Tagged with Cemetery:

Circa 1750 Anglican Church Hidden Under Earth for 170 Years

April 9, 2002

Pottery Fragments found at Elk Run

Archaeologist John Eddins Records findings in a controlled excavation unit.

Petrone & Associates use remote sensing technology to identify possible burial sites in the Elk run cemetery.

Finding all of the corners of the foundation was the key to confirming rumors that the Elk run Church was indeed a cruciform design.

Soil is carefully sifted so that tiny artifacts are not overlooked.

From The Virginia Episcopalian, April 2002 (with permission)

By Ed Dandar and Nancy Jenkins

It all began in 1998 when a neighbor started clearing brush from the Elk Run property. Less than a year later, members of St. Stephen’s Church in Catlett began to uncover the remains of what is believed to be the first brick church in Fauquier County’s mid-1700s frontier.

Elk Run Anglican Church was built sometime in the 1750’s. It served as the mother church for Hamilton Parish and its first rector, the Rev. James Keith, was the grandfather of Chief Justice John Marshall. Until now, the only recorded description of the church was made by Bishop Meade who, in 1857, wrote that it was “a substantial brick church, cruciform, I believe. I am not certain that the roof was on it when I first saw it in 1811. Its walls continued for many years after this and I saw them gradually disappear during my annual visits to the conventions.” The Elk Run Church Site Preservation Committee, led by St. Stephen’s, Catlett in collaboration with St. James, Warrenton, is leading the archaeological effort to preserve this colonial church site. In June of 1999, Ned Browning, the owner of the property and descendant of the first rector Keith, approved of the preservation plan and donated the land to St. Stephen’s.

By exposing 95% of the intact foundation, the all-volunteer archaeological team has confirmed that Elk Run Church was a rare Greek cross structure with roughly equal sized extensions on all sides. At least two other pre-Revolutionary Anglican churches in Virginia – Aquia and Abingdon – were built in the cruciform plan.

Both Aquia and Elk Run Churches were built in the 1750s but while Aquia is still an active church today, Elk Run was abandoned sometime after 1806. After abandonment, the church fell into decay and some of its brick and wood was carried off for use in other structures. What remained fell into the earth and was eventually buried beneath pasture and cedar trees. Until now, the church foundation and artifacts had been hidden from view for about 170 years.

Community volunteers under the direction of volunteer archaeologist Dr. John Eddins, dug a total of 27 controlled excavation units between April 2000 and November 2001. Findings are plotted on a grid to help track their spatial relationships within the site. To date, found artifacts include handmade nails, ceramic dish fragments, 19th century coins and Indian arrowheads dating back 4000 years or more.

The team’s speculation about an adjacent cemetery was confirmed in December of 2000 with the discovery of the first grave. Months later, Pete Petrone, whose earlier team discovered an underground ship at the Great Pyramid in 1987, came to Elk Run and conducted remote sensing to determine the church cemetery boundaries, possible positions of burials within the cemetery, and areas that might have further archaeological significance.

At the dedication of the historical marker in 2000, colonial church historian Carl Lounsbury of the Williamsburg Foundation said “I am deeply awed by all of you for creating history here. History is ambivalent. There are facts, but facts are useless until you make something of them. We know, and we knew for a long time, that there was an Elk Run Church and we had an idea that it might have been cruciform, but it is thanks to you and all your volunteers that have actually turned this into a reality. It will then integrate into a public memory of this place. It can only grow as time progresses.”

Using their knowledge of period architecture and the provided by the archaeology team, the Williamsburg Foundation will provide a computer drawing of how the church probably looked. The Preservation Committee is already raising funds to convert the property into County Historic Park Site where visitors can learn about the colonial church. To this end, they will soon outline the surface of the foundation with colonial brick.

The Committee also has an extensive Web site which includes historic maps, photos of the site and artifacts, and genealogical information. Contributions for this effort can be mailed to the Elk Run Church Site Preservation Committee, 8538 Greenwich Road, Catlett, Virginia 20119.

Ed Dandar is the Chairman of the Elk Run Preservation Committee and a member, of St. Stephen’s, Catlett.


Cemetery Established

August 21, 2001


In June, July and August 2001, the Elk Run Church Site Committee used 21st century remote sensor technology to non-intrusively sense objects or structural features beneath the ground surface. Petrone & Associates were successful in conducting remote sensing that helped define church cemetery boundaries, possible positions of burials within the cemetery, and areas that might have further archaeological significance.


Cemetery Explored

December 9, 2000


On the evening of August 23, 2000, the Elk Run Church Site Preservation Committee received permission from William and Jacqueline Patton to search for the Church Cemetery on their adjoining property.

On December 9, 2000, the search for the suspected adjacent Church Cemetery begins by using a backhoe with a smooth blade to dig shallow parallel trenches to expose possible graves. By late afternoon, the first gravesite was confirmed, was photographed and the measurements documented.


Summer of Discovery at Elk Run

September 6, 2000

From The Fauquier Times-Democrat, Wednesday, September 6, 2000 (with permission)

By Edward Dandar

It was one year ago last month that members of the congregation of St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in Catlett were convinced that the site of the old Elk Run Anglican Church – the colonial “mother church” of the Episcopal churches in this region – should be saved.

The late Edward Parry Browning, III, a descendant of the Rev. James Keith, its first minister, donated the 100 ft. x 100 ft. lot to St. Stephen’s Church to be preserved as a historic site.

Since that time, a number of preservation tasks have been accomplished.

Beginning in late April 2000, a group of volunteers, assisted by volunteer archaeologist, Dr. John Eddins, has engaged in archaeological excavations at the site of the old Elk Run Church.

The dig participants have opened 19 excavation units of varying sizes, exposing sections of the stone foundation of the church, including a number of interior and exterior corners.

Much has been learned about the ancient church, and others like it. Historic documents and recent excavations have indicated that the Elk Run Church was a cruciform or cross-shaped building.

The relative positions of the exposed interior and exterior foundation corners as well as the uncovering of the entire south transept segment of the Church foundation validates the unique Greek-cross shape of the church.

At least two other 18th century pre-Revolutionary Anglican churches in northern Virginia, the Aquia Church and the Abingdon Church were built with cruciform plans.

Of the two, only Aquia Church is a true Greek-cross church, a variant of the cruciform shape with symmetrical and equally sized extensions on all sides. Rough measurements taken thus far of the uncovered Elk Run Church foundation strongly indicate that it is a smaller, but Greek-cross structure.

Both the Aquia and Elk Run Churches were built in the 1750s. While Aquia is still an active Church in Stafford County, Elk Run Church was abandoned sometime after 1806.

We are learning more about the fate of Elk Run Church. After abandonment, the building fell into decay, and the brick, wood, and other materials that made up the church were carried off for use in other structures in the area.

What remained fell into the earth and was eventually buried beneath pasture and cedar trees. The Church foundation and other artifacts have been hidden from view for about 170 years.

The main goal at this point in the project is exposure of the entire foundation, including the main walls, the North and South Transepts, any entrances, stairways, and other architectural features.

The excavators are also trying to recover any artifacts that would illustrate activity inside and outside the church. In many parts of the site, this has proven more difficult due to the amount of rubble from fallen walls, tree roots and other disturbances.

Historical research documentation submitted by the Preservation Committee to the Virginia Board of Historic Resources was approved in mid-June for an Elk Run Anglican Church Site Historical Highway Marker. A community ceremony is planned at the Elk Run Church Site for 21 October at 11 AM.

Our continuing research strongly indicates that a cemetery may have been adjacent to the Elk Run Church.

Permission to conduct archeological work on the adjoining property to confirm the existence of the cemetery has been granted by the property owners, William C. and Jacqueline E. Patton of Elk Run, Virginia. Archaeological search for the cemetery will begin later this fall.

Meanwhile, the elder Pattons, A.W. and Pheobe Patton, have given permission to the Preservation Committee for parking on their property across the road from the Church Site to accommodate parking for the highway marker dedication.


Artifacts uncovered thus far include: pieces of glass from the church windows, plaster fragments from the interior walls, locally made bricks of different color and composition, a large assortment of hand-made nails, broken ceramic dish fragments, a few pre-historic arrow heads, an 1841 dime, and buttons from possibly Colonial-era clothing.

All will eventually be cleaned and labeled and made available for display throughout the community.

Local citizens, Church youth groups and members, Boy Scouts, 4H Club, high school and college students, recent graduates, and out-of-state visitors have participated in this community historical project.

Others wishing to assist at the Elk Run site dig on Saturdays may call St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church Office at (540) 788-4252 to leave their name and phone numbers.

Additional project information, initial church foundation measurements, color photos of ongoing archaeological fieldwork and key events can be found at our new Web site address.

The site’s new Web master is David Buckwalter, a graduate of Liberty High School and a first year Freshman at Penn State University. Buckwalter has added some new features to help users navigate through the site’s holdings, including new information on genealogy discovered through Committee research, and the addition of some useful external links.

Donations to support and sustain this preservation effort can be mailed to Treasurer, Elk Run Church Site Preservation Fund, 8538 Greenwich Road, Catlett, Virginia 20119.