Prior to the War Between the States, there was a small number of Presbyterians living in Ashland who worshipped at the Union Church, which occupied the lower floor of the Masonic Building on England Street. Baptists, Methodists, Presbyterians and Episcopalians all worshipped together and alternated in supplying the pulpit.
In 1871 the Episcopalians and the Presbyterians were holding church services together and conducting a union Sunday school. The leader of the Sunday school was a Presbyterian elder, William P. Mayo.
In October 1871, East Hanover Presbytery met at Salem Church in the eastern section of Hanover County. At this meeting, a petition was submitted to organize a church in Ashland. The church was organized with 16 members.
The church was not able to secure a pastor until November 1872, when the Rev. E. T. Baird, D.D., moved to Ashland and was elected to supply the church. Dr. Baird was connected with the Presbyterian Committee of Publications in Richmond.
On October 22, 1872, a committee was appointed to “inquire into the expediency of purchasing a lot for the erection of a church building.” In April 1873, this committee recommended the purchase of seven-tenths of an acre of land for a price of $262.50. The lot, #13, was located at the corner of Virginia and Myrtle streets in Ashland.
On April 25, 1873, a committee of eight members was appointed to collect funds to erect a church and a manse. It should be noted that four members of this committee were women.
The church’s original membership was greatly strengthened in 1872 and 1873 by the addition of nine new members. Among these new members was Mr. James Miller, a Richmond banker, who had been ordained an elder in Second Presbyterian Church, Richmond, before moving his family to Ashland. Mr. Miller was immediately elected an elder in the Ashland church, and it was he who, at a congregational meeting in 1874, moved that “the congregation do at once undertake to erect a church building.” His motion took both faith and confidence since the congregation consisted of only 29 members. The building was begun immediately and was completed within five months. The new church was dedicated on March 14, 1875. The church established its own Sunday school on April 11, 1875.
It is believed that the present vestibule, the small rooms to the right and to the left of the vestibule, and the steeple were erected in 1880. Sunbonnets were in great demand in those days, and the members of the “Circle of Industry” literally made and sold hundreds of them to raise money for the much-desired steeple. One of the original handmade bonnets remains on display in the vestibule, preserved in a shadow box frame.
Today, Ashland Presbyterian Church is a small, vibrant congregation of approximately 100 people. The beautiful, historic church continues to hold worship services at its original location on the corner of Virginia and Myrtle streets. (401 Virginia Street)
Historical information from A Historical Sketch of The Ashland Presbyterian Church, Ashland, Virginia 1871-1971, by Robert Boiling Lancaster
(Above text by Julie V. Tate. From: Ashland, Virginia, 150 Years, 1858-2008, Ashland Sesquicentennial Committee, 2009, p. 24)