Church reborn as a house with history

Constructed in 1892, Piedmont Baptist Church was the place of worship for most people who lived in Jenkins Hollow. But by the late 1980s it was dormant and forgotten, its foundation wavering, ceiling sagging and paint peeling.

Now, Piedmont Baptist Church looks vibrant again. Completely renovated, the church is ready for people, but this time it’s ready for people who want to live there.

The shell of the church south of Sperryville looks similar to how it appeared in 1892. But the shell now holds an interior cube containing a kitchen, bathroom, closet, furnace room and plenty of upstairs space.

Historians T. Allen Comp and Selma Thomas spotted the church in the late 1990s, after purchasing a house in Woodville. They immediately thought it would be an exciting challenge to convert it to a living space, while preserving its original integrity.

Comp and Thomas have led a number of renovation projects in the United States. They like the artistic challenge, but they also appreciate the practicality of taking abandoned buildings and making them habitable again.

“Restoring historic buildings saves all the energy embodied in the materials, and puts the piece of property on the tax rolls of the county,” Comp said. “And restoring abandoned Rappahannock County buildings to residential properties also addresses Rappahannock County’s need for good rental housing.”

Now resting on a solid foundation, the freshly painted white building with brown shutters stands unwavering on its small plot. The traditional double doors at the entrance open smoothly to a simple interior that mixes old with new.

The interior walls and floor are freshly painted in neutral tans and white. The antique windows, covered by new energy efficient panes on the outside, give a slightly distorted view to the other side, as old glass often does. A couple of pews sit near the pulpit, which is movable, but might stay, depending on the preference of future occupants.

The problem with Piedmont Baptist Church, Comp said, was that there was no clear deed. After extensive research, Comp met with a group of local Baptist ministers and an attorney to work out the details. Two and a half years later, in 2010, he obtained a clear deed and got to work.

Comp took advantage of the tax credits offered by the county, through the proposed F.T. Valley Rural Historic District.

“We worked within the guidelines of the Virginia Department of Historic Resources to restore the building to its original specs while making it stronger and much more energy-efficient,” he said. “The whole envelope of the building, inside and out — windows, wall, floor — is original. But inside the church ‘box’ is a free-standing cube with everything needed to make it a comfortable space for living.”

The interior still contains elements of church history. Several large dying trees had to be removed around the building to make the area safe. Comp and the builders utilized wood from a chestnut oak and a cherry tree to build the kitchen counter top, staircase, loft and other structural components.

“Using the trees that had to come down anyway was a good use of resources,” Comp said. “Plus, it was fitting to use the wood to build the new parts of the building.”

Comp said it was challenging to make the historic church a residence, but with the help of a historic preservation architect, his wife, and many local workers, the project was very successful.

“This was truly a joint effort with the community,” Comp said. “I wanted to employ people who knew the landscape and utilized traditional methods to make the building, both new parts and existing parts, look like a part of Rappahannock County.”

Luckily, most of the personnel he needed were located in the county, a number of which lived near the church.

“Sometimes neighbors would stop in and say, ‘Got any work for me?’” Comp said that often he could give stoppers-by a job.

One of the local workers with the biggest challenges was builder Jesse Alger, who worked to create the foundation and repair the damage done by the many years of idleness.

“Jesse did a wonderful job,” Comp said. “The ceiling sagged one and a half feet, with no central support, and there was no foundation at all. Now, the church is solid and level, sturdy as any new building would be.”

Comp said he’s already been contacted by some people interested in living in the church, which is ready to rent. And he mentioned that he and his wife are looking for another old building in Rappahannock County to restore.

“I want Rappahannock County to be Rappahannock County,” he said. “I’d like to do my part to maintain the atmosphere of this beautiful area.”

Piedmont Baptist Church is located at 146 Rolling Road, Sperryville. To inquire about renting or for more information, phone Comp at 540-987-7228.