West Virginia is a state that’s full of surprises. It sits snugly next to Virginia, lost in the bustle of historic Virginia and exciting Washington DC. But there is some amazing history in West Virginia too. Churches tend to tell remarkable stories. They are often as unassuming as West Virginia itself. Old churches are quiet and still, allowing time to drift over them lazily. There are several to explore and experience in West Virginia. These are certainly not all of the important and iconic churches in the state. There are surely plenty more. But they are old and historic, and just might inspire you.
Old Stone Church, Lewisburg
Its name makes it pretty straightforward: this old church really is made of stone, sitting peacefully in Lewisburg, West Virginia. This is a Presbyterian Church originally started on August 6th, 1783. At this point in time, it was a small congregation of people who met in a log house a few miles away. It wasn’t until 1796 that the current stone building was completed. Nearly two hundred years later in 1976, Old Stone Church was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.
What makes this church historically fascinating is its connection to the Civil War. During the years of the war, the church halted being a place of worship and instead became a place of medicine. Old Stone Church was used as an emergency hospital for both Union and Confederate troops. It is said that many Confederate soldiers are buried on the property. After the war, the church went back to holding worship. But the legacy of the work and effort of the war lives on.
St. Peter’s Roman Catholic Church, Harpers Ferry
Nestled in between the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers sits St. Peter’s Roman Catholic Church. This Catholic Church was built in 1833 out of necessity. Because of nearby canal and railroad construction, there was an outpouring of Catholic Irish workers who needed a place to worship. But there were no Catholic parishes in the area. Immediately, a church was built, but was quickly destroyed in a flood. That’s when St. Peter’s was built. It was only the third church in the town, and first ever Catholic parish in the whole county.
The church was designed in the Neo-Gothic style, which makes it look even older than it is. The red and stone exterior stretches high into the sky overlooking the forest and the rivers. One of the streets on the side of the church is even a part of the Appalachian Trail. There is no shortage of natural beauty around this building.
The Battle of Harpers Ferry is one of the more prominent battles that took place in West Virginia during the Civil War. Although at the time, it was still just Virginia. It was a three-day battle taking place in September with a Confederate victory. This battle decimated Harpers Ferry. So much of the little town was destroyed in the fight. But St. Peter’s Roman Catholic Church remained standing. In fact, it was the only church in the town that wasn’t destroyed or damaged. Historians thank the Reverend at the time for this victory after he stayed to protect the church and raised a Union Jack to avoid attack. Like Old Stone Church, St. Peter’s was also used as a provisional hospital at various points of the war.
Attendance eventually went down at St. Peter’s, causing it to shut its doors to weekly parishioners. However, the church is still used for weddings, ceremonies, and services for tourists.
Cathedral of Saint Joseph, Wheeling
The Cathedral of Saint Joseph in Wheeling, West Virginia is very important to the Catholic faith in this part of the state. The Cathedral of Saint Joseph is the current seat of the bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston. The congregation also happens to be the oldest in the town, dating back to 1822, although the present building was constructed in 1926.
This Cathedral is gorgeous. It was built in the Romanesque Revival architectural style and it shows. This church looks like it belongs in Europe, specifically in Italy, from which its inspiration came. The interior of the Cathedral was designed in the Mediaeval Byzantine style, with its sweeping cruciform shape, domed ceilings, and intricate stained glass.
The care that went into the design of this church, both creatively and keeping in accordance with Catholic tradition, is exquisite. It’s awe-inspiring, for sure.
Rehoboth Church and Museum, Union
Some churches are iconic for their historical impact, some for their beauty, and some for their sheer steadfastness. Rehoboth Church is the latter. Rehoboth is the oldest existing church building in all of West Virginia. Early pioneers gathered and formed a Methodist congregation in West Virginia and constructed this church in 1786 to meet in. It was dedicated by the first Methodist Bishop in the United States, and remained sort of headquarters of the Methodist faith for many years after.
The truly remarkable thing about this church is that it is entirely made of logs. Just ordinary logs from a nearby forest. It is tiny and not incredibly stable, but strong enough to have lasted over 200 years. Over the years, preservation efforts have been implemented to ensure the lasting safety of the building.
Because of its huge importance to the Methodist faith and United States history, it is now a National Methodist Shrine and is on the National Registry of Historic Places. There is also a small museum on site next to the church where guests can visit and learn more.