Flames engulf the historic St. Peter's Episcopal Church on Virginia's Northern Neck. Photo: Mechanicsville Volunteer Fire Department/Facebook

Fire Destroys Northern Neck Church Once Occupied by Civil War Troops

The Northern Neck community is coming together around a Colonial Beach, Virginia, church community that lost its worship space to fire early this morning.

Thankfully no one was injured in the fire, which drew several fire departments from Virginia and southern Maryland. The Oak Grove Volunteer Fire Department had help from Colonial Beach, Virginia; Mechanicsville, Maryland; Leonardtown, Maryland; the Seventh District Volunteer Fire Department, which filled in at the Colonial Beach fire station during the fire, and others. Early reports said that no one was inside when the flames broke out. However, the damage is extensive.

The Episcopal Diocese of Virginia shared this photo of firefighters inside St. Peter’s.

St. Peter’s Episcopal Church, in the Oak Grove area on the Northern Neck, is on the National Register of Historic Places. The church building dates to 1849 and is cited as a very early example of Gothic Revival-style architecture for Virginia and nationwide.

Its parish dates back to 1661, when it was organized by John Washington, who was great-grandfather to George Washington. Its parish school counted Chief Justice John Marshall and fifth U.S. President James Monroe as students.

During the Civil War, both Union and Confederate troops occupied the church property, according to the Northern Neck of Virginia Historical Society. “On a closet wall,” the society notes, “located under the stairs to the balcony, carved words indicate that members of the Lancaster Greys, Lee’s Light Horse, the 19th Indiana, and the 8th New York Calvary were present at one time or another.”

The Episcopal Diocese of Virginia reported that the Bishop was traveling to the Northern Neck on Tuesday to give support. Neighboring Episcopal churches have already stepped up to open their doors for the St. Peter’s congregation for Christmas services and during the church’s rebuild.

The St. Peter’s website notes that its parish had been planning a 175th anniversary celebration for May 31, 2024.