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Big problems at historic St. John's Church in Richmond: 'We can’t let it go any longer'

A 21st century enemy is ravaging the church.
St. Johns Church
Posted at 2:21 PM, Feb 21, 2020
and last updated 2020-02-22 15:25:14-05

RICHMOND, Va. -- The echoes of history linger at St. John’s Church in Richmond’s Church Hill neighborhood. Schoolchildren learn that Patrick Henry roared about Liberty or Death right here in March 1775.

The firebrand lawyer from Hanover called on patriots to take up arms against the British who eventually raided Richmond.

“This church. This is where it happened, and it is still here,” Chris Dunn said. “The history in this room brings chills to me every time I think about it.”

Dunn, an actor, portrays revolutionary characters during the church’s celebrated re-enactments.

But Dunn says a 21st century enemy is ravaging the historic church.

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Photojournalist Cole Pearson, Chris Dunn, and Greg McQuade

“If you’re going to preserve the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial. You need to preserve this,” Dunn said.

Thick paint on the foundation trapped water for decades leading to devastating damage.

"It needs to be repaired immediately," Executive Director of St. John’s Church Foundation Sarah Whiting said. "It’s a concern. We can’t let it go any longer. You can see the thick coat of red paint.”

St. John's Church bricks

Whiting led us to a side of St. John’s rarely, if ever, seen in the basement. Crumbling mortar and teetering bricks threaten the active church above.

“This is off limits,” Whiting said. “You can see it's not retaining any more. The dirt is coming right over into the basement floor here.”

You don’t need a degree in architecture to see St. John’s is in trouble.

“I can’t put into words how important this building is,” Whiting said.

So, the church is launching Project Red Coat.

“It is not good. We’re going to address it once and for all,” Whiting said. “The clock is ticking. We’ve got to get it done.”

The fundraiser will help with necessary fixes to the original 1741 building and later additions. If fundraising goals are met, construction would take two months.

St. John's Church damage

“This church is the foundation of our country,” Dunn said. “To have the foundation ripped out from under us would mean a lost legacy.”

The call for help to save St. John’s reverberates across the centuries. Repairs to St. John’s should last generations while turning away yet another foe from Richmond.

“The irony is that Benedict Arnold camped his troops here and didn’t do as much damage as this red coat is doing now,” Whiting said.

Click here if you’re interested in learning more about Project Red Coat.

If you know of someone with an interesting story to tell email me at gmcquade@wtvr.com