Sinking Spring Presbyterian Church
The Sinking Spring Presbyterian Church traces its roots back to the early 1770s, with the early settlement of Southwest Virginia and contributed to the course of Abingdon’s history. The congregation initially met in a rudimentary log building in the present-day Sinking Spring Cemetery and led by the famous “Fightin’ Parson” Rev. Charles Cummings. Throughout the course of the congregation’s history, it has occupied five different buildings. The current building on E. Main Street that houses the Sinking Spring Presbyterian Church was constructed and dedicated on December 21, 1890. The Sinking Spring Presbyterian Church was designated a Virginia Landmark on December 2, 1969 and added to the National Register of Historic Places on February 26, 1970.
Backstory and Context
To speak of Abingdon’s history, is to speak of the Sinking Spring Presbyterian Church. Along with the first settlers in present-day Abingdon came their Presbyterianism. Established during the early-1770s, the Sinking Spring Presbyterian Church consisted of a small congregation who met in a small log building in the present-day Sinking Springs Cemetery. The famous Revolutionary Patriot Rev. Charles Cummings, the “Fightin’ Parson,” led the congregation in Abingdon. The congregation grew enough during that decade that a new house of worship was constructed during the 1780s. The second church was another log structure also located in the Sinking Spring Cemetery. The congregation held services in their second building until the early-1830s when a third and much larger brick building was erected on Main Street. After changing hands a few times, this third house of worship became the present-day Barter Theatre.
However, a schism developed within the Presbyterian Church of the United States of America during the 1830s. The New School-Old School Controversy, as it came to be known, centered on the application of revivalism and traditional orthodoxy. The Old School called for the traditional Calvinism orthodoxy and rejected any sort of revivalism, while the New School supported the adoption of revivalism and reconstructionism. To add further separation, the church also split along the issue of slavery into northern and southern churches. This religious split occurred within the Sinking Spring Presbyterian Church in 1837. The Old School group remained in the Barter building, while the New School constructed a new church further now East Main Street. Dedicated in 1851, the New School’s house of worship became the fourth church building for Sinking Spring. After 28 years apart, the two Presbyterian congregations reunited on April 9, 1865 during a sermon led by the New School pastor Rev. James McChain, the same day that General Robert E. Lee surrendered at Appomattox.
The Postbellum Sinking Spring Presbyterian Church was quiet and prosperous. During the late 1880s, the fourth church building was demolished to make room for the fifth and current church building. During a ceremony on December 21, 1890, the fifth church was formally dedicated. Two major renovations of the church took place in 1974 and 2004. The Sinking Spring Presbyterian Church was designated a Virginia Landmark on December 2, 1969 and added to the National Register of Historic Places on February 26, 1970.
Division of Historic Landmarks Staff. National Register of Historic Places Inventory - Nomination Form. Virginia Department of Historic Resources. September 17, 1986. April 4, 2019. https://www.dhr.virginia.gov/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/140-0039_Abingdon_HD_Extension_1986_Final_NR_Nomination.pdf.
Abingdon Historic District. Virginia Main Street Communities: A National Register of Historic Places Travel Itinerary. April 4, 2019. https://www.nps.gov/nr/travel/vamainstreet/abingdon.htm.