This is a brief history of The Bethel Memorial, Incorporated (also called The Bethel Memorial Association) which is a non-profit organisation devoted towards the restoration and continual care and promotion of historic Bethel Baptist Church.
Old Bethel Baptist Church, Clarke County, VA
Bethel Church has been dedicated by the Circuit Court as a monument to the people of Clarke County and is managed by a Board of Trustees. The building is registered with the Commonwealth of Virginia as an historic landmark, and the Trustees depend on donations from the membership and from the public for maintenance, repair and upkeep.
The Bethel Memorial, Incorporated
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Bethel Baptist Church which is located South of Millwood, Clarke County, VA on Rt. 625 was organised in 1808. Among the families who worshipped here were many of the descendants of Jacob Sowers Sr., William Davis & William Kerfoot.
From the booklet 'The Bethel Register' we find mentioned the first entry of the Bethel Minute Book which reads, 'July 16, 1808. - William Davis, James Sowers, Elizabeth (Kerfoot) Sowers (ed. note: wife of James) and John Graves, having recieved letters of dismission from Buck Marsh Church, Do Covenant and Agree to unite together in a Church called Bethel.'
It is believed that Friends (Quakers) occupied the site that Bethel now stands on and built a log meeting house that
the congregation used prior to building the brick meeting house we see today. For a list of some Friends meetings go to this
page: Quaker Meetings in the Lower Shenandoah Valley and elsewhere.
Some information about the
Sowers, Kerfoot & Davis families
Throughout Bethel's history many descendants of Jacob Sowers, William Davis & William Kerfoot played promenant roles in it's affairs.
Many descendants of these three individuals intermarried frequently with each other so much so that many people could claim descent from all three families. In many cases several times over.
The descendants of Jacob Sowers, William Davis & William Kerfoot also intermarried frequently with the descendants of Robert Mackay Sr. during the latter half of the nineteenth century and into the twentieth century. Because of this many of the people who attend our McKay reunions also have Sowers, Davis & Kerfoot ancestry, including myself (unknown if I have any Kerfoot ancestry) which is why Bethel has a strong historical connection to the Robert Mackay Clan.
Dee Ann Buck, who is a descendant of the Sowers and Kerfoot families, published a comprehensive genealogy of the descendants of Jacob Sowers Sr. and sold copies to members of the family during the 1991 McKay reunion. I don't believe there are any copies left. You can contact her at the above e-mail address linked to her name for information on books she has available and the cost for purchasing them.
I am interested in updating these family genealogies and have been gathering info. in regards to that. If you have further info. on these families that you can send me please send it to firstname.lastname@example.org. I can tell you exactly the kind of genealogy info. I'm looking for.
On with the history of Bethel
Bethel Baptist Church grew as a church during the early part of the 1800s and had a pretty active membership. It's location helped make that possible. It was situated on the Great Wagon Road which passed through Clarke (formerly Frederick) County on to Stephens City (aka Newtown). The present building was started in 1828 and dedicated in 1830. Bethel's membership started to decline somewhat when the Millwood Pike was established and the centre of commerce in the region shifted towards Winchester. The Civil War and some other things helped contribute to further decline in membership as well until they closed their doors in 1930.
This left Bethel's future in jeopardy. The building was also in serious disrepair and the grounds were overgrown with vegetation.
In 1941 Beverly Brownley McKay organized The Bethel Memorial, Incorporated as a non profit organisation set up to restore the old Bethel building to it's original form and repair any damages to the structure and adjoining cemetery that time had brought on and to provide continual care and upkeep of the building and grounds.
Tragically, Mr. McKay died in 1965 from an auto accident and didn't get to witness physically the fruits of his labours. I believe he would be proud of what has been accomplished so far.
Today, Bethel enjoys a large gathering at it's annual events and has seen much of the work started by Mr. McKay finished. Even so, there is still much that needs to be done.
Most recently the interior has gotten a new paint job which was done to restore the inside to the original colours which were discovered by a team of specialists who went around testing the walls and found the hidden paint colours under the old green painted walls.
The next major step will be the repainting of the pews to match the walls. Also, much of the old wooden fence surrounding the grounds was removed. It is believed that originally there wasn't a fence.
It will be interesting to see what develops in the future as the efforts to restore the Bethel church building to it's original form continue. Let us hope that Beverly Brownley McKay is smiling on us from above as we continue the work that he began back in 1941.
The adjoining cemetery contains many graves of descendants of Jacob Sowers Sr., William Kerfoot & William Davis most of whom were originally buried there. A few graves were relocated from other cemeteries.
How to get to the Bethel meeting house and grounds
On U.S. 50 between the Shenandoah River and the U.S. 340 interchange at Waterloo turn onto State Route 622 (Red Gate Rd.). Follow 622 (Red Gate Rd.) for about a mile or so and turn left onto State Route 624 (Swift Shoals Rd.). Drive about a half mile or so and turn right onto Bethel Ln. Bethel Church is located on the top of the hill. The road encircles the building.