Mt Vernon UMC 107 West Main St Danville VA

History of Mount Vernon United Methodist Church

Mount Vernon was 125 years old in October of 2009. Starting in October 2008, each month an article in the newsletter looked at a decade in the history of our church. These articles were heavily based on the careful documentation of our church history provided by members Dr. Pauline Coll and Dr. Margaret Lanham, and we offer a special thank you to them.  

OUR FIRST DECADE (1884-1894)

Methodism first appeared in Danville in 1832 at Wilson Street Methodist Episcopal Church. By 1865 the Wilson Street building was no longer adequate and two churches were formed – Main Street Episcopal Church South and Lynn Street Church.

Although the Lynn Street Church was built in 1872, within twelve years the members of the Lynn Street Church realized that the area was becoming commercial and that many of the church members had moved into neighborhoods located in the western part of Danville. In 1884 the trustees were authorized to sell the Lynn Street property and to purchase property near the forks of Main Street.

The architect for the new church building was A. L. Carson, and a local contractor, Thomas B. Fitzgerald, began work on the new building.

The cornerstone was laid in a Masonic ceremony on Oct. 30, 1884, with an address by the Rev. S. S. Lambeth. The cornerstone contains copies of that day’s newspapers, coins minted in 1884, an almanac, a copy of the Methodist appointments for 1884, business cards, a record of the churches in the Danville District, photographs, a copy of the Christian Advocate, the names of city and church leaders, and a 1884-85 course catalog of the Danville College for Young Ladies (later to become Stratford College).

The Lynn Street charge was dissolved and the Mount Vernon charge was established at the annual conference in November, 1884. The name was chosen to honor George Washington and because it was the name of the architect’s home church in Baltimore. There were 100 charter members of the new church, and services were first held at Mount Vernon the first Sunday in March, 1885.

Rev. John E. Edwards began his tenure as our church’s first pastor on Dec. 22, 1884. Services were held at the Danville College for Young Ladies until construction of the church was completed. Although Edwards was in his seventies, he provided spiritual leadership, effective preaching, and ministry to the congregation that enabled the young church to thrive … for a salary of $1,600, plus rent of the parsonage and furniture for $450! However, the growing church was lucky to have $15 or $20 to pay him each week and worked to “catch up” on his salary before each annual conference!

A large room was ready by late March in 1885, and was used for services, Sunday school, meetings, and the Women’s Missionary Society. By October a large bell weighing 1,390 pounds was presented to the church by Major William D. Bethell. The bell continues to hang in the belfry and can be heard on most Sunday mornings and after funerals and weddings.

Three dedication services were held on Sunday, Jan. 17, 1886 – morning, afternoon, and evening! The morning dedicatory sermon was preached by Bishop A. W. Wilson of Baltimore, the afternoon service held by Rev. S. S. Lambeth, and the evening service preached by Rev. W. F. Tillett. Additional dedicatory services were led by Rev. J. W. Bledson and Dr. T. McN. Simpson on Monday and Tuesday evenings.

Through the commitment of the charter members and leadership of Edwards, the entire cost of the church building was paid by Annual Conference time in 1888. The Sunday school, Women’s Missionary Society, and church membership continued to increase, as did the offerings collected for missions.

At the annual conference in 1888, Rev. L. B. Betty was appointed to Mount Vernon at a salary of $1,350 plus the rental of the parsonage at $450. Betty was concerned that only half of the members (some 200) of the church were attending Sunday school, and he worked hard to involve the children in the educational ministries of the church. During his first year as pastor at Mount Vernon, his four-year-old son died. During his tenure there were persistent roof leaks and gutter problems in the building, furnace problems, and needed organ repairs. However, Betty was dedicated to the congregation and spent much time visiting the sick and conducting revivals. He provided the spiritual leadership that nurtured members of the congregation to minister to one another. By the end of his tenure in 1891, church membership had increased to 302.

Rev. J. B. Hunter became Mount Vernon’s third pastor in November 1891. During his tenure, a society for the young men of the church was organized, and over two hundred books were purchased for the Sunday school library.

Rev. B. F. Lipscomb was appointed as pastor of Mount Vernon in November 1893. He continued to improve the Sunday school by meeting with the teachers weekly and was pleased that Sunday school enrollment had increased. During his tenure extensive repairs were made to the organ.

Mount Vernon was fortunate during its first decade to have visionary congregational leaders and spiritual ministerial leadership. In ten years, church membership had increased to 384 and Sunday school enrollment was at 266, and the members of the church were evolving as leaders in Danville.


In 1885 the church rented the Langhorne house as the parsonage for $320 a year. Built in 1874, the house was a Victorian cottage on the corner of Main Street and Broad. The Langhornes had lived there until the early 1880s. Two Langhorne daughters would become wildly famous: Irene, who personified her painter-husband's "Gibson Girl," and Nancy, who married Waldorf Astor and became Viscountess Astor, the first woman to serve in the British House of Commons.



To the Second Decade


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July 2011