In simplicity the New Virginia church stands upon wide Nebraska prairie land. Nothing special in its outward appearance would prompt a stranger passing by to stop and make a careful study of its structure. Built of wood, it is painted white with three old-fashioned glass windows on each side. From the belfry atop its gray slanted roof a battered lightning rod shows evidence of fighting survival against stormy winds. Its location is about six and one-half miles north of Inavale.
New Virginia Church is named for the people who came to Nebraska from the state of Virginia and filed timber claims in this section of Webster Co. These claims entitled them to an additional 160 acres if they agreed to plant and care for groves of trees upon their land. Courageous, hard working people, they soon realized the value of a church in their community. Included among these Virginia settlers were families of Cooper, Payne, Lark, Wilson, and George Cather, uncle of Willa Cather. They homesteaded here between 1873-1878. The first church was built sometime prior to 1907. This was a community project and each family helped in whatever way they could. Upon completion of the building, some new furnishings, including an organ, were made. These prized possessions were moved into the new church on a Saturday evening as special dedication services were to be held next morning. This honored day had been happily anticipated for a long time. The completion of the building and its readiness for public worship was the realization of a cherished dream.
Unexpected disaster struck during that Saturday night. Family members living in a nearby sod house were wakened by the sound of skyward shooting flames. Too late in rounding up enough help to put out the fire, the people watched helplessly as flames ended their community project. The cause of the fire was never determined. There were various opinions as to its origin, but no positive proof ever made. In the courageous spirit of the early settlers, the church was rebuilt. Upon its completion it was dedicated in 1907. For many years, Sunday School and church services were held each week. A minister from Bladen was in charge.
Now, 68 years later, the tiny church survives. About twenty members attend church services which are held once each month. They have a cooperative dinner at noon time and hold services during the afternoon. A visiting church superintendent made the remark that New Virginia was the only congregation in his district that observed, “Eat before preach.” The Rev. John Baker of Blue Hill is the present minister. It is an ordinary appearing building, yet its distinctions are unique. In the June 16, 1961 edition of Life Magazine its picture appeared in a feature article, “Weddings Around the World”. An Inavale girl, Sherita Lambrecht, was married here and her rural wedding made part of the story. Willa Cather refers to this church in her book “O’ Pioneers.” It is also included in Red Cloud’s Cather Land Tour. Perhaps its greatest distinction is the fact that the people of this community have cared enough to keep the church door open to serve the spiritual needs of a community.
(From Tribune, June 2, 1975): By Marjorie Blankenbaker
Webster Atlas by Doover