Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The Search for Hawksbill Church

Monday afternoon (November 2nd) found me back in Shenandoah County, Virginia - specifically Strasburg, Edinburg, and Luray - in search of that elusive church mentioned in my previous post!

On Wednesday (October 25th) I had made a detour from Shenandoah National Park to Luray, known for its caverns. But that isn't why I went there. I stopped at the library and got some assistance from one of the librarians. I was looking for the location of what in the 1700s and early 1800s was known as the Hoxbiel or Hawksbiel or Hawksbill Church. By 1848, when a new brick building was constructed, it was known as Mount Calvary Lutheran Church. The librarian provided a copy of transcriptions of the church register of baptisms and marriages but it was for a much later time period. But in the preface I learned that even though the congregation disbanded in 1959, the church building still existed and that it was located three miles south of Luray. However, none of the library staff knew where it was located.

The first two pastors that served the Hawksbill congregation were J. C. Stoever (Sr) from 1733-34 and J. C. Stoever (Jr) from 1734-42. They were Johann Caspar Stoever and were my 6th and 5th great-grandfathers, respectively. As stated in the previous post mentioned above, the elder man died at sea in 1739 while returning from a fund raising trip to Europe. The younger Stoever was a traveling pastor visiting and serving several congregations, often at the same time, in Pennsylvania (primarily in what was then Lancaster County, which encompassed a great deal more territory than it does today) and northern Virginia. Much has been written of his exploits and troubles regarding his pastorate and conflicts with his fellow clergymen. There is no way that I can possibly condense it all down so it would make sense in a brief blog post. A fairly complete accounting of his life can be found on pages 51-101 in "Stover-Stoever-Staver- Stiver, An Account of The Ancestry and Descendants of Johann Caspar Stoever of Pennsylvania" by Vernon Stiver & Patricia R. Donaldson, Saline, Michigan, 1992.

The fact that the two Stoevers were both pastor of this church was interesting but not too surprising given the fact that it wasn't all that far from Madison and the Hebron Lutheran Church, albeit on the other side of a mountain range! But what intrigued me more was the fact that another ancestor, 5th great-grandfather, Wilhelm Georg Forster aka William Foster, served as the eighth pastor of the Hawksbill Church from 1798-1806. The Stoevers are ancestors on my Dad's side of the family and William Foster is on my Mother's side.

I took the main road south from Luray (Business Route U.S. 340) thinking there might be a sign pointing the way. I got excited when I saw a sign for Hawksbill Primitive Baptist Church, until it sank in that it was a Baptist Church! I did stop at a gas station along the way, but no one there knew anything about Mount Calvary Lutheran Church, which wasn't surprising since it had closed in 1959. For another hour, I aimlessly drove along the back roads of the valley, hoping for some good luck but finding none, and not finding the church.

While staying with my aunt that weekend I spent some time at Panera Bread using their free WiFi (thank you very much – my aunt has dial-up access, sloooow) and found a pdf file which is an application for the National Register of Historic Places and which provided an exact location for Mount Calvary Church. I really wasn't concerned with finding the actual church so much as just wanting to see where it was located. The building itself held no meaning for me since it was built long after the Stoevers and Fosters were there.

To make a long story short, I returned to Luray after I left my aunt's place and found the church, sort of. I briefly saw the building through the trees high on a hill at the base of a mountain on a narrow, winding dirt road where there was no place to stop without blocking the road completely. I did see a dirt road (more like a trail) that led up the hill, but it was deeply rutted and overgrown and there was no way I was going to attempt to drive my van on it. I also chose not to walk up the trail since it was rather remote and rugged terrain. And I didn't get any pictures either. But I did satisfy my curiosity. It was really out in the middle of nowhere. Now and even moreso back then.

While pastor of Hawksbill, Wilhelm Foster also served as pastor of the Hebron Lutheran Church in Hampshire County, Virginia (now part of West Virginia) from 1797-1803. It is located on West Virginia route 259 between Capon Lake and Intermont (Photograph on wikipedia). And yes, I did make the drive and went to see where this church was located.

In 1796, Wilhelm Forster had purchased 289 ½ acres of land located on the "drains of Bauman Mill Run" outside of Strasburg, Virginia. It was from this central location that he served these two congregations. Strasburg is located midway between the Shenandoah and Blue Ridge Mountains, just below the northern end of Massanutten Mountain, which divides the Shenandoah Valley.

To get to Hawksbill he had to go over a portion of Massanutten. To get to the Hebron Church in Hampshire County, he had to cross over the Shenandoah Mountains. Both churches are about a distance of 25-30 miles from Strasburg. Over the mountains, through the rivers and forests. A distance that took me far less than an hour to travel probably took him several days. By spending the time to drive through the valley and over the mountains to locate the churches, I gained a greater appreciation for these pioneer ancestors.

Oh, and I also obtained the signature of Wilhelm Georg Forster. It was on the land record where he and his wife Magdalene were selling the land they had purchased in 1796. (Shenandoah County Deed Book Q page 43) They sold the land on July 4, 1807 prior to their move to Fairfield (now Perry) County, Ohio. In 1805 Wilhelm had been appointed as a traveling preacher in the Ohio district known as "New Pennsylvania" which included Fairfield (Perry), Muskingum, Pickaway and Ross counties.

1 comment:

Deez said...

I've been following your blog for awhile...please accept the Kreativ Blogger Award