History of Augusta Street United Methodist Church

From souvenir program of Augusta Street United Methodist Church's 125th Anniversary, 1991, donated by Mr. Arthur Ware, Staunton, VA.

Before the founding of the Augusta Street United Methodist Church, two events occurred, one in Southampton County, Virginia and the other in Staunton which had an impact on our founders. The first was the 1831 Nat Turner slave insurrection which resulted in the enactment of the "Black Codes". One of these laws forbade blacks The Right of Assembly unless one or more whites were present. This law effectively prevented the slaves from holding religious services. In this area, to bypass the law, whites invited blacks to join their churches, one of which was the Central M. E. Church at Lewis and Beverly streets. By 1861 Central had a total membership of 350 which included 200 Blacks. While attending Central many of our future members became well grounded in Methodism.

The second event occured in 1861 when a turbulent session of the Baltimore Annual Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church met at Central M. E. Church in Staunton. The question before the conference that caused all the fireworks was whether or not the Baltimroe Annual Conference should withdraw from the Methodist Episcopal Church which had taken a stand against slavery and join the Methodist Episcopal Chuch, South which had no such stand. The conference ended with some churches staying and others withdrawing. Central was one of those who joined the Methodist Episcopal Church South. This must have been a "bitter pill" for the blacks associated with Central but they had no choice since The Black Codes were still law.

By 1865 The Civil War was over and the Black Codes were no longer in force. It was this year that a small group of faithful Christian men and women begain meeting in hardy's Carriage Shop then located at New and Frederick Streets to worship. From these meetings, John Wesley Chapel was organized.

Later plans were made to raise money to purchase land upon which to erect a church. This fund was raised through the weekly class meetings. the offereince of ten cents per member was put in the building fund causing the church to sometimes be called "The Ten Cent Church."

Land was purchased on September 15, 1866 from Miss Rachel Phillips for $2,200. This lot was on the south side of Prospect street, between New and Augusta streets. The trustees at the time were Aaron Shoveler, francis Overton, Philip Russell, William Denny, James Scott Philip Ransom, and Addison King and the pastor was Rev. E. P. Lawson. The Church was built at the corner of Prospect and New streets. This was a one story building in the Board and Batt style (vertical boards with narrow strips where the boards met). There was a brick basement which was used as a classroom by the Staunton Public Schools from 1872 to 1876. The building was completed around 1869. Sopmetime during this period the chruch became affiliated with the Washington Annual Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church and its name was changed from the John wesley Chapel to the John Wesley M. E. Church. those who served as pastors were the Reverends, E.P. Lawson, Joseph Bowser, James D. R. Kenny, Warner Cook, and Robert Steele.

The congregation soon outgrew this little building and plans were made to erect the present brick structure. To raise part of the funds needed, the "lttle brown church" and the eastern half of the lot were sold for $5,000. The Rev. Steele moved out of the parsonage at Prospect and Augusta streets temporarily to the basement of the original church so that the parsonage could be moved east on the lot and the church could be erected at its present location.

In August 1876 ground was broken for the new church. It was interesting to hear the late Miss Ella Frame talk about the occasion. She was a young woman singing in the choir when the corner stone was laid. the choir sang from a position across the street. The new John Wesley M. E. Church was erected, a monument to the sacrifice of the church loving people.

Note: The history continues, with the story of the Church in the rest of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.