Couple restores old African-American church

Posted at 10:20 AM, Jul 03, 2020
and last updated 2020-07-04 13:51:31-04

AMELIA COUNTY, Va. -- Few travelers on Route 360 stop or even slow down to notice the small white church watching the world go by. It stands a testament to perseverance.

Beth and Jim Stanley share a deep connection to Mt. Herman Presbyterian Church in Amelia County.

“To me it was so worth saving. So worth saving," Beth Stanley said. “If you don’t have something to show it gets lost. It gets lost.”

The couple never worshipped here, but they've poured their heart and soul into the building with a rich past.

Founded on September 3, 1882, Mt. Herman was one of six Presbyterian Churches for African Americans opened by Samantha Neal.

The Pennsylvania woman arrived in Virginia after the Civil War to help educate Blacks and whites.

The last congregation left Mt. Herman in the 1970's.

“There was a ½ inch thick of dust on these pews. Everywhere in here," Jim said." You needed to wear a mask to breathe because of the dust.”

Fifty years of decay took a toll.

“It was bad. The windows were broken out. The doors were busted. The floors were rotted," Beth said. “It was in horrible shape.”

But the Stanleys saw an opportunity.

“When I learned about the story of the church I said you can’t do that because it is history," Beth said.

Two years ago, the contractors by trade embarked on one of their most ambitious renovations to date.

“It was in disarray, but you could see the potential of this church," Beth said.

Mt. Herman would need a complete overhaul top to bottom and inside and out.

“I had to cut it out because of the rot. Termites got in it," Jim said while holding part of an old beam.

“Another good storm would have probably taken it down," Beth added.

It was a labor of love requiring lots of money and time.

“A lot. Seven days a week for about eight or nine months," Jim said.

Beth envisioned opening a wedding chapel. But after careful consideration, they abandoned the idea.

“I think the building is significant to Amelia County," Beth said.

The old church building is now on the market.

Beth and Jim relish rescuing 138 years of Virginia history.

“If it was bulldozed down nobody would have known there was a church here," Jim said.

Prepping Mt. Herman for its second act while honoring the legacy of Samantha Neal.

Many find salvation in church, but Beth and Jim Stanley are proving some days you can save the church.

“It's very gratifying," Beth said. "You feel like you’re part of it now. You’re part of the history of this building.”

Beth is working with the local historical society to get the old church building on the National Register of Historic Places.

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