– By Andrea Gaines
Historic preservation takes place one person at a time, or, in the case of Loudoun residents Paul and Lee Lawrence, two people at a time.
Over the last several years the couple has purchased and protected four historic properties in the area, including the Mountville Methodist Episcopal Church South building, an old enslaved laborers structure in Upperville and a farm and abandoned house that was once part of a tiny spot no longer on our maps … a place called Circleville. They have also put hundreds of acres of land under conservation easement.
Theirs is a model that preserves properties in place to forever remember what happened where and when … clearing brush and other obvious signs of neglect, restoring stone, stucco and structure, repairing lighting and uncovering what has been walled over.
History … can be raw. But, when the details of a particular property are laid out before us, we see both the struggles people went through, and the beauty and hope they experienced as they endured hardships in search of a better future.
The Lawrences seem to understand this. They are passionate about all of western Loudoun, and in particular its history and historic places.
The Circleville farmland and house was one of several original Quaker settlements in the area. As abolitionists, Quakers limited the size of their farms to properties that could be successfully run without slave labor. And, members of this particular Quaker community helped the local black community build one of the first legal black churches in Virginia – Grace Methodist Episcopal Church in the nearby village of Lincoln. Nelson Talbot Gant, a slave born on the Woodburn estate near Leesburg and freed by order of his owner’s last will and testament, won a landmark case that enabled him to buy his wife’s freedom with the help of this Quaker community.
The Mountville Church is located approximately 3 miles southeast of Circleville. Ezekial Mount, for whom the village of Mountville was named, worshiped at this church along with his slaves, who were restricted to the balcony above the church sanctuary. We have Mount to thank for the sharp dogleg curve Snickersville Turnpike takes as it winds past old Mountville and heads south toward Aldie and Rt. 50. Mount moved a single apple tree from his farm into the planned path of the road, and the state, prohibited from running roads through any and all “orchards,” was forced to send Snickersville Turnpike around it.
The simple log cabin-type structure Lee Lawrence saved from probable demolition, sits on a rock embankment on Rt. 50 just as you leave the Village of Upperville. Perhaps the people who used it for shelter, or a place to warm themselves by a fire knew some of the people who worshiped with Mount. Maybe they had heard the story of the apple tree that altered the course of a road, or a man named Gant and his struggle to win his wife’s freedom.
These are the snippets of history the Lawrences hope will remain in our consciousness, thanks to the investments in historic preservation they have made; preserving in place what happened at Circleville, the church in Mountville and the old structure on an obscure rock embankment outside of Upperville.
Paul and Lee Lawrence were recognized as Preservationists of the Year in 2016 by the Loudoun Preservation Society and the Loudoun County Joint Architectural Review Board. The Mountville MECS restoration project was the recipient of a Loudoun County Design Cabinet “Signatures of Loudoun Design Excellence Award,” in the makeover category, in 2017.
Our reward is being able to drive or walk or ride our horses by Circleville, the slave quarters and the church in Mountville, and know something of what happened there.
Thank you, Lee and Paul, for all that you do. Thank you.
Paul Lawrence serves as counsel to the law firm of Waters Kraus & Paul, with a legal practice focusing on class action and whistleblower litigation. Lee Lawrence edited, annotated, and published the book entitled “Dark Days in Our Beloved Country: The Civil War Diary of Catherine Hopkins Broun,” is working on a second book and has written extensively about the abolition efforts of Quakers in the nearby village of Lincoln.