Preservation Virginia deems Surry church ruins endangered

Published 9:30 am Wednesday, May 15, 2024

The ruins of an 18th century Surry County church made Preservation Virginia’s list of the most endangered historic sites in the state.

The nation’s oldest statewide preservation nonprofit, founded in 1889 as the Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities, releases an annual list in May of sites across the state facing demolition or neglect.

This year’s list includes the Lower Surry Church, also known as Surry’s Old Brick Church, Lawnes Creek Parish Church and Lower Church Southwark Parish.

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According to Preservation Virginia’s website, the parish was first established on Hogg Island and later moved to the current location near Bacon’s Castle. The ruins represent the second church constructed on the site in 1754.

The Allen family of the circa-1665 Bacon’s Castle manor house, located less than a mile from the church, had a long association with the site, according to Preservation Virginia. After the Revolutionary War, the church was used by various denominations before being abandoned sometime after 1847 and was destroyed by fire in 1868.

In 2003, winds from Hurricane Isabel caused a tree to crush sections of the ruins. Initial repairs made after the hurricane “may be causing further damage to the historic fabric,” states a Preservation Virginia email. 

In the months following the storm, the walls were rebuilt to some extent, but since that time, an ongoing concern has been the deterioration of the bricks,” said Dianna Keen, who’s spearheading an effort to preserve the ruins. “Numerous ‘remedies’ have been attempted since that time: certain sealants and/or coatings, but nothing has proven effective.”

Keen is descended from the Warren family, which owned Bacon’s Castle for three generations, beginning in 1876, prior to its deeding to Preservation Virginia.

“Our reason for applying for this list through Preservation Virginia was to gain from their resources regarding historic buildings to learn exactly what will preserve the bricks and protect them from further damage,” Keen said. “So at this point, we don’t know what the answer will be. But I feel that being named to this list brings us one step closer to the solution.”

Preservation Virginia maintains nearly 500 historic sites across the state, including Bacon’s Castle and the circa-1761 Smith’s Fort manor house in Surry County.