The history of Jamestown’s Restored Church is the history of two things: the humble origins of America in the Jamestown colony, and dedicated preservationists fighting against the ravages of time. What was once a crumbling ruin at risk of being lost for good was brought back to life thanks to these determined preservationist women.
The current Restored Church, built in 1906 in honor of the 300th anniversary of the establishment of Jamestown, the first permanent English settlement in the Americas, is actually the fifth Jamestown church. It’s the sixth if you count the settlement’s very first site of formal worship – a tattered awning of sailcloth hung between some trees. This humble space was followed up by four mostly wooden churches. They were the sites of an overwhelming number of funerals in the colony’s rocky early years. In this period, the majority of the ill-prepared, all-male residents died of famine, disease, or conflict with Powhatan warriors.
In 1619, the church was the site of a very important series of meetings: those of the first elected legislative body in America, the Virginia General Assembly. The fifth and last colonial-era church that stood on the spot was used until the 1750s and included a 45-foot tower that stands to this day. Ten feet of its height have been lost to ruin, along with the entirety of the original nave. The remains of the church sat vacant, crumbling and gloomy, for over 100 years. It could have been the end of the church for good, but two patriotic preservationist groups were determined to save it.
These were the Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities (now Preservation Virginia) and the National Society of the Colonial Dames of America. The women who ran these groups conducted the first excavations at the site—which unearthed the original foundations of two prior churches—, lobbied for a seawall to protect it from the swelling James River down the hill, and funded the construction of a new church nave modeled on one of the oldest standing Protestant Churches in America, St. Luke’s Church.
Today, the restored church has welcomed millions of visitors, from history lovers to Congressmen, Presidents, and even Queen Elizabeth II (twice). It is a vital part of Historic Jamestowne, the site of the original James Fort – America’s birthplace.