NEW HOPE, Va. – Hattie Casey watched quietly as two men stood on the roof of Mount Tabor Church and ripped the boards off the structure and threw them to the ground.
It was the church her parents had attended and to which her relatives had gone to school. It’s one of the oldest, if not the oldest, black church in Augusta County.
“It’s a sad day,” Casey said. “But a good day, too.”
Good because the dilapidated structure wasn’t being torn down and discarded. It was being torn down and will be restored and rebuilt at the Frontier Culture Museum as part of its Montgomery Springs exhibit.
The museum has been planning to move Mount Tabor United Methodist Church for some time and was just waiting for funds to become available – they received a grant from Dominion Resources for $40,000.
They began disassembling the church on Oct. 22 and it will take about three weeks to take apart completely, said Ray Wright, curator of buildings for the Frontier Culture Museum and the planner behind the Mount Tabor project.
The one-room building, on Round Hill School Road, was once one of many black schoolhouses in Augusta County, and it was also a church. And until about 10 years ago, it was still used by members of Mount Tabor as a social hall. Today, not many of these old structures stand.
Now the building is slowly falling apart – many of the logs have termite damage and the floor is warping. About three years ago, Sadie Graves, a Mount Tabor church member, contacted a historian at Frontier Culture Museum about the church.
At the time, the museum was also looking for a church built during the 1850s for its Montgomery Springs village, and although they had received offers, the right church hadn’t been found.
The village is on a far corner of Frontier Culture property, with Richmond Road and Interstate 64 as its far borders. It is supposed to replicate a Shenandoah Valley community circa 1850.
While fitting into the museum’s master plan, it also preserves the memories of a building that was the center of the black community in New Hope before and after integration in Augusta County.
The origins of Mount Tabor Church are often disputed, said local historian Laten Bechtel. Some people say it was built in the 1850s by slaves to be used as a church.
Other people say it wasn’t constructed until after the end of the Civil War to be used as a school and church for black community members.
A deed transfer was filed in Augusta County on Dec. 4, 1869, giving the church to four members of the board of trustees. From there it was used as a school and a church. After integration, Mount Tabor was still the primary meeting point for members of that community, Bechtel said.
Wright estimates that the church was built in the mid-1850s, judging by the way it was built. A dendrochronologist will exam the logs and use tree rings to better determine the age of the structure. Wright said a conservative guess for when the Mount Tabor church will be exhibit-ready at Frontier Culture Museum is June 2014.