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Last updated on April 16, 2014 at 21:24 EDT

Storied History

August 17, 2008

By KRYS STEFANSKY

By Krys Stefansky

The Virginian-Pilot

Virginia Beach

First, the pronunciation.

“Nimmo” has a short “i” sound – “nih-mo,” not “nee-mo.” It is a family name, long heard in Princess Anne County.

Since it was built in 1791, Nimmo United Methodist Church with the short “i” has been known to generations of Beach folks as the white frame building that marks the turn to the city’s southern parts – Pungo and Sandbridge – and has a big Christmas tree sale each year.

But there’s more to Nimmo’s long history than that.

Methodism established itself in Princess Anne County some years before Nimmo came to be. The faithful met in each other’s homes or barns. Circuit riders – ministers on horseback – occasionally dropped in to provide leadership and sermons.

Then, in the early spring of 1791, a local resident named Anne Nimmo deeded an acre to the Society of Members of the Methodist Episcopal Church . She lived on a farm about a mile from the property she offered for five shillings.

“Look at the flourish in her signature,” said Susan Kellam, Nimmo’s historian, as she examined a copy of the document in a binder filled with bits of church history. “This was not a woman who sat on the back row.”

The property she sold was at the fork of two roads; one leg led east to Sandbridge, the other led north.

Almost immediately, the congregation, mostly farmers from the surrounding area, set to work building their meetinghouse. They constructed a plain, single-story, rectangular structure with double doors at the west end, six windows with muntins dividing clear panes of glass, plaster walls on the inside and clapboard siding on the outside. The floor inside the Federal-style structure was random- width pine. The pews might have had high, straight backs in the style of the time, or they might have been simple benches.

At any rate, Kellam joked, “Comfort was not good for your religious soul.”

In winter, a stove in the middle of the open room took away the chill.

“In the Methodist discipline, it says that the church should be no fancier than necessary. Just a simple structure.”

As time passed, around 1840, the church’s landowning members added seating to their little frame church.

They built a balcony, called a gallery, into the back of the sanctuary so their slaves had a place to sit and worship.

Then, during the Civil War, the area surrounding the church in Princess Anne County fell under the control of Federal troops. An entry about that era in an old registry of pastors still touches Kellam: It says no ministers were sent from 1862 to 1864 because of the war.

Instead, the church was used to house Federal soldiers and served as a Federal hospital for the wounded.

“The Yankees marched down London Bridge Road and routed the Southern forces. They ran down to the North Carolina border,” Kellam said. “There was no big battle here, so the building was not used very much. The Yankees just left.”

Before they did, Federal soldiers carved names and initials into the posts of the gallery. The marks are still there, hidden by wood molding.

The building served its congregation for 80 years until, in 1872, it was time for major repairs – painting, revarnishing of pews and new cushions. At that time, the congregation also received a marble baptismal font given by another member of the Nimmo family, Evelyn Nimmo.

Twenty years later, the congregation made substantial changes to the sanctuary.

A seam in the floor still shows where square footage was added to the front of the church. It is hidden in a box where Nimmo’s piano now rests.

The congregation began enjoying musical accompaniment in 1884, when the Rev. Josiah D. Hank’s wife proved able to play, Kellam said.

“Before that, whenever it was time, George Flanagan would stand up and start the hymn on pitch, and everyone would join in.”

At that time, an altar rail was built to define a raised preaching platform. And a new, coved ceiling, higher than the original, gave the space today’s airy feel.

The congregation built a copper-topped steeple at the west end of the church with a vestibule below. At some point, decorative brackets were installed under the eaves, suggesting Italianate style.

In the 1900s, the church had outgrown the Sunday school spaces that had been squeezed into the back of the sanctuary, the gallery and a tiny room in midsteeple. So a social hall was added, creating Colonial revival-style wings on either side of the structure, followed by breezeways that were eventually enclosed.

Since the church’s beginning, women sat on one side during Sunday services, men on the other. The practice, Kellam said, continued until as recently as the 1950s.

In 1962, Colonial-style, raised-panel box pews were installed in the nave, and some remaining straight-backed pews were moved to the gallery.

Outside the church, beyond the front lawn, a cemetery was growing. It had begun with the burial of Laura Murden in 1910. Today, older graves, moved over the years from family plots on farms throughout Princess Anne County, form a virtual roster of the area’s longtime citizens. A brochure of the church’s history reads, “Residents of present day developments such as Ocean Lakes, Upton Estates, Red Mill Farms, Courthouse Forest and others will find the previous owners of their land here.”

One of them, Anna Gordon Kellam, stitched the needlepoint kneelers at the base of the altar rail. She completed them with her sister’s help in 1983 in memory of her husband, James G. Kellam.

After the women finished the cushions, decorated with fruits and grains mentioned in the Bible, they sealed leftover wool yarn in all the colors they used into the bottom of one of the kneelers. It is there in case one ever needs repair.

“It’s very conceited,” Kellam said abashedly as she admired the sea of tiny stitches, “but when I go into a church, I always check the kneelers.”

Today, Nimmo’s copper steeple has turned dusty green. Thick layers of paint form scales on the beaded siding. Four ceiling fans whir gently overhead during Sunday services, and light streams through blue and yellow panes of glass in the laddered muntins of the sanctuary’s tall windows.

“I’m absolutely charmed whenever I walk in,” said Kellam, who has been coming to church here since her marriage in 1962. “It’s so down to earth and Colonial.”

Krys Stefansky, (757) 446-2732, krys.stefansky@pilotonline.com

upcoming events

Blessing of the Animals Sunday at 8:45 a.m. service; leashed or caged animals welcome.

MOMS Club, support and social gathering for mothers, meets the first Monday of each month at 10 a.m.; children welcome.

United Methodist Men meets second Monday of each month at 7 p.m.

Disciple 3 Bible study for 32 weeks on Tuesdays, beginning Sept. 2, from 9 to 11:30 a.m.

Bible study Thursdays at 9:30 a.m. beginning Sept. 4.

Boy Scouts, Troop 791, meets every Thursday at 7 p.m.

United Methodist Women, three circles: the second Monday of each month at noon, the first Monday at 7 p.m. and the second Thursday at 7:30 p.m.

Annual Christmas tree sale by United Methodist Men beginning the first Saturday after Thanksgiving.

Children’s Christmas Eve service at 5 p.m., with puppets.

Christmas Eve service, 7 p.m.; at 11 with candlelight communion.

Built 1791

Where 2200 Princess Anne Road, Virginia Beach

Membership 500 people

Pastor Rev. Clark Cundiff

Contact (757) 427-1765, or www.nimmochurch.org

Worship Sundays at 8:45 and 11 a.m. Sunday School at 10 a.m. Events

Blessing of the Animals Sunday at 8:45 a.m. service. Leashed or caged animals welcome.

MOMS Club, support and social gathering for mothers, meets the first Monday each month at 10 a.m. Children welcome.

United Methodist Men meet second Monday each month at 7 p.m.

Disciple 3 Bible Study for 32 weeks on Tuesdays, beginning Sep. 2, from 9 to 11:30 a.m.

Bible Study Thursdays at 9:30 a.m. beginning Sep. 4.

Boy Scouts, Troop 791, every Thursday evening at 7 p.m.

United Methodist Women, 3 different circles: the second Monday each month at noon, the first Monday at 7 p.m. or the second Thursday at 7:30 p.m.

Annual Christmas tree sale by United Methodist Men beginning on the first Saturday after Thanksgiving.

Children’s Christmas Eve service at 5 p.m., with puppets.

Christmas Eve service, 7 p.m. At 11 p.m. with candlelight communion.

Originally published by BY KRYS STEFANSKY.

(c) 2008 Virginian – Pilot. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All rights Reserved.