WHERE WASHINGTON HAD A PEW “AT THE UPPER PART OF THE CHURCH”
George Washington was chosen one of the vestrymen of Fairfax parish in 1764, when this was formed by the division of Truro parish, although he was already a vestryman in Pohick Church at Truro.
The records of the new parish show that in 1766 it was decided to build Christ Church at Alexandria, and a second church at the Falls of the Potomac instead of the old church there. The members of the parish were asked to pay thirty-one thousand pounds of tobacco for the purpose of construction.
James Wren, the architect of Christ Church, is said to have been a descendant of Sir Christopher Wren. While the building was well designed, no one ever thought of it as a masterpiece. But it has answered the purposes of the worshipper for more than a century and a half, and it promises to last at least a hundred and fifty years more.
The original contract called for the expenditure of £600. Colonel John Carlisle, who was bondsman for the contractor, James Parsons, in 1772, agreed to complete the building on payment of £220 additional, since Parsons failed to fulfil his agreement.
The church was built of brick, and was sixty by fifty feet long. The work was carefully done, but the structure was ready for the vestry to take possession early in 1773.
At the first sale of pews, of which there were fifty in all, Washington paid £36 10 s. for pew number five. He had already made a generous gift toward the building fund, but asked the privilege of giving the brass chandelier which still hangs from the ceiling.
When the Church and State were separated in Virginia, after the Revolution, Washington subscribed five pounds a year to the rector’s salary. By act of the legislature the glebe lands of churches in the State were confiscated, but, through the influence of Washington and Charles Lee, Christ Church ” and one other” (probably Falls Church) were allowed to retain their lands.
Many changes have been made in the building. The gallery was added in 1787, that twenty-five pews might be provided for the growing congregation. The west aisle was built in 1811, and the next year the chimneys were built, for stoves were placed in the church at that time. The bell was hung in 1816. The pews were later divided, including that which Washington occupied, but this pew has since been restored to its original condition. Since 1891 the high pulpit and sounding board have been replaced as they were at first.
Washington’s diary tells of his attendance at service on Sunday, June 2, 1799. Perhaps it was of this Sun-day a visitor to Alexandria wrote in a letter to a friend, which was quoted in ” The Religious Opinions and Character of George Washington,” published in 1836. The writer said :
” In the summer of 1799 I was in Alexandria on a visit to the family of Mr. H. . . . Whilst there, I expressed a wish to see General Washington, as I had never enjoyed that pleasure. My friend . . . observed: ‘ You will certainly see him on Sunday, as he is never absent from church when he can get there; and as he often dines with us, we will ask him on that day, when you will have a better opportunity of seeing him.’ Accordingly, we all repaired to church on Sunday. . . . General Washington . . . walked to his pew, at the upper part of the church, and demeaned himself through-out the service of the day with that gravity and propriety becoming the place and his own high character. After the services were concluded, we waited for him at the door, for his pew being near the pulpit he was among the last that came outwhen Mrs. H. invited him to dine with us. He declined, however, the invitation, observing, as he looked at the sky, that he thought there were appearances of a thunderstorm in the after-noon, and he believed he would return home to dinner.”