Sometime ago, Mrs. Pearl Griffin, a delightful Culpeper resident asked a simple question. She was curious as to who built the 1895 Culpeper Baptist Church on the corner of East Davis and East streets.
The red brick edifice still stands as a monument to Culpeper’s vast history. Mrs. Griffin suspected that it was Charlie Hitt, a prominent local builder and ancestor of Councilman Robert Ryan who applied the mortar to the courses of brick.
Off I went to check what documents might reveal the answer.
In 1895, Charlie Hitt was 30 years old and farming in Rixeyville; however, Census Records of 1870 and 1880 listed two of his brothers as carpenters. The WPA records regarding the church history, noted that Charlie Hitt, an active member of the church, built the large addition on the north side in 1932. Perhaps, it was the work of several members of the Hitt Clan that built the church in 1895.
Church Timeline: 1774-1832
1774: Founded as the Mt. Poney Baptist Church at a location associated with its name.
1833: Relocated to Town of Fairfax, aka Culpeper Court House not officially named “Culpeper” until 1879. Site of this first “in town” church facility was on the Old Brandy Road (today it is a parking lot serving the C&P Telephone company).
1858: The Mt. Poney congregation constructed a brick church on the northwest corner of east Davis and East streets.
1861-’65: The church was damaged by the Civil War.
1873: Completion of structural rehabilitation and a vote to change the name to the Culpeper Baptist Church.
1892: Church burned.
1895: Dedication of the rebuilt church on the same foundation and utilizing many of the original bricks.
1932: A large addition was constructed by Charlie Hitt.
By mid-1850, the congregation had outgrown the facility on the Old Brandy Road and required a larger structure with more prominent visibility, preferably in the center of activity. The northwest corner of East Davis and East Street was a prime location for more than one reason. By 1852, the Orange and Alexandria Railroad was chugging through the village a block to the east, bringing expanded commerce and a greater connection to the outside world.
If that was not enough, the Culpeper County Courthouse and all associated court services and activities were situated slightly west but on the same block.
The hubbub on Davis Street was palpable and without a doubt, this was the center of the world for the vibrant community.
The Virginia Baptist Historical Society does not deny the intriguing detail that the building constructed in 1858 was only a stone’s throw from the jail in which numerous Baptist preachers were incarcerated. The choice of location was a powerful display of survival and perhaps a bit of retribution.
Buildings are far more than brick and mortar and, not surprisingly, one thing has led to another. The study of the church became secondary to the story of Charles Henry Hitt: son of Charles M. Hitt, born in Madison County in 1821, relocated to Culpeper by 1850, served under J.E.B. Stuart in the Civil War and raised at least six children.
After all, the most exciting element in the investigation of history is the human story.
Until next week, be well.