History of Mt. Zion Baptist Church, Locust Grove, Virginia
Before the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, the citizens of Gordon District, Orange County, Virginia, gathered to praise God through prayer, song, and testimony. Initially, the residents formed a Prayer Band in the home of Maria and Peter Armstead (first known spiritual leader), in an area referred to as Peter Bottom, off Indiantown Road, Locust Grove, Virginia. Our early ancestors were many and consisted of the Armstead, Broadus, Brooks, Carter, Cottoms, Henderson, Johnson, Lewis, Minor, and Vass families, with birth dates as early as 1810 (U. S. Census 1880). Today, the Prayer Band descendants are members and/or loyal supporters of our Church.
The Prayer Band’s next place of worship was a brush arbor built on a corner lot subsequently purchased by Nathan Henderson and wife Betsy (b. 1842 and 1847). They later donated this property to be used as Lewistown Cemetery. Reverend John C. Willis, Jr. (b.1824), a white minister, was the principal speaker. In those days, many members walked to worship services. Others traveled by horseback and carriages. They came from neighboring communities referred to as Lewistown, Peter Bottom, Fox Neck, and Flat Run, now Locust Grove. As the congregation grew in numbers and spiritually, Prayer Band members decided to divide the travel distance. Therefore, the members moved from Indiantown Road, Lewistown, and erected a log cabin on property owned by Abe Roach (Governor Almond Road). Reverend Peter Armstead continued as the Prayer Band’s leader until his death, prior to 1860.
In 1858, needing a larger sanctuary and unable to add to the log cabin on Abe Roach’s property, the Prayer Band moved to property on land owned by Henry Willis (a few miles from Mt. Zion’s present location).During this period, Reverend Robert Woodson (b. 1815), a traveling minister served the congregation, and is listed as age 65 on the 1880 U. S. Census.Reverend Wanzer Tibbs (b. 1842), a traveling minister, was the Prayer Band’s next spiritual leader. Reverend Tibbs named the sanctuary, Zion Baptist Church, later referred to as Mt. Zion Baptist Church (Colored), and on November 5,2000, formally changed the name to Mt. Zion Baptist Church. From 1858 to 1895, the congregants continued their service to the Lord—believing, trusting, praising, and growing in their spiritual faith.
Reverend James A. Robinson (b. 1863), of Spotsylvania was Mount Zion’s first official Pastor. He served the congregation for approximately 33 years (1895-1928). Under his leadership, our first Sunday School (John J. Johnson, Superintendent) and Usher Board (President, Sister Malcolm “Pie” Brooks, 1921) originated. Our next Pastor was Reverend Robert K. Harris (approximately, 1930-1950). Under Reverend Harris’ leadership, many members were baptized in the pond on Floyd Hicks farm.
In 1952, Reverend Ellis W. Yancey was elected Pastor. Due to the deteriorating structure, Reverend Yancey designed and began construction of a new church. Groundbreaking services took place in 1954. Brother George Johnson and Deaconess Martha Henderson assisted Reverend Yancey in the ceremony. Benny Carter, of Spotsylvania, was our builder. Each family member donated 50 cinderblocks toward this endeavor. In 1957, Reverend Clifton H. Sanford (1957-1979) was elected Pastor and under his leadership, the Church was completed. Reverend Davis W. Board, founder and Chancellor of North Western College of Religion, Washington, D. C. dedicated the Sanctuary in high order on May 1, 1963. A year earlier, on May 5, 1962, Floyd E. Hicks and Mabel E. Hicks, then owners of the land, conveyed to Wyman H. Johnson and MacNeire Johnson, as Trustees, the land on which Mt. Zion currently stands.
Reverend Winston L. Brock (1981-1995) greatly improved and enhanced the building and grounds of Mount Zion. He was an inspirational and motivational leader. On November 13, 1996, the interior of our Church suffered fire damage. Deacons Howard Roberts, MacNeire Johnson, George Price, and Clarence Washington, Sisters Betty Roberts and Joan Washington were instrumental in overseeing the restoration. Reverend Ernest Woodson was Pastor at the time (1996-1997). Pastor Reverend Dr. Robert C. Stone was with Mt. Zion (2000-2006). Under Reverend Stone’s leadership, Minister Jeneka Watkins and Reverend Catherine Parker were licensed and ordained. Two Associate Ministers served under Reverend Stone—Reverend Eddie Naylor and Reverend Alan Watkins.
Our current Pastor, Reverend Sanford Reeves, Jr., M. Div. (2007-Present) continues to answer God’s call—grow His Church, both physically and spiritually, and preach the gospel to His people.
*cemetery on church premises
Historical content is based on information given by Elsie Lawson (1906-2006), Church records, and the U. S. Census as published in the 150th Anniversary Celebration booklet of Mt, Zion Baptist Church, Locust Grove, Virginia, October 19, 2008. Booklet given to the Orange County African American Historical Society by Joan Washington.