Prince/Printz Family History

From "Brentz" in Duehren, Germany to "Printz" in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia to "Prince" in Ohio and Beyond


History of Mount Calvary Church in Stony Man

Posted by Victor Prince on March 24, 2014 at 12:15 AM

The following is from an application to the US Department of the Interior to designate Mount Calvary Church in Stony Man, Virginia to be on the National Register of Historic Places.  This is the Historical Background section of that application and has an interesting description of how the Page County area was very German in its early settlement.


Mount Calvary Lutheran Church can trace its origins back to the first German settlers in the Page Valley area. In 1726 Adam Mueller led a group of families to the vicinity of present-day Luray. This early group of Germans from Pennsylvania was of the Mennonite, Lutheran, and Reformed denominations. It was known as the Massanutten settlement and is considered to be the first group of German settlers to locate in the Shenandoah Valley area.

It appears that the Massanutten Lutherans managed with difficulty to retain their denominational identity. A group of Moravians in the 1740s visited the community and noted the presence of Lutherans and German Reformed in the area. The Moravians found them disorganized and noted that "nearly all religious earnestness and zeal is extinguished among them." No record is known of any formal Lutheran organization during this period. The early Lutherans in Page County were simply referred to in early records as the Lutherans living in the Massanutten Settlement.

John Caspar Stoever, George Samuel Klug, and Johannes Schwarbach, three early pastors of Hebron Church in present-day Madison County, are credited with being the first pastors to serve the Massanutten Lutherans. At the time the Hebron pastors were virtually the only Lutheran clergy in the Virginia colony and ministered to the needs of a number of Shenandoah Valley congregations. These ministers came to the Massanutten Lutherans only a few times a year to conduct baptisms, and perform marriages. A communion chalice from Mount Calvary Church dated 1727 suggests that communion was provided by the Hebron pastors as well. No documentation has been found of a house of worship or a particular location for services.

Over time the Massanutten Lutherans were able to organize on a more secure footing. The earliest indication of a formal Lutheran organization is a deed from 1765 from Pastor Johannes Schwarbach to Peter Panter and Jacob Schafer, who were apparently trustees of the Lutheran Church. The land was specifically deeded for the use of a "congregation". How Rev. Schwarbach came to control the land is unclear.  

A church building was formally constructed on the site shortly thereafter. No information has come to light as to the appearance or materials of this structure. It may be assumed that it was log structure. Like many churches in the Shenandoah Valley it was a union church shared by German Reformed and Lutheran congregations. The church appears to have been known interchangeably during this period as Comer's (also spelled Comer, or Comber in the 1765 deed) after the family that owned the adjoining farm, or Hawksbill (originally Hoxbiehl) after nearby Hawksbill Creek.

The predominance of German immigrants and the relative isolation of Page County allowed German culture to thrive in the area. German was the first language and in many cases the only language of the community until the early nineteenth century. This cultural environment also allowed the retention of traditional German crafts including painted interiors, painted furniture, and fraktur. In addition, German was the language of worship and music in the community until the mid-nineteenth century. At Mount Calvary, the records of the congregation were kept in German until the 1860s. The oldest English-language hymnals discovered in the sanctuary bear the date 1860.

Starting in the late eighteenth century pastors from Woodstock and New Market began to serve the Hawksbill Lutherans. Notable among these were Peter Muhlenberg and members of the Henkel family. The closer proximity of these pastors implies that worship was held on a more regular basis during this era.

In the early nineteenth century a number of notable changes occurred in the Hawksbill Lutheran community. By 1817 the congregation had named itself Mount Calvary, an appropriate reference to its setting. By 1822 the property had come into the exclusive use of the Lutherans. It was at this time that the congregation constructed a second church building on the site. After being affiliated for much of its history with the Pennsylvania Ministerium, the short-lived Virginia District of the Pennsylvania Ministerium, and the North Carolina Synod, the congregation joined the Virginia District of the Tennessee Synod in 1820. The meeting of the Virginia District was held at Mount Calvary in May, 1860. The congregation did not become a part of the Virginia Synod until 1918.

Over the course of the nineteenth century the Hawksbill settlement slowly started to prosper. Large barns and farmhouses started to appear across Page Valley. The town of Luray was established in 1812, and it became the seat of newly created Page County in 1831. The descendants of the Massanutten settlers over time became successful farmers. The construction of a number of substantial farm complexes in the middle and later decades of the century reflected this. By the early nineteenth century iron foundries and the related charcoal industries also became an important part of the local economy. The Shenandoah River and later the Sperryville Turnpike provided a means of transporting the commodities of the area to market. During this period of prosperity, the congregation constructed the present building. The third church building on the site was completed in 1848.

Page County continued to grow and prosper after the Civil War. In 1885 the Shenandoah Valley railroad came to the community, providing growth to the town of Luray and a ready market to the farmers of the community. During this era Mount Calvary Church launched an expansion program under the direction of Rev. J.N. Stirewalt.

Stirewalt was apparently the first full-time pastor in the history of the congregation. This expansion movement reflected the growth of Mount Calvary (which had been the only Lutheran church in the area) and the need for churches that would better serve the widespread Page Valley Lutherans.

Starting with Morning Star on Dry Run near Stony Man in 1873, the new churches included: St. Mark's in Luray (1875), Grace in Ida (1878), St. James north of Luray (1882), and Beth Eden east of Luray (1896). Rev. Stirewalt served most of these churches until his death in 1906. Over time most became large successful congregations.

The group of congregations (less St. James, and St. Mark's) would become known as Stony Man Parish in reference to the general neighborhood. Stony Man Parish built a large parsonage in Luray in 191 1. The success of the daughter congregations would prove to be the end of Mount Calvary as an active congregation. After the size of the congregation dwindled, regular services ceased to be held in 1959. Since that time the use of the building has been restricted to occasional homecoming services. At the bequest of the Trust of Mr. Claude E. Dofflemeyer of Luray, an effort was initiated to nominate the building to the National Register of Historic Places and the Virginia Landmarks Register. The owners of the buildings, the Mount Calvary Lutheran Trustees, are considering how to best use the building. The Mount Calvary Lutheran Church property was listed in the Virginia Landmarks Register in 1998. With restoration underway, in an effort to use the building again, Reverend Dr. Alice Davis has provided current photographs in an effort to finally list the resource in the National Register of Historic Places.

Categories: Stony Man VA, Virginia