We received an email early this week informing us that Manchester’s second oldest surviving place of worship, Meade Memorial Episcopal Church, was up for sale. The historic church is in desperate need of repairs given water inundation problems that caused a joist to fail. Then the most recent windstorm from the passing nor’easter removed portions of the roof and siding from the historic steeple. The listing agent for the owner was wondering if we would consider purchasing and restoring the historic postbellum structure. And as suckers for old historic preservation…we of course said yes.
Manchester survived the Civil War largely intact. Unlike its sister city of Richmond that had its historic downtown burned by fleeing Confederate troops, Manchester’s population was booming with most of its structures in one piece. Given the areas swelling population, a fundraising campaign was initiated shortly after the Civil War’s conclusion in order to build a new Episcopal church. At the time, Manchester’s Episcopal churchgoers were crossing the river and attending either St. John’s Church in Church Hill or Monumental Church for services. Manchester’s Episcopalians wanted a church of their own. The fundraising pamphlet below describes the fundraising endeavor.
Not too long after it was built, Meade Memorial Episcopal Church gained national attention during reconstruction, and not in a good way. The most widely read national journal at the time, Harper’s Weekly, posted a scathing cartoon of the pastor of the Meade Memorial Church. Apparently, shortly after the passing of the Civil Rights Bill he decided to not hold Sunday services because an African-American woman sat in the front pew. Here is what the Library of Congress has on record about the infamous cartoon:
“Caricature of Rev. Samms of the Meade Memorial Episcopal Church, of Manchester, Va., who, dressed as a shepherd, is dismissing his flock of white sheep from the church because of the black sheep (an African American woman) who is sitting in front pew. Based on actual incident which took place on the Sunday following the passage of the Civil Rights bill. Published 1875. Notes-Illus. in: Harper’s Weekly, 1875 April 3, p. 277.”
The historic church changed hands several times throughout the 20th century. Today it is know as the Church of God of Prophecy. Renovation will start just as soon as the proper permits and approvals are secured in order to attempt to save and restore the historic structure.