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New project hopes to help historic Richmond Church in 'desperate' need of repairs

On a field trip, students learn that Patrick Henry roared about Liberty or Death right here in March of 1775.
Posted: 11:45 PM, Feb 21, 2020
Updated: 2020-02-22 19:47:04-05
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RICHMOND, Va. -- A historical Richmond Church is in desperate need of repairs.

The echoes of history linger at St. John’s Church in Richmond’s Church Hill neighborhood.
On a field trip, students learn that Patrick Henry roared about Liberty or Death right here in March of 1775.

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

Actor Chris Dunn portrays revolutionary characters during the church’s celebrated re-enactments.

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

But Dunn says a 21st century enemy is ravaging St. John’s and causing a very real problem.

“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.

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

Sarah 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 its 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 that St. John’s is in trouble.

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

Now, the church is launching Project Red Coat.

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

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.

“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,” says Sarah Whiting.

If you’re interested in learning more about Project Red Coat: https://www.historicstjohnschurch.org/project-redcoat

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