"The preaching of the gospel, having been attended with pleasing success on the Bullpasture River in the County of Pendleton, and there being no Presbyterian Church organized [here]...we on this date agree... and voluntarily consent, united together as a Christian Society and formed into a regular organized church to be known as the Central Union Church."
With these words is recorded the beginning of the McDowell Presbyterian Church on November 2, 1822. The small body of 19 members accepted the form as prescribed by the Book of Confession of Faith. Records show that from 1778 worship services were held in homes along the Bullpasture River, and that the Rev. Moses Hoge preached the first Presbyterian sermon at the house of Mrs. Dunwoody. After being recognized by the Lexington Presbytery, Rev. John Hendren became the first Pastor, and James Curry and William (Ervine) Irvin were the first members elected to the Session.
Construction was started on a two room log church building near the present church in the village of Sugar Tree Grove (name changed to McDowell about 1850). Worship services were held in the sanctuary and the Session and Sunday school used the second room, sharing with local school children during the winter week days.
In 1856, Robert Singleton donated the land for the present church building and manse (pastor's house). Construction was immediately started. Bricks were molded and fired on the site, with the women taking an active part in the process. The manse was completed in 1879, with the Rev. Samuel McCune being the first resident.
Located on the turnpike between Monterey and Staunton, the church saw various uses during the Civil War. Troops were billeted there, and once the pews were burned for firewood. Many soldiers scratched the dates and their initials in the soft bricks, and many of the names are still visible today. In May of 1862 General Stonewall Jackson and General Milroy
fought an important battle in McDowell and our church was damaged by a cannon ball. There were 754 reported casualties in this conflict and the church was used as a hospital for both Union and Confederate troops. Many of the dead of both sides are buried in a mass grave across from the church. HERE IS A LINK LISTING BURIALS IN THE MCDOWELL CEMETERY:
In 1870, the church name was changed to McDowell Presbyterian Church, and it began to expand. Outposts and chapels were established at Palo Alto, Liberty, New Prospect, Bethlehem, Clover Creek and Head Waters. Of the chapels, only Clover Creek (now closed) and Headwaters remain. Clover Creek continues to be maintained as an historic location, listed on the National Register of Historic places. Headwaters Chapel is a strong and vital part of the Head Waters community and the life and work of the church.
In 1950, a renovation and building program began, which resulted in new hardwood flooring, new pews, repointing of the brickwork, and the addition of Sunday School rooms, a kitchen and Fellowship Hall. The Narthex and Sanctuary remain much the same in appearance today as when first built, save for the stained glass windows and the replacement of the twin wood burning stoves with electric heat, and the installation of air conditioning. The small side entrance to the Narthex and balcony are remaining relics of the days of slavery.