by George "Buddy" Cranford
History can be fleeting and soon be lost to those who have witnessed many historic events. Twenty five years have passed since the Methodist congregation moved out of their little church on the corner of Krause and Ironbridge Roads, now the home of the Chesterfield Hisorical Society of Virginia and library until historic Castlewood is renovated.
Some of the adult members of the new Trinity United Methodist Church may be quite familiar with this beautiful historic structure.
This is more than an old abandoned church. Standing alone inside the old church, one can imagine the fiery sermons, the politics of the day or the beautiful choir music bursting from the open doors, or a small community sharing a sudden sadness or joy.
History seldom records what was said or done in such churches unless the history is written by the congregation. Some churches do and their historical records, old photographs and memoirs, can shed more information on what transpired in the olden days and often shed light on the historical events.
It is inevitable that soon a growing congregation may outgrow their little church or be told that their church will close and will have to move to a bigger site. Such was the case with historic Trinity. How many times do we pass an old structure and wonder what stories it could tell? In Trinity church people were baptized, married and eventually buried. There is so much to tell about this little church.
Historic Castlewood, ca. 1817-1819, sits just across Krause Road and was once the parsonage for the Methodists. It was used as the parsonage for about twelve years in the mid-19th century, and especially used by the traveling Methodist ministers during the time of Trinity’s existence as a church.
The first church on this site in 1855 was called the Central Church. However, this circa 1855 Central Church only lasted a couple of decades. Central Church had been erected on land owned by the Reverend George Nolly and his wife. It was a large church that soon saw a loss of membership during the Civil War. The war had created a dwindling congregation because soldiers left and never returned. The church Reverend Nolly had built was too large even though it was the center for the churches in the area. It had a gallery for the African-American members who attended the church. But by 1871, this church was soon to be only memories to some and it was torn down.
Around the local area the church became known as “Nolly’s Folly.” Evidently some thought it had been a joke to build such a large church. After it was demolished, the Methodist congregation‘s closest church was located at Zion Hill, five miles away, and a quite a distance in those days. It would be years before another church would be built in Chesterfield.
By 1887, the Methodist congregation in the Chester and the Chesterfield localities determined that they had enough people to support another church and the decision was made to build Trinity. Historic Old Trinity church, built by Sam Ellison, a merchant and a florist, was actually built on the grounds of the previous Methodist Central Church and land owned by the Cogbills.
On a bright day on September 8, 1887 with cool autumn breezes, the cornerstone was laid in the presence of a large gathering of people. A number of articles were deposited in the cornerstone, such as the date of the church organization, the signature of its pastor, Reverend James Stiff, a copy of the church discipline, the Christian Advocate, the roll of its members and other. The cornerstone has yet to be found.
The present white framed Gothic Revival structure was dedicated on August 1, 1889. James W. Stiff was the first pastor to serve at this church. The newer church, named “Trinity,” built around 1887, was now available for its relatively small congregation. Trinity Church, a “gem of tasteful architecture [was a] gem of matchless spiritual and intellectual beauty that flashed its glorious light into the listening souls of that large audience,” said Dr. Lafferty, in his dedicatory sermon on that bright autumn day in 1887.
Prominent people of Chesterfield County once sat in the old congregations. Marcus A. Cogbill, (1842-1900) was a Chesterfield County Clerk of the Court from 1874-1900. He served as a private in the Confederate Army during the Civil War under his uncle, Captain WWT Cogbill, who had also been a Clerk of the Circuit Court. After the war, Marcus Cogbill purchased “Magnolia Grange” and became the Deputy Clerk of Chesterfield County Court under his brother, Nathan Hale Cogbill. He married Emma Perdue Moody.
Marcus and Emma Cogbill attended Trinity church and were quite active in the congregation. Marcus or “Mack” or “Pa Mack,” as some referred to him, was instrumental in the affairs of the church. He was a trustee, a Sunday school superintendent, and often he and his cousin Philip V. Cogbill, provided the wood for the two pot-bellied stoves that heated the building, among their other duties. It was his initiative to build this church. Trinity church was conceived and built. He also provided the offering plates and the original pump organ. He remained active in Trinity church affairs until his death in 1900.
Given the choice in the late 1980s by the Methodist District to either close or expand, the congregation opted to build a new church. Today, Trinity church is still a “gem” of a historical structure though the church pews of varnished pine and scrolled shaped arms with applied cartouches, the two old light fixtures that held seven lights (lamps) each, and the beautiful turned communion railings are now long gone. Remaining is the original building and an educational wing built in the 1960-70s now used by Chesterfield County for storage. This “gem” of a building was purchased by Chesterfield County who needed more office space in 1985, just as the congregation decided to build a new church.
There had been some discussion of an impending parkway to slice through this section of the church and possibly moving the historic church. It is best preserved where it sits and recent economic woes have thus stopped any such proposal to alter its present day looks.
You don’t need an invitation to visit. The Chesterfield Historical Society of Virginia offers research opportunities for anyone looking for history on the county or their family genealogy. The library in the church is open Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m.
Reverend Nolly, since he enjoyed large structures, would be proud of this newer church and its friendly people. It is a well-designed building with beautiful landscaping and good access. Its congregation is very much alive and with some of its members that used to attend Trinity church. Today, historic Trinity church needs some minor painting on the outside to prevent the wood from rotting around the windows and doors. The building has a new purpose and beckons visitors to come in.
This beautiful old Trinity church lives on as a Chesterfield County historical site.
Every year, collectable Christmas tree ornaments are for sale in Chesterfield County that depicts a county historic structure. Much like the ones you can purchase from the White House Gift Store, these ornaments are an attractive addition to any Christmas celebration. For Christmas 2013, the new ornament will honor Trinity Church and will be available for sale beginning on November 1. You may contact Dianne Price, at 706-2195, for more details. With an ornament, what better way to honor this historical structure, except maybe through its use and preservation?