For almost 200 years, the Union Church in Mount Jackson has incubated dozens of congregations, serving as a hub for aid during the Civil War and standing the test of time as a historic attraction for a historic town.
In the mid-1820s two individuals donated the resources — money and land — to the town of Mount Jackson to build a church for the town. Since then, the community has been responsible for the maintenance and care of the Union Church, according to town Councilman Rod Shepherd.
“There’s no real individual ownership,” he said.” The court has appointed a Board of Trustees to oversee it.”
In recent years, the Board of Trustees has run into more problems than usual, facing the monumental task of restoring a roof with funds that only occasionally come in through donations.
Neil Fadely, a trustee, said most of the people who have supported the church in the past have either moved away or passed away.
“We’ve gotten to the point where we have to do some fairly significant items,” Fadely said. “It was built in approximately 1825 so it’s a never-ending battle.”
To fill some of the void, the town of Mount Jackson recently committed to spending $25,000 to help keep the church standing.
Shepherd said the town will draw on a pool of money saved from the transient occupancy tax the town has been holding in reserve for a project such as this.
“We looked at the revenue we collect from the [tax] and the state requires us to spend part of that money on tourism activities,” Shepherd said. “We couldn’t think of what would be a better tourism activity than the main attraction in Mount Jackson.”
Because the church and the land it occupies are so steeped in Mount Jackson’s history and culture, Shepherd said he views it as one of the most important places in town — on par with sites as popular as the covered bridge, which appears front and center on the town’s website.
“Historians love this old Union Church and the story it tells,” Shepherd said.
Fadley said the $25,000 coming from the town was an important gift but as construction got underway, more problems appeared. The wood that the bell in the belfry was sitting on had begun to rot, necessitating an extra project of removing the bell earlier this week, replacing the wood and hanging the bell again.
On the bright side of the huge project, Shepherd said some more history was uncovered during the renovation. Workers discovered the bell that hung in the belfry was cast in 1850 in Albany, New York. For years, it has served more as an icon than anything else, Shepherd said. With the moving and repairs, Shepherd said the bell cradle and rope were replaced, giving it new life.
Life has started and ended around the Union Church since the days of royal subjects. The cemetery behind the church has graves of people who were born as subjects to King George III, Shepherd said.
Fadely said the trustees’ job is to keep the building alive, preserving it for the town to enjoy and learn about what has come before. As its 200th birthday approaches, that task is becoming harder but more important than ever.
“That’s what we were appointed to do. To maintain the structure and carry it on into the next generation,” Fadely said. “The building is coming up to almost 200 years old. It needs a lot of love and attention.”