For the second time in two weeks, a proposal to renovate and take over operations of the Town of Middleburg’s historic Asbury Church has come in.
Ryan Michels, the owner of Loudoun Construction, last week presented the Town Council with a proposal to purchase the property for $50,000—nearly $100,000 less than its assessed value—and use the 190-year-old church building as his restoration company’s main office. Michels, a member of the Unison Preservation Society board of directors, said his company would strive to preserve the historic character of the 2,660-square-foot building and that a move there would make sense because Loudoun Construction has outgrown the space it’s leased for the past four years in the building next door at the corner of Jay and Marshall Streets.
“I think having a nice, niche office for my business would be a good reuse,” Michels said. “I think it’s a good move.”
Michels told the Town Council that his company would strive to retain the exterior of the building to appear as a church and to restore the 2,660-square-foot interior within a year of purchase—something he said might include removing the altar and preserving the exposed wooden beams and flooring, costing about $300,000 to complete.
He said his company could also complete exterior building repairs within six months of settlement; install, with the town’s help, a historical marker in front of the property with information about the church; determine the feasibility of extending the Jay Street sidewalk past the church; install a formal front step and stoop area; and install one or two gravel parking spaces on the left side of the building.
Michels told the council that he would also like the town to help with the restoration process by guaranteeing that the property has working water and sewer and by coordinating moving a utility pole beside the building. He also would like the town’s Architectural Review Board to give him permission to hang a business sign in front of the building.
Michels assured the Town Council that he understood the historical significance and community desire to purposefully reuse the Asbury Church.
When Councilman Kevin Hazard asked Michels if he would be willing to work with the town’s Historic District Review Committee throughout the restoration process, Michels said he would and that the overall goal would be to keep the front of the building looking like a church.
Mayor Bridge Littleton said he was happy that Michels wanted to retain the historic feel of the building and asked if the interior restoration would be done in a way that could allow for the subsequent owner to restore the building for use as a church or community center.
Michels said he thought so. “If somebody were to buy it 20 years down the road or 30 years down the road, I think that it’s more than likely going to look similar to what it does now,” he said.
Littleton also asked if Michels would be willing to host community events in the property’s green space. Michels said Littleton’s suggestion was “more than fair.”
Michels also noted that the deal could provide the town with increased tax revenue. “If we grow more, we’re going to give you more money,” he said.
The proposal was presented two weeks after Pastor Michelle Thomas, the founder and CEO of the Loudoun Freedom Center, presented a similar proposal to the Town Council—only hers didn’t include a purchase offer, but proposed gifting the property to her organization. Her proposal did involve a restoration project that would actively highlight the history of the property.
Thomas proposed that the town transfer ownership of the property to her organization to establish the Loudoun Freedom Center African American Museum at Middleburg, which would provide the community with a place to learn about the area’s black history, with a place of worship that could accommodate residents and visitors staying at Salamander Resort, with a wedding venue and with a multi-use community center. Thomas said restoration could cost up to $700,000 and take 18-24 months to complete.
If the town decides to sell or transfer ownership of the property to any organization that plans to use it for anything other than as a single-family home or public park, the new owner will need to apply for a special exception permit to operate.
Special exception uses in the single-family residential zoning district include adult assisted living and child care centers, bed and breakfasts, libraries and museums, places of worship, schools and professional offices.
The Asbury Church was established in 1829 and was used as a Methodist Episcopal Church until the mid-1850s when a larger church was built on Washington Street. From 1857-1860, the church building was used as a storehouse, government depot and hospital for Confederate and Union soldiers.
In 1864, a year before American slaves were freed, the white congregation donated the church to the black Methodist Episcopal congregation, making it the first African-American church in Middleburg. It was renovated in the 1880s and was used continually until the congregation merged with the Willisville United Methodist Church in 1994.
The town purchased the property in December 2014 and, in August 2017, paid Cochran’s Stone Masonry $174,000 to install a new roof on the building and perform renovations to stabilize the structure.
It is the oldest surviving church building in the town and is eligible for listing on the Virginia Landmarks Register and the National Register of Historic Places.
According to the county’s parcel database, the 0.23-acre property is valued at $145,800.