Old Stone Presbyterian Church
Backstory and Context
Built in 1796, and added onto just 34 years later in 1830, Old Stone Presbyterian Church is believed to be one of the oldest church buildings in continuous use west of the Allegheny Mountains. It has many unique features including its open cupola belfry and its limestone construction. Its 22 inch thick walls are believed to have been constructed by both the men and women of the congregation. History says the women rode “horseback to the Greenbrier River to fetch bags of sand for the mortar” (*1).
The stone inscription above the front door reads “This building was erected in the year 1796 at the expense of a few of the first inhabitants of this land to commemorate their affection & esteem for the holy gospel of JESUS CHRIST. Reader if you are inclined to applaud their virtues, give God the glory” (*2).
The Lewisburg Presbyterian Church congregation (to be later known as the Old Stone Presbyterian Church) was formed in 1783 by Reverend John McCue and later pastored by Reverend Benjamin Grigsby until 1808. Dr. John McElhenney then took over the church and remained the pastor for 63 years until he died in 1871.
McElhenney and his wife also began education efforts in the community by creating the Lewisburg Academy which later became the Lewisburg Female Institute (as well as the Lewisburg Seminary, and the Greenbrier College for Women) and the Greenbrier Military Academy (Greenbrier Military School) (*3).
The Old Stone Church building remained unharmed during the Civil War thanks to its use as an emergency hospital. Both Union and Confederate troops also used the Church for lodging.
After the Battle of Lewisburg, on May 23, 1862, fallen Confederate troops were laid in the sanctuary of the Church after Union Col. George Crooks refused to allow services to take place. His actions were a way to seek revenge for a Confederate supporter shooting a Union solider who was returning to camp. The dead Confederate soldiers were later laid out in a trench along the south wall of the church. After the war, these troops were moved to a cross-shaped mass grave off the grounds of the Church (to later be named the Confederate Cemetery of Lewisburg).
The Old Stone Presbyterian Church still holds weekly worship services and is open to the community. The church houses both daycare and preschool programs and is involved in community outreach through its food bank. Friends of the Old Stone Cemetery is a non-profit organization dedicated to restoring and preserving the cemetery adjacent to the church. The cemetery is a burial ground for many of Lewisburg's founding influential people.
*1 (church history); http://www.wvencyclopedia.org/articles/1753 *2 (Inscribed stone); http://www.wvgenweb.org/greenbrier/cemetery/old_stone_church.html *3 (Greenbrier College for Women); http://www.wvencyclopedia.org/articles/2165 Vertical Files Box #9 (Churches-Methodist Ministers TO Cities-Athens WV). Folder: Presbyterian. Newsletter-Winter issue 1969. Page 7. Background information of church with photo. Located in Marshall University Special Collections.