Hospital. Horse’s stable. Church. Virginia’s Chapel, “the little brick church by the side of the road,” has been all of these things since it was built in 1853 by William Tompkins as a gift to his daughter. Tompkins made his fortune in the salt mines and early natural gas industry in the area. The Confederate and Union armies both used the church during the Civil War.
The church was non-denominational until 1901 when the Methodist church got involved. The church now has connections to the Cedar Grove and Glasgow United Methodist Churches.
The land where the church sits was originally settled in 1773/4; it was the first permanent settlement in the Kanawha Valley.
Back in 1774, 79 years before the church was built, Colonel Andrew Lewis marched members of the Virginia militia past the site where the church would stand as his troops made their way to the Battle of Point Pleasant. They barely won the fight there against a Shawnee Indian force led by the great Chief Cornstalk. The battle and its combatants are now memorialized at Tu-Wen-Du-Wei state park.
These events are memorialized on three historic markers around the church, but a very important piece of history is missing. Slaves lived and died in the area; and an old slave cemetery sits down the embankment from the church, not far from the shoreline of the Kanawha River.
By 1860, William Tompkins owned 50 slaves; they built a house out of red brick for the Tompkins family in what is now Cedar Grove. Did slaves also build Virginia’s Chapel? I don’t know yet. The only historical reference I can find so far is this entry in the eWV online encyclopedia, which states that Tompkins built the chapel. But the fact that slaves built his home is a clue that they may have built the church as well.
It’s not a fact that gets talked about much, but there were about 20,000 slaves in West Virginia in 1850. Seems to me that a historical marker honoring the people who helped build the communities in which we now live is in order.