Historic Pohick Church
The revolutionary era church enjoys resurgence of southern Fairfax
This week's Great Escape isn't very far and it is probably familiar to many Lorton residents. Sure you've looked at Pohick Church while sitting in traffic on Route 1. But our columnist Mike Conway takes an even closer look at the marvelous piece of history we have in our midst.
Let's face it, fate has not always been kind to southern Fairfax County. While in the early days of American history it played an important role and housed some key figures in this country's birth, it had to watch the county's center shift to the north during construction of Washington, D.C. and never come back.
Pohick Church, the first church established in the colonies north of the Occoquan River and the established center of Truro Parish, which included all the land between the Occoquan and Potomac rivers, going west all the way to the frontier, bore the brunt of this change.
"It's like we were forgotten by the rest of the county," the Reverend Donald Binder, Church Rector, informed me recently. "Every now and then we'd get an article written like the one in National Geographic in 1932, or a presidential visit, like from Warren Harding in 1921, but for the most part that was it."
Like most people in Northern Virginia, I'd been to Mount Vernon and Gunston Hall and the other major historic sites down south, but never Pohick Church. In so doing, I feel I missed a nice chunk of American history. George Mason, George Washington and George William Fairfax all served as vestrymen in the 1700s, overseeing construction of the "new" church, which is still in use, in 1774.
"Washington, Mason, Fairfax and the Hendersons all bought pews. Others were set aside for people who couldn't afford to pay for them," Binder said.
After completion came the American Revolution.
Binder said, "Quite likely the Declaration of Independence was read from the steps of this church. We've seen entries from George Washington's diary in which he and George Mason left the church and went to Gunston Hall to write the Fairfax Resolves, which became a precursor to the Declaration. This wasn't just a spiritual center, it was a political one too."
Between 1838 and 1840 the church was renovated, according to Reverend Binder, in celebration of George Washington's 100th birthday. The pledge book to renovate "General Washington's church" includes signatures from Francis Scott Key, President Martin Van Buren, John Quincy Adams and Daniel Webster. During the Civil War that renovation was undone by encamped Union soldiers who turned the church into a stable and vandalized it. In 1889, on the 100th anniversary of Washington's death, the church was restored once again to how it looked during Washington's time, which is how it's still kept.
Now that Lorton prison has been closed, the area is seeing a resurgence, but many residents already know this of course. "For more than 200 years this area has been overlooked. It's very exciting, now, to be part of its return."
The church is used for services on Sundays and other events throughout the week. Visitors are welcome. A self-guided walking tour is made available at the entrance to the church to guide you to notable spots and landmarks on and around the property. Pohick Church should be a part of any historical tour of southern Fairfax.
On President's Day a special service will be held at 8:00 am modeled after those Washington himself would've experienced. It will be followed by a breakfast featuring a local historian who will speak on Washington's life. Contact the church for ticket information.