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Lorton History: The Tradition Lives On at Silverbrook Church

Our history columnist talks about the church and her family's ties to it

Through the years the Lorton Community has relied upon churches to be not only the base for one’s faith but to serve as a center of social activities as well. , the little white church on Silverbrook Road, has been one of those churches. Named for a small brook that flows just to the east of the church, it is said that the brook was named by the Evans family who moved to the area from Maine. Family members thought the sunlight reflecting off the water in the brook looked like silver, hence the name.

Before the church had a building, Sunday School classes were held in Silverbrook School, a structure located near where the church stands today. Local lore and church records reflect that the church was started by John Wehn, who moved to the area from Baltimore in 1895. Settling first on a rented farm near Lee Chapel Church in Burke, by 1904 he and his wife, my great aunt “Lizzy” along with their daughter Elsie, had purchased a farm near Silverbrook. The nearest Sunday School at that time was at Cranford Church in Gunston, nearly five miles away. Securing permission to have Sunday School classes in the school building, Wehn soon had adults attending as well. The need for a new church became apparent and fund raising began soon after.

In 1906 the first building committee meeting was held. By this time the Wehn’s daughter, Elsie, had married a man named Robert Harrover who was a carpenter. By late 1906 the fledgling church building committee selected Robert Harrover and another local carpenter, Gus Grimsley, to build a new church. They were to be paid a wage of 25 cents per hour. As additional funds were raised construction continued. The church was completed at a cost of $570.00 and dedicated in 1908. The first minister was Reverend Christopher Sydenstricker, uncle to the noted author Pearl Sydenstricker Buck.

The church became not only a place of worship but a social center where ham and oyster dinners were held, quilting bees were organized and from early-on the annual all-day home-coming events were eagerly looked forward to. My grandfather, John Mahon, contributed work on the church as did many men in the community. He lived within a mile and a half so the family developed close ties to the church early on. In later years family members who had migrated to Baltimore would never fail to come back for home-coming each year. My aunt, Nettie Mahon Hancock donated the large bible that is displayed at the church and upon the death of my cousin, David Hancock, his electric organ, which is in use at the church today, was donated.

One of my early memories of attending Sunday School in the 1940s and 1950s at the church was the pot-bellied stoves which were used for heating. Classes had to meet in the church as there were no additions for that purpose and in the winter each class would jockey for a position near the stove. During good weather the classes were held outside. For many years my Sunday School teacher was “Miss Elsie” Harrover, wife of the church carpenter mentioned above. She also played the piano and organ. There was always a large Vacation Bible School attendance for, as with other churches in the area, it was about the only organized thing you could do in our rural area for fun and excitement during the summer months.

A well-maintained cemetery is directly behind the church with the earliest stone dating just a few years after the church was dedicated. It contains stones with names familiar in the area such as Mahon, Harrover, Gatewood, Wolfe and others.

Silverbrook Church has changed over the years and as more activities were planned and held, additional space was needed. A wing housing a kitchen, meeting space, offices and space to expand the church sanctuary when needed, was added. Much of the credit for shepherding this expansion through the county bureaucracy is due to the late Harold Wilson, a long-time member. Although the church has never had a large congregation it has maintained its size and for the past several years it has had a full-time pastor. In addition to their regularly scheduled services the church has special activities throughout the year as it continues its tradition of being not only a center of the faith community but of the social one too.

Constructed in the Late Gothic Revival style the church was listed on the Virginia Landmarks Register in September of 2003 and on the National Register of Historic Places in January of 2004.

For more information on Silverbrook United Methodist Church visit

www.silverbrook-umc.org.

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