Williamsburg church among 16 historic sites added to Virginia Landmarks Register

Williamsburg First Baptist Church | Virginia Department of Historic Resources

WILLIAMSBURG, Va. – Williamsburg’s First Baptist Church is one of 16 sites added to the Virginia Landmarks Register in March by the Department of Historic Resources.

Constructed in 1956, the two-story Colonial Revival-style church is home to the country’s oldest and continuously active black congregation.

The Department of Historic Resources writes:

Prior to the American Revolution, the nondenominational colonial congregation faced restrictions imposed by the British, which mandated state support for the Anglican Church and limited the religious rights of dissenting denominations to worship and proselytize. The Revolutionary War led to the disestablishment of the Anglican Church and the advent of the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom in 1786. All the same, throughout the antebellum period First Baptist’s African American congregation endured interference in its church organization as well as imposed oversight of worship practices by white ministers. Church congregants also had to meet special conditions for membership in the Dover Baptist Association that derived from centuries of legislation and custom that severely restricted the rights of free African Americans and protected the institution of slavery.

After the Civil War, the congregation and the clergy promoted general and theological education for African Americans in Williamsburg and surrounding areas, and during Reconstruction in the 1870s the church’s minister was elected to statewide office. During the 1960s the church clergy and congregation also participated in organizations and activities of the Civil Rights Movement.

The First Baptist Church building is one of two known examples of ecclesiastical architecture designed by Bernard Spigel, a prominent Virginia architect. His design deftly interprets the Colonial Revival-style, heavily influenced by the nearby restoration architecture of Colonial Williamsburg.

Other sites added to the register include:

  • Lake Anne Village Center in Fairfax County
  • Appomattox statue in Alexandria
  • Turner Ashby monument in Harrisonburg
  • Fuqua Farm in Chesterfield County
  • Grace Episcopal Church in Lancaster County
  • Halifax Triangle and Downtown Commercial Historic District in Petersburg
  • Phillip Morris Blended Leaf Complex in Richmond
  • Amos Goodin House in Loudoun County
  • Lord Culpeper Hotel in Culpeper County
  • Paul’s Ottobine Mill in Rockingham County
  • Blair Apartments in Salem
  • Boones Mill Depot in Franklin County
  • Doe Creek Farm in Giles County
  • People’s Bank of Eggleston in Giles County
  • William Byrd High School Historic District in Roanoke County