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Church named historic landmark

Alexander Hill Baptist Church — the first African-American church in Buckingham County — is one of 21 historic sites recently added to the Virginia Landmarks Register (VLR) by the Virginia Department of Historic Resources.

According to Martha Pennington Louis, a trustee of the church, the application will soon be sent to Washington D.C. to the National Historic Register for consideration.

“Being on the VLR will make the acquisition of grants maybe a little easier, and it will protect the church,” Louis said.

She said the designation gives the church status for fundraising.

“Beginning 10 years ago with the Jamestown 2007 celebration, the church was identified as a unique historical treasure of African-American history which was in bad need of preservation,” Louis said in a press release. “As there were few members of the church left and in recent years, no services have been held there. A board of trustees was formed from three groups in the county to help protect and preserve the church property.”

Louis said the landmark designation was a wonderful chance to educate the public.

“Our ultimate goal is to maybe have it open on Saturdays for tours and maybe have Sunday services there down the road,” Louis said.

She said the importance the preservation brought was the “very rare and important history” of the church.

Part of the importance lies in the history of the church.

“Because you’re going from slavery days to after slavery days,” Louis said. “You’re spanning a whole segment of African-American history.”

Louis said the process of applying to the landmark register was expensive.

“(It took) lots of photographs. We had to get maps of the area, we had to contact all of the surrounding properties, we had to get lots of measurements and things … We had wonderful help from Marc Wagner with the Department of Historic Resources as well as Dr. Joanne Yeck (who) helped us in filling out the application,” Louis said.

According to Buckingham historian and author Charles White, the church was founded around the close of the Civil War in 1865.

“A lawyer here owned a slave woman… when the Civil War ended, he gave her a little piece of land and she married someone who was a budding preacher,” White said.

He said at that point services were held in a brush arbor — a makeshift shelter using logs, branches, leaves and pine needles to protect worshippers from the elements — and the pastor stood on a mound of dirt.

“That mound of dirt is still there,” White said.

He said later on worshippers built a log cabin for the church.

“The only thing different about it is later on they covered it with shiplap boards,” White said. “If you take the shiplap boards off, the logs are still there.”

The release cited the church is considered the grandfather of many of the other churches in the county.

According to a press release from the Department of Historic Resources, listing a property on the state or national registers is honorific and sets no restrictions on what a property owner may do with his or her property.

“The designation is, first and foremost, an invitation to learn about and experience authentic and significant places in Virginia’s history,” officials said in the release.

The release cited that designating a property to the state or national registers — either individually or as a contributing building in a historic district — provides an owner the opportunity to pursue historic rehabilitation tax credit improvements to the building.

According to the release, Virginia is a national leader among states in listing historic sites and districts in the National Register of Historic Places. The state is also a national leader for the number of federal tax credit rehabilitation projects proposed and completed each year.