Winston Memorial Chapel | Culpeper County, Virginia | c. 1908
This stone chapel in Virginia is equally as out of place as it is perfectly situated. Modeled after a Celtic-style sanctuary, construction was completed in 1908 and the building was dedicated that same year. But the tragic story behind the chapels’ conception starts well before that, with a family that settled in this area in the early 1800s.
Lucien Dade Winston I (LDW)
In 1836, Lucien Dade Winston I (LDW) was born at Zhe-Hol, the plantation of his father, William Alexander Winston. Located in Culpeper County, Virginia, his father was a wealthy planter who owned 766 acres and enslaved 51 people who were forced to work on his plantation . When William died in 1853, the acreage, possessions, and enslaved people were passed to his children, but Lucien wasn’t ready to settle into farming- he had a different plan. The year his father died, LDW enrolled at Virginia Military Institute in Lexington, Virginia where he learned military strategy from Major Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson. In the years leading up to the Civil War, LDW and other cadets enrolled here earned the school the reputation as “The West Point of The South” (deemed by Abraham Lincoln) due to the contribution of VMI’s cadets to the Civil War effort.
He enlisted in the Minute Men and was dispensed to Harpers Ferry in 1859. In the early months of 1861, the Virginia Secession Convention was deciding whether Virginia would secede from the Union. And while secession wasn’t ratified until May 23, 1861, LDW had already enlisted in the Army of Virginia on April 11, 1861. During his service, Lucien saw action at the Battle of First Manassas, Snickers Ferry, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, The Wilderness, Cedar Mountain, Rappahannock, Richmond, and Petersburg. He served actively through the entire war until he surrendered alongside Robert E. Lee at Appomattox Courthouse in 1865.
After The War
He was fortunate to have survived so many battles and returned home where he lived for a short time on the land he’d inherited from his father in Culpeper County, VA. In the 1870s, Lucien’s older brother, Isaac Winston IV, was teaching in Kentucky and wrote home to tell Lucien of a young lady he had met in the home of Major McNeill. In 1878, Lucien met and married her and then relocated to Hemphill Plantation in Christian County, KY where she had been raised.
Lizzie McNeill Boddie and Lucien Dade Winston
Elizabeth “Lizzie” McNeill Boddie and her new husband Lucien settled into Lizzie’s Family home and in 1880, their first child, Martha “Mattie” Winston was born. Over the next 7 years in Kentucky, the Winstons had 3 more children (Mary, Malcolm, and LDW Jr.) before they decided to return to Lucien’s home in Culpeper County, Virginia. They moved into LDW’s childhood home, Zhe-Hol, and had another child here, Elizabeth “Betty” Winston. LDW, Sr. continued to grow the family’s wealth with business interests in Washington D.C. and Chicago and in the early 1900s, built a new family home in the community that now bore their name.
Tragedy Strikes the Winston Family
In 1905, Lucien and Lizzie’s oldest son, Malcolm, enrolled in college at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. The couple was so proud of their young son’s academic accomplishments and performances in UVA’s theatre productions. He was also a stand-out athlete who played on the university’s baseball and football teams. So the shock that came in 1906 when Malcolm fell ill from Scarlett Fever must have devastated the family who had big hopes for their eldest son. It was Christmas time and Malcolm spent 2 weeks in the hospital at Charlottesville, before he passed away on his mother’s birthday at age 22.
The family mourned the loss for an entire year while they decided how to honor their son who had been lost too soon. According to family stories, a neighbor, Alice Lewis Wallace, was visiting with the Winstons and mentioned that a village as nice as theirs deserved its own church and that if LDW built it, it might be a beautiful way to honor Malcolm.
Winston Memorial Chapel
In 1908, construction on this chapel was completed and in 1909, Winston Chapel was dedicated to the memory of Malcolm Boddie Winston. The Celtic-style brownstone building was likely inspired by Lizzie’s Family ancestry and features a belltower with a pyramidal roof, topped with a Celtic cross. The rear of the building showcases an impressive growth of English Ivy vine and a neat and tidy graveyard hugs the building in the Celtic style. The interior of the building is not open to the public, but from the 2007 pictures, you can see the beautiful details of the exterior are echoed inside.
It isn’t clear whether the chapel ever had a regular congregation and over the years, was served by Episcopalian, Methodist, Baptist, and Presbyterian clergy. It is more likely that the chapel was used mostly for important rights like the 5 funerals that were performed here and the chapels only wedding, in 1909 of Lucien Dade Winston Jr. to Lucy Lewis Long.
In 1914, LDW, Sr. passed away, leaving his wife, Lizzie, to carry on as the matriarch of the family for the next 30 years. In 1941, Lizzie passed away and was buried at Winston Memorial Chapel alongside her husband and her son, Malcolm, for whom she had the chapel built. The church was then passed to her daughter, Martha Winston (pictured below- the first seated on the left). But when Martha married, it would leave the future of the chapel in an uncertain place.
Romeo & Juliet Somerville
Martha‘s husband, Louis, was from another prominent local family, the Somerville’s. It is unclear how it began, but as the story goes the Winston and Somerville clans had never gotten along and neither side was happy when the two married, a real-life Romeo and Juliet. So when Martha passed away in 1962 and the chapel went to her Somerville children, there was little interest in preserving something with the Winston name attached to it. She was buried here next to her parents, but her husband and children were later buried with the Somerville Family in a cemetery a few miles away.
An Unclear Future For Winston Chapel
The gravel road that ran in front of the church is now a heavily traveled highway for commuters who speed past without a second thought. Efforts were started in 2010 to see what could be done to save the church, but nothing ever came of it. While researching the church in 2022, I contacted the architect who was initially involved in the project back then to ask what might happen to the church. This started a renewed conversation between him and the property owner that I am hoping will lead to a genuine effort in fixing this place up.