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Fire destroys church

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The fire call came in at 10:45 p.m. on Saturday, November 17 and firemen from Water View, Urbanna, Hartfield, Deltaville, Essex and Gloucester fought through the night to save St. Paul Baptist Church at Nesting near Jamaica. Above, firemen were still trying to contain hot spots from the fire at 11 a.m. on Sunday morning. The church was a total loss. At press time, the cause of the fire was undetermined. (Photo by Larry Chowning)

by Larry Chowning

The 132-year-old St. Paul Baptist Church in Nesting near Jamaica burned to the ground on the night of Saturday, November 17. Firemen from the county’s four volunteer departments and two neighboring counties fought to save the historic church building.

The cause of the fire is currently undetermined, but Upper Middlesex Volunteer Fire Department (UMVFD) fire chief Billy Collier said at the scene Sunday morning that state arson investigators have been called to investigate.

The fire was first reported at about 10:45 p.m. Saturday by a passerby in an automobile, said Chief Collier. When the fire company arrived the back portion of the building was totally engulfed in flames, he said.

Collier said the fire appears to have started in a storage building located directly behind the church, and then spread to the back of the church building. The storage building was used to store a lawn mower and other supplies. There was no electricity going to that building, he noted.

Fire companies responded from Essex and Gloucester counties along with firemen from the UMVFD in Water View, Middlesex Volunteer Fire Department in Urbanna, Hartfield Volunteer Fire Department, and Lower Middlesex Volunteer Fire Department in Deltaville.

At 11 a.m. Sunday morning UMVFD firemen were still pouring water on hot spots to keep the fire from spreading into the woods behind the church.

Jimmy Bagby of Church View was at the scene Sunday morning. He is not a member of the church but his sister is buried in the St. Paul Cemetery. “I hate this (the loss of the church building),” said Bagby. “I look at these ashes and I think of all the people who, over the generations, were dedicated to this church. They loved their church. This is a sad day. I hope they (congregation) are able to rebuild.”

St. Paul Baptist Church is on Canoe House Road and was founded in 1886, nine years after the Civil War Reconstruction period began. A main mission of early black churches was to promote education of the newly-freed African-American slaves. St. Paul was one of several churches in Middlesex that supported a one-room school for African-Americans. St. Paul School, located next door to the church, was closed in 1935 and later was torn down.

posted 11.26.2018

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