Over 300-year-old house in Lynchburg still holds worship

Nestled along the James River, Lynchburg has grown into a bustling, modern city. But remnants of this old Lynchburg still remain. Echoes, in fact, from its origin still sit, as the city has grown around them. Founded in 1757, the South River Meeting House served Lynchburg and continues to do so today in its restored state as the Quaker Memorial Presbyterian Church. 

The founders of Lynchburg, John and Sarah Lynch, donated land to the Quakers in the mid-1700s for the building of the first wooden meeting house. Unfortunately, the first meeting house burned down, and it wasn’t until John Lynch allotted 10 acres of land that the South River Meeting House we still see today would be built out of stone. 

The simple and quaint stone house became a pivotal meeting place for eight of the original trustees of Lynchburg until it would be deserted 50 years later as the Civil War began to boil due to the divisive moral issue of slavery, which was a common practice in Lynchburg and elsewhere. The Quakers did not support the idea of slavery and refused to own slaves, causing them to leave Lynchburg and move their shops elsewhere. 

“It wasn’t an attempt of all of the slave owners to kick the Quakers out,” Heidi Koring, a faculty member of  the University of Lynchburg and an active member of the Quakers, said. “It was just a bunch of decisions to take … business elsewhere.” 

Other factors, like the threat of war and monetary struggles, also led to the gradual abandonment and decline of the South River Meeting House. According to Koring, the Quakers would have business meetings in the space before they left.

Although the small, stone house was becoming unkept, it was still useful during the Battle of Lynchburg in the heated summer of 1864. Several troops and union officers utilized the site of the house as their headquarters while fighting in battle. Around three decades later, the Presbyterians bought all the land where the structure was located and restored the ruins to make a church. By the beginning of the 20th century, the South River Meeting House was back in use as a place for worship restored as the Quaker Memorial Presbyterian Church.

“They (the Presbyterians) used it as a church for a while until they had the money to build the church they have (now),” Koring said. 

Koring also explained that the meeting house has been used for weddings and tours after its restoration. Today, the meeting house continues to be used as a meeting place for Quakers. 

“We meet there about twice a month. We’re a very small group, and we are under the sponsorship of the Quakers meeting in Roanoke,” Koring said while discussing the meeting house’s latest purpose. 

Over the span of almost three centuries, the historical South River Meeting House continues to be a unique landmark of Lynchburg’s founding and origin.

For more information or to visit the South River Meeting House for a tour, visit the website or visit the meeting house at 5810 Fort Ave.

Davis is a feature reporter for the Liberty Champion

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *