History

Augusta Stone Presbyterian Church has a long and rich history and is pleased to share it with those who are searching for local history or information on their family. If you would like to visit the church or one of the cemeteries, please call ahead and make an appointment with the church office;

Augusta Stone Church Office: (540) 248-2634
Office Hours: Monday, Tuesday and Thursday from 8:30am to 2:30pm
Please check the church calendar for special closings.

Augusta Stone Church, established in 1740 by the Rev. John Craig, is one of the oldest Presbyterian organizations in Virginia. The solid, stone building has served its people since it was completed in 1749 to the present, thus earning the distinction of being the oldest Presbyterian house of worship in continuous use in the State of Virginia.
The founders of this church were the Scotch-Irish Presbyterians who came to America seeking both religious and civil freedom. As early as 1720, small numbers of these pioneers who had landed at New Castle, Delaware, were making their way south to the fertile Valley of Virginia. These settlers felt a deep-rooted need to establish in this new land the church of their ancestors. In 1737 the newly settled "peoples of Beverley Manor in the back parts of Virginia" petitioned Donegal Presbytery in Philadelphia for supply ministers.  It was not until 1740 that a regular minister came to serve "the people of the Shenandoah and South River." This young minister was the Rev. John Craig, who, in accepting the call, became the first minister of any denomination to settle in what is now Augusta County, and the first ordained Presbyterian minister to settle in the Valley of Virginia.
John Craig was born in the parish in Donegore, County Antrim, Ireland, in 1709. Earning his M.A. degree from the University Of Edinburgh in 1733, Craig sailed to America and landed at New Castle in 1734. He studied theology under the Rev. John Thompson and passed his trials for licensure with Donegal Presbytery in 1738. Upon arriving in Augusta County in 1740, he described his first impression of the new settlement as "...wilderness, without a place of worship or church order."
"The Congregation of the Triple Forks of the Shenandoah," although one congregation, actually had at least two places of worship - one came to be known as Tinkling Spring and another as Augusta Stone.  Under Rev. Craig's leadership, these sister congregations later separated, with Rev. Craig remaining as minister of Augusta Stone.
The first Meeting House constructed by the Augusta church congregation was a "pole" or log building located east of Route 11, behind the present manse.  Although the old log church no longer stands, the cemetery which grew up around this building still remains.  The first three ministers of this church are buried in the old cemetery.
In 1747 under the leadership of the Rev. Craig, the congregation began the building of a stone Church which was to serve a dual purpose - a religious sanctuary, and a fort in case of Indian attack. It was unique from the very beginning in that the early houses and churches were usually built of logs. The church was completed in 1749 and today constitutes most of the nave of the present sanctuary.  It is believed that the architecture was patterned after Donegore Parish Church, which was located only two miles from John Craig's home in Northern Ireland.
In 1755, after Braddock's defeat, the Valley settlers were most vulnerable to attack by the Indians. Many were in favor of fleeing to the safety of eastern Virginia, but the Rev. Craig persuaded them to hold fast and to build a stockade around the church. Although the Indians never actually attacked the church, the small congregation frequently fled to Stone Church for protection when the alarm was spread that the Indians were on the warpath. Legend has it that the name Fort Defiance derives from the steadfastness and bravery demonstrated by these early Presbyterian settlers.
John Craig was a remarkable and faithful pastor. The boundary of his parish was twenty miles wide and thirty miles long!  His diary records an average of  98 baptisms a year between 1740-1749. His supply work sustained many congregations, for the Presbytery and Synod sent him as far west as Roanoke and as far south as North Carolina!
In 1744, John Craig married a Miss Russell who had lived in his neighborhood in Northern Ireland. They had nine children, three of whom died in infancy.  John Craig served this congregation until his death in 1774.  For 34 years he was many things to his congregation and community; he was a builder of churches and a pastor, a Presbyter, a citizen, a husband and father, an educator, and a warm-hearted missionary. The Rev. Craig was laid to rest in the old cemetery.
Between 1817 and 1915, three additional churches were organized from the congregation of Augusta Stone Church: Union, Mt. Horeb, and Spring Hill.
Old Stone Church, as it is now affectionately known, was first remodeled in 1855. The growth of the congregation and the increased enrollment of Augusta Military Academy, whose cadets worshiped in the church from 1865 until  the school closed in 1984, made a larger building necessary.  Thus, in 1921, transepts were artistically added to the original church building, changing it into its present structure - the form of a cross. The steeple was also added at this time.  In 1956 John Craig Hall, the third addition, was built and serves as a fellowship center. The restoration of the sanctuary was initiated and completed in 1968. This remodeling included the rebuilding, enlarging and moving of the Moller pipe organ to the balcony.  The high pulpit and sounding board were also added during this restoration. In 1974 Augusta Stone Church was added to the Virginia and National Landmarks Registers.
In 1847 the small stone Session House attached to the north side of the church building was removed and rebuilt in its present location adjacent to the church.  During 1975 the Session House was converted into a charming museum which houses items documenting our rich heritage and history.
In 1989-90 Augusta Stone celebrated its 250th anniversary, with various activities highlighting the celebration.  A commemorative quilt was made by church members, on which are displayed various scenes from the life of Augusta Stone, and which includes the names of the present members.  Also, a time capsule containing the prayers and hand prints of the children of the church was  buried on August 19, 1990 and will be opened in the year 2015.  Tinkling Spring Presbyterian Church, located in Fishersville, Virginia, Augusta Stone's sister church, also celebrated its 250th Anniversary.  The two congregations, originally one, worshiped together in both sanctuaries during the Sesquibicentennial year in celebration of their long heritage and the sharing of their first minister, John Craig.  
Augusta Stone church was constructed for the ages.  Excellent workmanship and superior quality stone and sand have enabled the building to stand firm.  the selfless love and dedication of the generations who have worshiped within the stone walls have made this venerable church truly a house of God. 
 
Compiled by Elizabeth Barry Brown - Updated, 1996 - Approved by Session, July 22, 1990

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