The land for the new church came from the estate of Bevan D. Pitts. Leonard P. Sale and Dandridge Sale stated that Pitts desired to donate one acre of land “for the purpose of erecting thereon a Protestant Episcopal Church.” The land was sold to St. Anne’s Parish in 1860 for one dollar. Construction on St. Matthew’s Church began in 1861 and Rev. Edward Brown McGuire reported that the building would soon be complete. However, the Civil War suspended construction on the church until 1865, when work began again on the edifice. St. Matthew’s was officially consecrated on May 5, 1870 by Bishop John Jones, the Rev. Dr. Charles Goodrich, then rector of St. Anne’s Parish, and the Rev. William Friend.
St. Matthew’s Church served Episcopalians in Essex County for 100 years. St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church is demonstrative of the revival of the Episcopal Church that occurred in the early-to mid-nineteenth century. The Anglican Church dominated every aspect of life for the citizens of colonial Virginia. However, the victory by the colonists during the Revolutionary War resulted in the dis-establishment of the Anglican Church in this country. More evangelical faiths like Baptist and Methodist were gaining in popularity in post-Revolutionary War Virginia. In addition, many citizens of Virginia resented the Anglican Church because of its British orientation and the belief that it favored the upper or gentry class. The Anglican Church experienced a revival in the early-nineteenth century that sparked renewed interest in the faith, as well as church building. St. Matthew’s, whose construction began in 1861, was a result of this revival.
The architecture of St. Matthew’s reflects that found in earlier colonial churches, harking back to the hey day of the Anglican Church in Virginia. By the mid-twentieth century, St. Matthew’s role in St. Anne’s Parish began to wane and the last church service held in the building was the funeral of R. Bland Beverley in 1957. On October 7, 1970, Bishop Samuel B. Chilton, the Rev. Ralph E. Fall, and eight members of Vauter’s Episcopal Church witnessed the reading of the “Sentence of De-Consecration of St. Matthew’s Church.”
That same month, St. Anne’s Parish sold the property to Herman Purcell. He converted St. Matthew’s Church to a
general store called the Old Church Store. He owned the property until his death in 1987, when his sons Raymond E.
Purcell and Warren W. Purcell inherited the property. That same year, Raymond and Warren Purcell sold the property to George R. and Jennifer J. Acree, the current owners.
The building was blessed by Rev. Joseph C. Gardner. From 1991 to 1993, the building was used for a Floral & Gift Outlet as a business partnership between Drucilla Acree-Jeter and Jennifer J. Acree. In October 2003, the Board of Historic Resources placed St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church on the Virginia Landmarks Register and in January 2004, the property was entered in the National Register of Historic Places and listed by the United States Department of the Interior, National Park Service. St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church is currently a place of business for vintage collectibles and antiques with an online store at www.oldchurchstore.etsy.com.
Directions From Tappahannock:
North on Rt. 17. 15miles to Champlain. Right at Rte. 631 and left at St. Matthew’s Church Road (Rte. 724).