Peterville Church Alter

Peterville Altar Provenance

By Calvin Jones


        On Wednesday February 22nd 1871 William Wallace Fariss married Mary Pocahontas Stratton. The ceremony was performed by Rev. John R. Bagby at Peterville Baptist Church in Powhatan, Va. Surely, the event happened at the altar. A generation later Poca’s & Wallace’s eldest son, Calvin Marshall Fariss, married Isadora Idunia Luck at the same spot. They named their first daughter Mary Pocahontas. She named her only son Calvin. Calvin’s daughter, Patricia Ann Todd, values the altar & has it in a prominent place in her home, making the effort required to save it very worthwhile.


        As recorded in Powhatan, Va. Deed Book 19, Page 190, Wm. David Taylor on February 6, 1853 deeded to Joseph R. Eggleston & Seth Ligon (as trustees) one- half acre of land bounded on the South by the Middle Road & on the North & West by the lands of said Wm. David Taylor. The deed further notes that the new church was previously erected on this one-half acre by permission. Thus, we assume that the “new” brick church adjacent to colonial Peterville church & cemetery was built in 1852. The structure was actively occupied by a Baptist congregation for about fifty years & stood for another fifty until it was demolished for its bricks. The structure at that time was in an advanced stare of decay. The roof had rotted away & caved.


        At the time of the demolition of Peterville Baptist Church, W. M. Fariss, P. C. Williams, & Carlton Elam were trustees. William Marshall Fariss (my uncle, mother’s brother, & oldest son of Isadora Idunia & Calvin Marshall Fariss) removed the altar from the church, took it home, & put it in his grainery (a small building used to store feed grains, cured hams, & other items). It remained there until his death in 1957. Mother requested possession & had it placed on her side porch covering it with an oilcloth tablecloth tied with a piece of twine. Following her death, I sold the house & disposed of most of her possessions.


         Having retired in 1987, the altar now in the basement of our new home posed a dilemma. There was too much history associated with the piece to simply destroy it, but it had no practical use, particularly considering its condition. One of the bottom boards had severe termite damage. The original dark mahogany varnish stain finish was little more than a crinkle patch here & there. Yet, the piece was otherwise sound & not unattractive. First, I carefully removed the remaining varnish while retaining the evidence of wear due to use (i.e., I didn’t sand it down to bare wood). I removed & reglued several trim pieces, replaced the damaged board with a piece of old walnut, & added a bottom edging for stability so that it could be used as a stand-alone piece of furniture. In the original installation the altar was nailed to the first level with the pulpit on a level above. With the finish removed, the assortment of woods used in construction could be identified. The moldings in the panel patterns are mostly yellow pine, while the flat pieces are an assortment of walnut, poplar, & cherry. I am not sure about the single top board. It was not pine, walnut, or poplar, although it seemed to be a hard wood. It may be maple. Obviously, the carpenter planned on a dark final finish. I used just enough stain to blend in the lightest pieces & applied several coats of satin polyurethane varnish.


Calvin Jones