A short history of Saint Luke's Episcopal Church, Pedlar Mills, Virginia.

In 1761 the southern portion of Albemarle County was carved away to form the county of Amherst, which included the portion which would become Nelson County in 1808. At this time was also created the Amherst Parish which would split in 1778 to form the northern Amherst (later Nelson) Parish and the southern parish — then named Lexington Parish.

Little has been found of St. Lukes' origins, although there is speculation the the congregation may date back to Rev. Anthony Gavin, the first known Anglican clergyman to serve in the area. Gavin's successor, the Rev. Robert Rose (died 1751), left a diary which provides a few more hints but still little definitive information about the origins of St. Luke's. To date, the earliest definitive record of St. Luke's has been found in the papers of Alexander Brown (located at William & Mary), in which Brown notes that St. Luke's prayerbook was delivered on July 29, 1770. This would have been close to the time that William Cabell's granddaughter, Elizabeth Horseley, married Roderick McCulloch and their housekeeping set up in the locality that would become known as Pedlar Mills. It has also been found that Lexington Parish sent two representatives to the first General Convention (1785) of the Protestant Episcopal Church of Virginia. These two representatives were Hugh Rose, from St. Mark's, and Roderick McCulloch, the appointed lay reader for St. Luke's. McCulloch had been appointed St. Luke's lay reader in the early 1780s and served on the vestry of Lexington Parish. A note in the parish registry recorded that Major Josiah Ellis was appointed to received subscriptions from the parishioners of the church at Pedlar in 1799.

The original St. Luke’s Church is described as a small frame building upon the upper part of the Pedlar River. The church’s existence was precarious for a time. In 1800, the parish records show a subscription for raising a sum of money for the purpose of repairing the Pedlar Church. Major Josiah Ellis’ great-grandson, Josiah Richard Ellis, later wrote that after a meeting held in a tobacco barn in 1826, it was decided by friends of the church that the wooden chapel should be replaced by a brick church. This was accomplished early in the 1830s during the ministry of the Rev. Silas Freeman.

The church was largely supported by John and Richard Ellis—brothers and merchants at Pedlar Mills—and it was these two men who saw to the completion of the brick structure. After the Civil War, the Rev. Robert J. McBryde came as a deacon to Lexington Parish and became deeply interested in the rebuilding of the aging brick church. The old church was torn down and rebuilt of the same brick under his administration, being completed about 1871 or 1872. On May 11, 1876, St. Luke’s Church was consecrated by the Right Reverend Francis M. Whittle, Assistant Bishop of Virginia. The sentence of Consecration, written and signed in his own bold hand was pasted in the front of the Parish Register.

For the first twenty years of the twentieth century there seems to be little record of the activities of St. Luke’s. In April of 1921, however, the Reverend Josiah Richard Ellis, grandson and grand-nephew of the John and Richard S. Ellis who built the original brick church, took charge of Amherst Parish and conducted services at St. Luke’s. About 1926, during this Rev. Ellis’ ministry, the portico with its tall white columns was added to the front of the church building.

As a small country church, St. Luke’s congregational size dwindled to a point wherein services were held on an erratic and irregular basis. In 2002, the Episcopal Churches of Amherst County (ECAC) held “painting parties” to renovate and refresh the interior of the church, with an eye towards creating a sanctuary which would attract enough parishioners to enable the church to again hold regular services. In the summer of 2005, this dream of regular worship became a reality, with a small group of friends holding weekly worship, with occasional assistance of various supply ministers willing to help committed Christians determined to rebuild the church’s physical and spiritual foundation.


Updated 02/24/2009