For more than a hundred years after the first English settlement in America at Jamestown, there still were no permanent European settlements in the Shenandoah Valley. This all changed during the early 1730s when a group of German and Scotch Irish settlers from Pennsylvania moved south led by Joist Hite. Hite had received a grant of 100,000 acres from the Colony of Virginia, but to secure it, he had to guarantee a certain number of permanent settlers.
He soon assembled sixteen families to accompany him into these new lands. Among those early Presbyterian settlers, and others who soon followed, were the Glass, Vance, Hoge, Allen, Reed, Colville, White, Marquis, Beckett, Chambers, McAuley and McMachen families. They began to meet for worship in 1732 and formally organized the Opequon congregation in 1736. The name Opequon was taken from Opequon Creek on which many founding families established their homes. In 1736, those early settlers built a log meeting house as their place of worship on two acres of land donated by and with materials supplied by William Hoge. Opequon Meeting House was thus established and became the first officially organized Presbyterian place of worship west of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
Early church records are sparse, but we believe that the first log structure was replaced in the mid 1750s with a larger log building and that, in turn, was replaced by the first stone church in 1790 during the pastorate of the Reverend Nash Legrand who filled the sanctuary on a regular basis. The 1790 building served the Opequon congregation until it burned in 1873, and the struggling thirteen member congregation did not have the funds to rebuild. Instead, it decided to find another place to worship. Graciously, both the Methodist and Mennonite churches in Kernstown agreed to share their facilities with Opequon, and for the next twenty-four years our forefathers worshiped at those churches.
Although the congregation was small and mostly poor in this world’s possessions, this hard-scrabble group was determined one way or another to one day rebuild the church. The idea surfaced to construct the new building as a memorial to the early settlers. It was decided that, after securing all possible local funding, descendants of the early settlers now living throughout the country would be contacted for financial support. The fund-raising was successful, and soon the congregation undertook construction. In 1897, the fourth house of worship was completed with stone from the third sanctuary. It was about fifty percent smaller than the one it replaced. In 1902, a manse, which housed our ministers until the mid 1990s, was built on land donated by the Marquis family.
Following the end of World War II, membership rapidly increased and soon the congregation felt a strong need to enlarge the church facilities. The addition was to include restrooms, a kitchen, fellowship hall and a number of Sunday school rooms. Up to this point, all Sunday school classes were held in the sanctuary, which also underwent renovation. The building and renovation projects were completed in 1956.
The next physical improvement to Opequon occurred in 1997, when the congregation decided to enclose an open garden area between the 1897 Memorial Sanctuary and the 1956 addition. This infill project included a lower level containing improved restrooms and additional Sunday School rooms, a main level all purpose room, plus an enclosed walkway joining the older and newer sections of the church facility.
Because of continued growth, it was decided in 2000 to build a new sanctuary with necessary supporting facilities. Following a capital campaign, the new structure was undertaken and completed in March 2005. After having worshiped in the 1897 sanctuary for more than a century, the congregation held it last official Sunday morning worship there on March 13, 2005, although occasional special services and programs continue to be held in the Memorial Sanctuary. In 2007, the congregation observed 275 years of continuous ministry around the theme, “Keepers of the Flame,” while in 2011, the church celebrated its officials 275th Anniversary, focusing on “Generation to Generation: Four Centuries of Faith.”
From the handful of settlers who founded Opequon to the large crowds present at the end of the 18th Century, to the dwindling attendance following the Civil War, to surging membership in the 1950’s, then declining participation once again, to our current vibrant congregation of more than 450 members, Opequon has survived and indeed, thrived. During our formative years, Sunday worship was the sole event, then Sunday school was added and they Opequon embarked on mission opportunities. Gradually, more programs were introduced and today many outreach and social activities provide a wide range of spiritual opportunities for all. William Hoge would marvel, indeed, at how his two acre parcel with its lone log cabin has been transformed during our four centuries of faith.
Genealogy and Tours
If you are interested in the Genealogy of Opequon or in taking a tour of the grounds and history, please contact our History Team Chair, George Schember at 540-667-2559 or firstname.lastname@example.org.