Piedmont Baptist Celebrates Resurrection from Fire Damage

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Trustees and church leaders at Piedmont Baptist Church, from left: Zelita Washington, Anita Washington, Ernest Henderson, Carol Hill, Jackie Washington, Ruby Stradford Boston, Tina Harris, Richard Walker, Ronald Washington, Toby Walker and, sitting, Alice Hill.

Piedmont Baptist Church in Yancey Mills has risen from the flames that ruined its interior on November 19, 2010, and the congregation showed off its new sanctuary with a grand reopening March 18.

Ron Washington, chair of the church’s trustees, said the church expected 300 visitors for the day.

“Everything was gutted out,” he said. “Everything is new.” Three handcrafted pieces with special meaning to the congregation, such as an altar table built by a church member, were restored. “They were treasures we had to have,” he said.

“The church has steadily grown and we hope everyone will come and take a look at what we have,” said Washington.

The traditionally black church formed in 1870, soon after the Civil War, near the present location of Maupin’s Fruit Stand on Rt. 250. In 1900 it moved to a building near its present site and in 1955 the present church went up as a cinderblock structure. It was veneered with brick in the 1970s.

“They said this fire would have taken an average church out,” Washington said. “The church didn’t buckle up. It withstood the fire.” It was the second time the church has survived a fire.

Piedmont Baptist Church on Half Mile Branch Road in Yancey Mills.

“It’s beautiful,” said visitors admiringly as they passed the new padded pews, ten rows of them, on carpeted aisles that quiet traffic over the new oak floors. The sanctuary now seats 200. Sunday attendance ranges from 75 to 150 people, Washington said. The graveyard behind the church holds several hundred graves, he said.

Joyce Colemon, a leader at Mt. Salem Gospel Church near Mechums River, came to celebrate too. Piedmont had been her home church growing up.

Charlottesville pianist Art Wheeler came to play gospel songs for the occasion and a crowd of singers formed around the piano. They meant to sing and he meant to play for them.

The fire burned a cross and melted an air conditioning unit. It also cracked the stained glass window that graces the street side of the church. That was also restored. What was formerly a pastor’s study off the choir area was reconfigured to house air-conditioning equipment and a men’s bathroom. The renovation also saw a new sound system installed.

The church is pastored by Rev. Philip Butler, from Richmond, who has served five years. He said he turned over the task of the renovation to the trustees, some of whom have generations-long ties to the church. They knew their business best, as Rev. Butler saw things.

First Lady Joanne Butler and Rev. Philip Butler

The church was gutted in the month following the fire and the congregation returned to using it on January 3 of this year. Meanwhile it worshipped with other churches, especially Crozet Baptist Church, Hillsboro Baptist Church and Victory Hill Church of God. Offers of help came from those churches immediately after the fire, Washington said. The congregation also visited other historically black churches in Brown’s Cove, North Garden and Nelson County.

“It’s been a sort of blessing in terms of the fellowship we gotten that we’ve always wanted,” said Washington. That has been especially important for members of the youth choir, who got to know youth in other churches, he said.

The congregation is growing with newcomers to Crozet, Washington said, and other folks  who are “just drawn to Piedmont.”

The church’s next project is to build a community center on the site of a crumbling old  frame school house across from the church. The idea is to make it a sort of museum, too, about the teachers and students who were there. The church bought the land and built the school there in days when they couldn’t expect help, educational or otherwise, from the county government. The first chapter of the NAACP in Albemarle County formed at Piedmont and one of its youth, Virgil Wood, later reverend, went on to work in the civil rights movement alongside Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

A special Rededication Appreciation Service has been set for April 28 at 3 p.m. “We want to show the firefighters and the construction workers our appreciation for what they did,” explained Washington.

1 COMMENT

  1. Congratulations and a blessed future to this Historic African-American Congregation. I had the opportunity to be invited to their 140th Anniversary Celebration and Worship Service by their late Elder Emeritus, Walter Washington, a service shortly before the tragic fire and his unexpected death after the fire. The members of Piedmont I met that day, and before,. supported me with love and compassion after a horrific auto crash in January 2011, and they continue to be the kindest neighbors I have ever had in the various areas where I have resided. Only after Walter’s death did I learn of his fantastic career and accomplishments – including being an iconic vocalist/performer with black musical groups my family loved but never saw in person. Thus, I suggest the community and church establish a Walter Washington Music Scholarship Fund for future generations of Piedmont Baptist youth – obviously, Walter embellished his musical talents at Piedmont Baptist Church – long may youth there sing with everlasting joy!
    ATT: Editor Mike – I was amazed to learn here of the role of Piedmont’s Reverend Virgil Wood’s role with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and that the first chapter of the NAACP in Albemarle was established at Piedmont Baptist! We need to see that further research is done on it and its members who are now aspiring and prominent individuals scattered across the U.S., as I learned at Walter’s grand funeral of 500+, graciously hosted br Crozet Baptist Church. If I have ever seen a more ecumenical gesture in my life, it was the whole community’s response to the tragic fire. I grew up in a church that burned three times in its history – and like the Piedmont Congregation, I recall that my entire family was always consumed with those arduous rebuilding endeavors. I look forward to attending Piedmont Appreciation Day…and appreciation to the Crozet Gazette and all you do for this area!

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