronwen C. and John M. Souders, available online here.
Find more Waterford Black history resources online here.