The History of Fork Church
The present church building, with seating for about 200, was built in 1735 to replace a 1722 chapel on the same site and has been in continuous use since its construction. When it was separated from St. Paul’s Parish in 1726, the parish of St. Martin was a parish of the Church of England of the Diocese of London and Archdiocese of Canterbury. The Fork Church is the mother church of St. Martin’s Parish and its name comes from its location in the forks of the North and South Anna Rivers which join nearby.
The building is an outstanding example of Colonial architecture. The 22-inch brick walls are laid in Flemish bond pattern with water table below in English bond. Arches and jambs of the doors and windows are rubbed brick; frames, sills and window sashes are original as is much of the glass and doors. Heavy wrought-iron HL hinges are said to be a cipher for the prayer of their builder, “Holy Lord, Lord Help Us.” Today, the pulpit, lectern, and pews can all trace their origin to materials used in the original construction. When built, the church had window-sill height box pews similar to those in Bruton Parish Church of Williamsburg. The materials from these old pews, unpainted pine and gum rails, were used to build the present pews, accounting for the varying sizes of the panels. The two porches seen today were added in 1804. Over the years, several internal changes were made regarding the location of the pulpit and Holy Table. In 1913, the current internal arrangement was undertaken and is closer to the original design than the previous changes.
An important furnishing of The Fork Church is the marble Font which dates from the early 18th century. It is thought to have been made in London and brought over here for service in the Lower Church of St. Stephen’s Parish before being acquired by The Fork Church.
In 1996, the building underwent a significant renovation. In addition to the expected cosmetic efforts, the flooring was temporarily removed in order to gain access to the sub-floor where years of moisture and termite damage was repaired before relaying the original flooring and adding new carpeting. New mechanicals were repaired or replaced as needed. Windows were reset and sealed; approximately 75 broken or damaged panes were replaced with glass of at least a hundred years of age in order to maintain visual continuity with the original glass. The altar area was modified to allow the minister to face the congregation from behind the altar table rather than standing in front of it.
The upstairs Gallery houses both the organ and choir. The staircase and flooring leading to it are original as well as most of the wrought-iron hardware. The organ is a rare tracker organ built in Baltimore in 1855 by Henry F. Berger – a German immigrant who was 30 years old when he came to this country in 1849. With no swell or pedal stops it is typical of the organs built in the 17th and 18th centuries and is one of only two Berger organs known to have survived. It was restored by the late Cleveland Fisher in 1963. But, by the end of the 90’s a decision had to be made whether to replace it with a new electric organ or have it undergo a major (and expensive) restoration. After much soul-searching, the decision was reached to go with the latter option and the Rappahannock Organ Company was selected to conduct the work. The organ was totally broken down into individual pieces and refurbished before reassembling. Even the case, which at some point in the past had been painted white, was stripped and refinished in order to bring it back to its former grand appearance. Now, all agree the final result is a magnificent instrument than can never be replaced.
The Rev. Sewell S. Hepburn, D.D., grandfather of actress Katherine Hepburn, was rector here from 1893 to 1903.
The parish register is complete from 1825 when it was begun by the Rev. John Cooke.
Today, The Fork Church is still as beautiful and elegant in its appearance and as graceful in its design as it was when built almost 275 years ago. And more importantly, during this entire time it has maintained its service to the surrounding community.
The Parish Hall
The Parish Hall is located just a short distance from the church. The main floor holds the Rector’s office, administrative offices, the nursery, as well as the social and recreational facilities. Several classrooms are located both above, as well as below the main floor thus allowing a high degree of flexibility in room utilization. The recreational facilities consist of a spacious auditorium area (with more than ample room to seat the entire congregation) along with a stage to the front and an adjacent kitchen complex. The kitchen is complete with all the equipment necessary to host large church suppers as well as a variety of the other events making up the active social life of our parish. The maintained grounds surrounding the Parish Hall provide more than ample room for outdoor activities of every description. And the newly installed outdoor lighting system allows safe and easy nighttime movement to and from the hall to the church.
The Fork Church Cemetery, started shortly after the Church founding, continues to be an important aspect to the rich history of our facilities. On these grounds, grave sites may be found for soldiers who have fought in all the wars from the American Revolution to fairly recent conflicts. One of the more notables is the wife of Gen. Thomas Nelson - a signer of the Declaration of Independence and Gen. Washington’s aide in the Revolutionary War. Section # 5 contains the unmarked graves of an estimated nine unknown Confederate soldiers that died from wounds received from the battle around Ox Ford. Today, our cemetery still continues to provide burial plots for members of our church and our community.