A small cemetery in downtown Leesburg was celebrated for its historic significance Monday night.
It was 250 years ago—May 11, 1766—that Leesburg founder Nicholas Minor deeded a half-acre lot on Cornwall Street to shoemaker Robert Hamilton. The Methodist convert paid “four pounds current money of Virginia” to build a church or meeting house or graveyard on the land. It was the first Methodist land acquisition in the western hemisphere.
More than 50 people—including parishioners from three United Methodist Church congregations—gathered at the Old Stone Church cemetery to hear Del. J. Randall Minchew (R-VA-10) read the General Assembly’s Joint Resolution commemorating the anniversary.
The resolution came about after the Rev. James Wishmyer, pastor of Leesburg United Methodist Church, gave an invocation to open a House of Delegates session in February. He mentioned the site’s anniversary to Minchew.
“He perked up and said ‘let’s get a resolution,’” Wishmyer recalled.
The resolution commended the Old Stone Church Foundation and its United Methodist Church affiliates for the 250 years of church history at the site. Today, the land is owned by the Virginia United Methodist Historical Society of the Virginia Conference of the United Methodist Church.
The first building on the site, erected in 1768, was a Methodist meeting house, within the Anglican community. After the congregation split from the Anglican Church in 1784, a new church, known as the Old Stone Church, was constructed. It was the only church building in Leesburg and counted many of colonial Leesburg’s leading citizens among its congregation.
In 1848, the congregation split over the issue of slavery, with some members leaving to form what is now Leesburg United Methodist Church. The rest stayed at Old Stone Church, but later black members of the congregation moved to form what is now Mount Zion United Methodist Church. Both congregations helped form the relatively new Evergreen United Methodist Church.
The building was sold in 1900 by court order and demolished in 1901, with the materials being used elsewhere in town. A private home adjoining the churchyard, the oldest part of which dates from 1762, was the first parsonage of the Old Stone Church.
In 1965, the Virginia Conference of the United Methodist Church purchased the Old Stone Church property.
Today, the cemetery walkway bricks, the original doorway stones and headstones in the churchyard remain to mark the site of a cradle of American Methodism. It has been preserved as a historic and archaeological site, and is listed on the Virginia Landmarks Register and the National Register of Historic Places.
Following the reading of the resolution, the crowd joined in singing hymns written by Methodist founder John Wesley.
“I think he would be proud of your singing,” Wishmyer told the group.
John Creamer received praise for his leadership of a group of parishioners who maintain the property, which, by the early 1960s was neglected and overgrown.
“Think about the people who’ve worshiped in this place,” Wishmyer said. “We are part of a heritage.”