Archiver > VAROCKBR > 1997-07 > 0870065772

From: "Jeremiah Ruley" <>
Subject: Falling Spring Church
Date: Sun, 27 Jul 1997 23:56:12 -0500

Falling Spring Church
(For the County News)

[Rockbridge County News, 20 December -27 December 1894.]

It is not certainly known when Falling Springs church was organized,
nor by whom. A church of the same name, situated in Pennsylvania was
organized in 1738, one year after the first settlement in the Borden
grant by the McDowell family. The Rev. John Blair, then living in
Cumberland county, Pa., visited Augusta county, of which Rockbridge was
then a part, in 1746, and organized the churches of North Mountain, New
Providence, Timber Ridge and the Forks of James (or Monmouth) and
perhaps others. At the meeting of the Synod of New York, May 1747, the
Rev. Eliab Byram was appointed to go to Virginia in “September next,”
and spend some time in the new settlements. This he did, as the record
of the next meeting of the synod (May 1748) states that Mr. Byram
“fulfilled his appointment in going to Virginia.”
At this latter meeting of synod the following entry is found in the
records: “A call was brought into the synod from Falling Spring and New
Providence, to be presented to Mr. Byram, the acceptance of which he
declined.” At this same meeting of Synod a call from Timber Ridge and
Forks of James was presented for the Rev. Mr. Dean, which was
subsequently declined.
It may be interesting to note here what is known of the Rev. Eliab
Byram. He was born in Bridgewater, Mass., and graduated at Harvard
university in 1740. He became the pastor of a church in New Jersey in
1743, and after declining the call to Falling Spring and New Providence
became a member of New Brunswick Presbytery, New York, and pastor of
Amwell church, where he died in May 1754.
So it will be seen that the church organization existed as early as
In Waddell’s Annals of Augusta county, the following extracts from the
records of the Augusta county court for May 20th, 1748, is given:
“On the motion of Matthew Lyle one ordered to be certified that they
have built a Presbyterian meeting house at a place known by the name of
Timber Ridge, another at New Providence, and another at a place known by
the name of Falling Spring.”
It is probable that this building was small and of logs. It was
located at a spot in rear of the Brady mansion house at Buffalo Forge,
and in the present garden. This was torn down afterwards and a frame
building erected on the same site, as appears from a note to page 35 of
Davidson’s History of the Presbyterian Church in Kentucky where it is
stated “Hall’s meeting house was a large frame building, so were Falling
Spring and Highbridge. Oxford was constructed of logs arranged in the
form of a Greek cross, with eight corners, as they could not procure
single logs of sufficient length to build a four cornered house of the
size required.”
I have a rather amusing account of an occurrence in the old frame
building after it was abandoned, from the late Robert McAlphin, which I
give in his own words: “I will state a circumstance that occurred in
the old church at Brady’s after they quit preaching in it. It is
natural for sheep to gather in old buildings to get out of the sun. The
pulpits in those days were high, with six or eight steps from the floor,
and a closet underneath. Some sheep had gotten into the building, and
an old ram having gone into the closet, in turning around, closed the
door behind him. A short time afterwards a company of young men fishing
in Buffalo creek, took refuge in the building from the rain, and having
a jug of spirits soon became quite jolly. One of them by the name of
L_____ went into the pulpit and commenced to preach. The old ram began
to groan and butt the closet door, which caused L_____ to jump out of
the pulpit and with his companions flee from the building saying old
Nick was after them.
I do not know certainly when the third church building was erected, but
it must have been about 1794. The location was changed to a place on
the lands of Thomas Posey, when he conveyed to John Greenlee and Joseph
Walker by deed dated Aug. 16th, 1797, as “Trustees for and in behalf of
the Falling Spring meeting house.” This lot contained 3 acres and 15
1/2 poles. In 1832 William Little and wife conveyed to the trustees 1
acre 63 1/2 poles, and John Poague 2 acres and 62 1/2 poles in the same
In the graveyard is found a monument inscribed as follows:
“Sacred to the memory of John Grigsby who was born in 1720, and departed
this life April 7, 1794.
Pause reader, here and look with solemn dread
Upon the last lone dwelling of the dead.
Though numerous graves appear on every hand,
This was the first of all the silent band.”
It is probable that Mr. Grigsby died about the time at which the change
in location had been determined upon. I do not know the dimensions of
the third building. It was of stone and presented quite a handsome
A lady who died in 1892 at an advanced age, to whom I had written for
her early recollections of Falling Spring sent me the following letter:
“I remember nothing of Falling Spring while Mr. Houston was the
pastor. My recollections go back no further than the pastorate of Rev.
John D. Ewing. I went to church when a very small girl riding behind
some one with my green and white plaid silk sun bonnet. It was a long
road, but very delightful to me to have the privilege of going. I can
remember when they had two sermons, with a short interval between during
which we ate our simple lunch in the pew. A very few times we went down
to the spring, a very large one, from which I suppose the church took
its name. But going out and walking about was not approved by my
parents, and we generally took our lunch in the pew. The practice of
preaching two sermons was soon given up, and afternoon preaching at some
neighborhood schoolhouse or private residence took its place. Few days
in the winter were too cold for us to take the six miles ride, and if we
were very cold we went into the little session room in the corner of the
yard, where a good fire was kept. There were no stoves in the church
for many years after I first went there. We crossed Buffalo creek,
famed for its rough ford, and during week days had to brave the thump,
thump of the tilt-hammer, sometimes very frightful to our horses. Up
the steep, rocky hill, we passed the mouth of a lane, which I was
informed lead to Begg’s mill. I thought that must be the last house in
that direction. The church was of stone, about a square, I think, the
roof running to a point, but without belfry or cupola. There was no
bell. For a long time we had a close little wooden pulpit, I think but
one set of steps entering it. There was a sounding board which overhung
the head of the preacher, to which the swallows flew, and perched upon
after coursing over the heads of the congregation. I suppose they had
nests among the timbers of the roof. A part of this sounding board was
gilded, the rest white and the inside blue. After a while, the spirit
of improvement reached us , and the old pulpit was removed and a new
structure substituted, with a railing, crimson cushion for the Bible,
etc. There were four doors to the building, and I think, seven windows,
one back of the pulpit. The aisles were paved with brick, and there
were two square pews on each side of the church. Our elders were John
Laird and Joseph Paxton, and when I would see them coming down the aisle
on communion occasions with the bread and wine, I looked upon them as
priests officiating in the temple and able to come nearer holy things
than those around them. There was a small table placed in the aisle,
which they covered with a cloth and then placed the bread and wine upon
it. Two tall benches or narrow tables were placed on each side
extending the full length of the aisle in front of the pulpit, with
benches on each side. These narrow tables were also covered with
cloths. The communicants came forward and took seats at these tables
and were addressed by the minister while the emblems were distributed.
Sometimes this required several addresses, as when the first set were
through another took their places. I only remember to have seen
“tokens” distributed once. These were little medals of metal which each
communicant was requited to hand the elder as evidence that he or she
was entitled to commune, and were given to those only whom the session
considered worthy.
The singing was led by a clerk, who raised the tune and lined out the
hymn, reading two lines at a time. The clerk sat immediately in front
of the pulpit, and in my time Mr. Ben Welch performed the duty. Mr.
Ewing was a sweet singer and introduced many new tunes.
Rev. Andrew Davidson frequently assisted Mr. Ewing on communion
occasions, and I can distinctly recall his appearance as with streaming
eyes he read the hymn beginning,
“Alas! and did my Savior bleed.”
My last visit to Falling Spring church was during the late war. I was
then a refugee from the Federal invasion of my home, There were two
churches standing then, as the brick building in which the present
congregation worship had then been built. I entered the old building,
but what a scene of desolation met my eyes! All the pews were prostrate
except one, and that the one in which my parents sat when I was a
child, I need not describe my feelings. You can imagine what they were
as I sat there with my little children around me.”
(In my next I propose to give your readers what I have gathered
relating to the pastors, elders, etc., of this church.)

Falling Spring Church

In my last communication I stated that Rev. Eliab Byram was probably
the first minister called to the pastorate of this church. It was
probable that it was served by the Rev. John Brown, and his successor,
Rev. Samuel Brown, the pastors of New Providence and Timber Ridge, and
perhaps Rev. William Graham and others preached there also. But I have
not been able to find that any one received or declined a call until the
Rev. Samuel McCorkle was called. This I state on the authority of Dr.
Foote, who in the second series of his sketches of Virginia p. 106, says
Mr. McCorkle “received calls from Oxford, High Bridge and Falling
Spring, but declined settling in Virginia.” As Mr. McCorkle was
received as probationer from the Presbytery of New York Oct. 26th, 1775,
and was installed pastor of the Thyatria church, in the Presbytery of
Orange, N.C. in 1777, it is probable that he received the call from
Falling Spring in 1776.
In Nevin’s Presbyterian Encyclopedia, it is stated that Rev. Samuel
Eusebius McCorkle, D. D., was born August 22nd, 1746 near Harris Ferry,
Lancaster county, Pa.; graduated at the college of New Jersey
(Princeton) in 1772; studied theology under his maternal uncle, Rev.
Joseph Montgomery, and was licensed to preach in 1774. He was a man of
great ability and preached, and wrote against “French infidelity,” which
after the Revolutionary war overran the country. The date of his death
is not given. It is probable that he was of the same family as our
Rockbridge McCorkles, many of whom were members of Falling Spring church
from its infancy.
The next minister called was the Rev. James McConnell, of whom we find
a short sketch in Foote’s Sketches. He says:
“James McConnell, a graduate of Princeton in 1773, was received at
Tinkling Spring April 29th, 1773, as probationer from Donegal. Having
accepted a call from Oxford, High Bridge, and Falling Spring, he was
ordained at High Bridge June 18th, 1778. By indiscretion and want of
economy, he became involved in difficulties and ceased to serve the
congregation. In the year 1787, he removed beyond the Alleghenies.”
With this short record he dismisses the brother.
The next minister of this church was the Rev. Samuel Houston, and the
records of Presbytery held at Augusta church Sept. 20th, 1791, state
that at this meeting “a call was presented from the church of Falling
Spring to the Rev. Samuel Houston for two-thirds of his ministerial
labors, which call he accepted.” At the April meeting following he is
stated as being present with the elder, Mr. John Greenlee.
It may be stated here that up to 1755, the Virginia Presbyterian
churches were under jurisdiction of the Pennsylvania presbyteries.
Hanover Presbytery was erected Dec. 1755, and Lexington Presbytery in
1786. Falling Spring belonged to Lexington Presbytery until Montgomery
was formed in 1843. The line between Lexington and Montgomery
presbyteries being Buffalo creek.
While Falling Spring belonged to Lexington Presbytery five meetings of
the Presbytery were held in that church: April 1803, when Rev. William
Wilson was moderator; Oct. 1814, when Rev. Robert Logan was moderator;
April 1823, when Rev. John Hendren was moderator, and Sept. 1838, when
Rev. S. F. Cocke was moderator. Its pastor. Rev. Samuel Houston, was
stated clerk of the Presbytery from April 23rd, 1805, until April 26th,
1826, when he was succeeded by Rev. Francis McFarland, D. D. He was
also moderator nine times.
Rev. Samuel Houston’s pastorate extended from 1791 to 1822, thirty
years. Sketches of his life can be found in Foote’s Sketches of
Virginia, and the Historical Papers of Washington and Lee University.
He lies buried at High Bridge church. The marble slab which marks the
spot is inscribed as follows:
to the memory
of the
who in early life was a soldier of the
and for 55 years a faithful minister of the
He died on the 20th day of January, 1839,
aged 81 years.
In the mature and blessed hope of a
glorious resurrection
and of immortal life, in the kingdom of his
Father and his God.

Recently, I obtained the ordination sermon of Rev. Samuel Houston. It
is enclosed in part of an old letter addressed to him as a “Student at
Rev. Mr. Waddell’s.”
The next pastor was the Rev. John D. Ewing, who was installed April
26th, 1823. He was born April 2nd, 1788, of Scotch-Irish ancestry, near
Harrisonburg, Va. His father was an elder in the “New Erection” church,
as what is known as the Cook’s Creek church, was then called. He was
educated at Washington College, and was afterwards an assistant
professor or tutor at Hampden Sidney college. He studied theology with
Rev. Moses Hoge, D. D., and Rev. Samuel Brown of New Providence, and was
licensed about 1812. He served for a short time as an evangelist, and
then became pastor of Windy Cove and Lebanon churches. He was called to
Falling Spring in 1822 and installed the following spring. He served
this church for thirty-three years, resigning the pastorate in 1854. He
resided on his farm in the neighborhood of the church until his death,
January 11th, 1877, aged eighty nine years.
During the ministry of Mr. Ewing, Falling Spring saw its best days.
Its membership consisted of some of the most substantial citizens of the
county and a large and intelligent congregation gathered within its
walls every Sunday. A brother minister thus speaks of Mr. Ewing:
“The fervor and power of his preaching abides fresh in my memory. And
I may here say that at these and other times, I have heard from him
sermons and appeals which are seldom equaled. He had a face of
benevolent expression, a kind disposition, very quick and tender
sensibilities, and when they were touched a voice of exquisite pathos.
I heard a sermon from him during a Presbytery, at Augusta church, which
seemed to dissolve the whole congregation into tears.”
Mr. Ewing’s wife was a daughter of Major John Tate of Augusta county,
and was a most excellent woman. They were married soon after he was
licensed to preach.
With this imperfect sketch of Mr. Ewing, I close what I have to say of
the pastors of Falling Spring. Mr. Ewing was followed by Rev. William
F. Junkin, D. D., who was installed June 3rd, 1855, and resigned Dec.
31st, 1867, removing to Danville, Ky.
Rev. David W. Shanks, D.D., was installed Feb. 28th, 1868, and resigned
the pastorate in 1883.
Rev. F. H. Gaines was the next pastor, and he was followed by Rev. C.
D. Waller, the present pastor.
In a sketch of this church published a few years ago by Frederick
Johnston, Esq., he says, “owing to the loss of records, it is not known
who were the first ruling elders, nor when they were elected or
ordained. The first of whom we have any account were, Thomas Paxton,
William Paxton, John Greenlee, Joseph Snodgrass, David Steele, Samuel
McCluer and Joseph Walker. These had all died or removed prior to April
1819. At that time James Laird and John Paxton were ruling elders, but
it is not known at what time they were ordained, nor the time of their
service. William McNutt was ordained in 1819 and served to December
31st 1836. John Laird was also ordained in 1819 and served until 1855.
James Templeton and Jacob Hickman were also ordained in 1819, but their
time of service is unknown. Joseph Wilson was ordained May 22nd, 1824,
and served until Nov. 16th, 1826. Joseph Paxton served from April 8th,
1826, to Dec. 1839. William Edmondson from April 8th, 1826, to May
1830. John McHenry from May 3rd, 1830, to 1840. Abner Grigsby from May
3rd, 1830, to ____. Thomas Paxton from May 3rd, 1830, to Sept. 15th,
1853. Thomas McCorkle from May 3rd, 1830, to June 2nd, 1832. David
Laird from May 3rd, 1830 to July 30th, 1869. James Dryden from June
1844 to January 1878. Samuel Johnston from April 5th, 1845 to 1864. R.
C. McCluer from 1855 to July 1881. F. M. Wiley from 1855 to May 22nd,
1868. Eli Poague from 1855 to July 21st, 1871.”
Mr. Johnston also states that “The earliest record now in existence, as
to the number of members is of date April 1819, when the number of
private members was eighty-four.”
The last report (1844) shows 3 elders, 6 deacons, total communicants
In conclusion I offer the following resolution:
Resolved, that the one hundred and fiftieth anniversary of the
organization of the Presbyterian churches of New Providence, Timber
Ridge, New Monmouth and Falling Spring be celebrated. The time,
character and place of the celebration to be determined after
conferences of these churches.

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