St. George’s Church located in Hurkamp Park?

In an alternate history line St. George’s could have been the owner of Hurkamp Park land and be worshiping there with ample acreage for expansion.  Our address could have been on Prince Edward rather than Princess Anne. The disarray surrounding events – the Revolution War and the aftermath of the dissolution of the established church – as well a lack of record keeping prevented this scenario from materializing.

The first church built in Fredericksburg was by action of the Vestry of St. George’s Parish at a meeting on March 13, 1732. The 60×24 foot wooden church may have been completed in 1735 when the sexton was first paid or as late as 1741 as some historians have indicated.  The local economy was expanding with a good tobacco crop and new trading connections to the west, particularly Staunton. In 1753, an addition was added on the North side of St. George’s the full width and 32′ in length making a T-shaped building. A bell was given that year and a steeple added. In 1759, a gallery was erected in the West end of the Church.

By this time, however, the local economy was in slipping into a depression exacerbated by drought in 1755 which led to a severe depression 1755-58. The Vestry went through its largest turnover in 1754 with 8 new members. Also challenging was a new law in Virginia. In 1755 the Assembly passed a law requiring a poorhouse to be established. The church eventually sold land and rented it back for this purpose.

The economy recovered but the major issue in the 1760’s was a possible division in the parish. By 1769, St. George’s Parish was divided between St. George’s in the north and a new parish Berkeley in the south. We don’t know the reason but it was requested by St. George’s. On the one hand it was difficult to justify since it would increase the tax burdens of parishioners which was also supporting a poorhouse.  Maybe there was a disagreement among leaders over handling these issues?

There were also specific St. George’s issues. The church may have been too small more than 30 years after is construction. There was also a need to enclose the property. The Vestry at the time did not meet in the church or generally in the government building but in homes. Was this due to space though it was rare for all 12 members to show up for a meeting which were help infrequently

In 1770, the church was repaired and a gallery erected in the new addition. Two years later, they ordered the Church wardens purchase 100 acres of land “convenient to the new Church for the use of the Poor and that they erect new buildings thereof.”  Was this for a new church?  To pay for this they ordered the wardens to sell land presumably for this purchase and/or to handle internal expansion.

In the early 1770’s St. George’s not only owned the current ½ acre property but another ½ acre extending to Caroline Street.  Our entire block was delegated to governmental and church use. Along with a government building for the block and the church was a planned graveyard. St. George’s cemetery was intended as a city/church graveyard since there was no other.   Our earliest grave is John Jones from 1752.

The main asset of the church was land. As the minutes testify in 1772 “the present church yard is very inconveniently situated.”  The land leading down to Caroline Street was too hilly and not suitable for expansion of the graveyard.  We do know they saw the grave yard as “filled” and the prospects of building a new church on the increasingly sloping ground daunting. The latter was probably closer to the truth as the church never used the property near Caroline for graves.  

The procedure was to petition the General Assembly of Virginia.  The Assembly granted the request in February 1772 which gave the Vestry the right to dispose of land that had not been used as a graveyard (the back side property leading to Caroline Street) as long as an additional burial plot would be obtained in another location. The Vestry ordered it sold in Nov 11, 1774. By Feb., 1776, the parcel to Caroline Street was sold in 3 parcels – Alexander Blair, Lewis Willis and George Thornton.   However, the proceeds of the land sale of 390 pounds were lost during the Revolutionary War.

In November 15, 1773 the Vestry ordered a purchase “a square of lotts  in the Town of Fredericksburg” to for the use of the Parish to erect a church “when thought convenient.”   In Nov., 1774, 100 pounds was on the books to pay Fielding Lewis for the 4 lot square bounded by William, Prince Edward and George Streets and then the back boundary of the town (about hallway between Prince Edward and Liberty Streets).  Lewis has bought 861 acres from the Royston Family in 1752, the core of a 1,322-acre plantation that would become Kenmore. Among the acreage was 1 block past Prince Edward Street. The 4 lots were 137,138,139,140.  There are no deeds found to support the transaction.    Historian Robert Hodge has concluded this was the basis for the new burying ground for the city and church intended by the General Assembly action though records are lacking to establish it.  In 1774, 10,000 pounds of tobacco were to be levied toward building a new church in Fredericksburg. 

The city position was not to allow it. In 1787 the city organized a committee to create a petition “for a division of Saint George Parish and for vesting the property of the old Church together with the new burying ground in the Town of Fredericksburg in Corporation.”  One of the men on the committee was future President James Monroe.  The petition was organized advertised but there is no evidence the Assembly acted on it.

Possibly it was not necessary to act upon it. In 1785 the church was disestablished and the  “Protestant Episcopal Church” created. The church was in a weak position – it had no minister. Funds were lacking to take up an older issue – to enclose the church yard. Still in 1788 they talked about an addition on the south side (George Street side) reiterating that the “church being too small for the congregation.”

In any case the city did consider this the “new burying ground” and from 1787-1853 it was known as the “corporation burying ground.” There is also no deed transfer found transferring the property to the city and no compensation to St. George’s for the 4 lots.

The effects of disestablishing the church and building up a “Protestant Episcopal Church” would leave not funds for expansion. The church was in period of decline after being the established church. It was economic, social and fed by a gradual decline of parishioners. (Rev. Edward McGuire noted in 1813 that were few here (12)- he described being received by people “with very little cordiality” and that many people had been “driven from the church” and those that remained were “discouraged.)  There was a succession of ministers – 6 between 1788 and 1813 with no ministry in 1807

Other parties were interested in land this burying ground. In 1801, there was a Methodist Meeting House on a lot facing George between the Church property and Liberty Street. The city realized better boundary markings were needed. In 1811, the Council authorized $400 for enclosing the new burying ground. This was a wooden fence that soon deteriorated. In 1824 a brick wall was built separating the burying ground from the Methodist church property and a brick coping added 5 years later.  That wall is still visible on the back side of the Park separating the Park from the Coldwell Banker property and was the western boundary of Fredericksburg from 1759-1852.

Meanwhile without this property a new church was built in 1815 on the existing site. On Oct 18, 1815, the Virginia Herald reported the consecration of the 2nd Church on Sunday, Oct. 15, 1815 by Bishop Channing Moore. “The occasion brought together a larger congregation than was ever witnessed in this place.” 

The city wanted the Church to begin using the new property. However, since the city was expanding George Street, the city took the step in 1815 to recommend that St. George’s no longer permit burials in the original graveyard in deference to this new property.  Perhaps St. Georgians were being buried under George Street.

Meanwhile what we know as Hurkamp Park was not well maintained as a graveyard with damages cited in the papers to the walls and cattle and hogs having free reign in the cemetery.  Apparently the city closed the cemetery in 1853 after years of neglect. 25 tombstones were eventually found – all the known burials between 1774-1853 and transferred to City Cemetery but the bodies remained.  Were these St. Georgians? Skeleton remains still were found at the original site when work was done on the property.

What was the church’s reaction to these events? Our Vestry minutes from 1817 to 1865 have been lost as they were transferred to Richmond and presumed burned in early 1865. However, using city records, in 1860, the wardens petitioned the Council to show what right they had to the cemetery and if they could not produce the evidence, then the Hurkamp property should be surrendered to the church. Some legal research was done but the motion “laid on the table” or set aside and never acted upon and thus died by the next meeting. So ended the church’s hope for a new property on which to build a new church and graveyard.

Today the property is known as Hurkamp Park. It was named after John Hurkamp, a German Immigrant, a tanner and currier by trade, who cleaned up the property and served Council and helped to manage the property. His efforts led to the development of the park which was named after him in the 1881 dedication.