The History of Fincastle Presbyterian Church

In 1770 when ten acres of land for the Botetourt County Court House and prison bounds was set aside from the forty acres given by Israel Christian for the site of Fincastle, one acre of land in the north eastern corner of the prison bounds was set aside for the established church. The established church was built in 1771 and evidence found in the old walls of the present building and architectural examination seem to verify the fact that parts of the present walls are those of the original building. Originally, the building was square with the door in the east wall.

Upon close examination, the additions and changes in the church structure can be noted. The roof was pyramidal terminating in a cupola in the center in which the bell hung. The original bell is said to have been the sister to the Liberty Bell. J. Welbank of Philadelphia cast the present bell in 1829. When the Church of England occupied the building, pew rents were two dollars a quarter. The floor was probably flagstone and the interior simple. Some of pews used today are original.

After the Act of Religious Freedom was passed 1785, the established church building in Fincastle came to be used by dissenters rather than by its former Anglican members. Since the tithe was no longer collected by the state, the church was destitute. Fincastle was largely populated by dissenters, chiefly Presbyterians, many of whom were members of the sinking springs congregation. This congregation was formed in 1754 when Robert Montgomery and Patrick Shirkey granted a tract of land about two miles east of Fincastle on Sinking Springs Creek for the use of the Presbyterian congregation. The community was interested in its own form of worship and was willing to provide for it. This was the meeting place for the inhabitants of the whole region and the beginning of the flourishing Presbyterian congregation that succeeded the Established church in the present building.

In December 1813, the Presbyterians of Botetourt petitioned the General Assembly for “erecting a church on the grounds formerly occupied by the Establishment.” From all records in the County Court House, a new building was not erected but the original one was repaired and probably enlarged at this time.

In 1840, the congregation renovated the then existing structure. The entrance was moved from the east to the south side and the large Greek-style columns and the tall steeple were added.

Prior to 1958, the church was heated by wood-burning stoves, which may have been made by the Treadegar Iron Works in Richmond. The stoves are being preserved for their historical significance. The communion service of silver was given by Elders in 1853 and is still in use today.

At the beginning of the brick walk at the front of the church stands one of the original town lamps, which was converted to electricity. The grounds surrounding the church have been used as burial site since the church was erected. The earliest graves are without stones, and it is said that some of the early fathers were buried beneath the church floor. Some stones date back to 1795 and many bear the names of Virginians who were prominent frontier heroes and leaders in early Virginia history. The burial grounds have long been know as “God’s Acre”.

In 1943, the Garden Club of Virginia became interested in restoring the churchyard and donated $1200 for this work. Contributions were also received from descendants of families buried there. Sunken and broken tombstones were repaired, a stone wall was erected along one side of the yard and a brick terrace was added at the front of the church. Holly, crepe myrtle, boxwood, and spring flowering bulbs were planted.

Inspired by this work in the churchyard, the members of the congregation decided to attempt a complete restoration of the church building. The reredos, pulpit and railing were installed and the design was copied from an early plan, which may have been in the church before its renovation in 1840. The pulpit is an enlarged copy of one which was probably removed in 1840 and which had been given for use in another church. This pulpit had been stored beneath the Academy building. A new ceiling was constructed; walls repaired and painted, pews refinished and the floors uncovered and sanded. From the old carpet that was taken up, enough strips were salvaged to be placed in the aisles. The original lamps were replaced with the wrought iron fixtures and wired for electricity.

In 1958, the educational building was constructed. The brick came from the old Brick Union Church built about 1842 and located on Trinity Road between Route 220 and Troutville. The Lutherans last used this building and the Lutheran Synod of Virginia donated the bricks. After completion of the educational building, the Garden Club of Virginia completed planting the side and back of the church yard using boxwoods and white pines. The most recent improvements have been the recarpeting of the aisles and front of the church in dark red and the renovation of the kitchen, both done by the Women of the Church.

In 1968, a church committee headed by Mrs. Page Muse was appointed for the purpose of raising funds to establish a perpetual care fund for the cemetery. The drive was completed in 1977.

The southwest area of the cemetery, where no gravestones are visible, is the burial place of some of the Botetourt Revolutionary War era soldiers and patriots of the Fincastle community. In June 1973, a Memorial Grave Marking service was held for these soldiers and patriots and a monument with the name of twenty-six of these was unveiled.

Fincastle Presbyterian Church
108 East Back Street
PO Box 144
Fincastle, VA 24090

250th anniversary booklet