The Monroe County Historical Society was awarded a grant from the West Virginia Humanities Council for the creation and installation of interpretive signs for the two historic church buildings owned by the society in Union. Both buildings have undergone extensive repairs over the past two decades. Ames Clair Hall, formerly the Ames Methodist Episcopal Church, is available for use as a performance and meeting space. The First Baptist Church building still requires extensive repairs before it can opened to the public.
Both of these churches were originally built for the white congregations and after the Civil War were purchased by the African-American members of the congregation. One man, James Clair, and his descendants were instrumental to the formation and success of both the Baptist and Methodist congregations and these churches. James Clair was baptized into membership at the First Baptist Church in Union in 1868. His family remained active in the community. His son, James Clair Jr. was also baptized into the First Baptist Church. His grandson, Matthew Clair, became one of the first two African-American bishops of the Methodist Church.
The slave James Clair was born in 1810 and was purchased in Richmond Virginia by the owners of the Salt Sulphur Springs resort to work at this resort in Monroe County. While the owners of the resort rode horses back to Monroe County, the slaves had to walk about two hundred miles to the “Salt”. Mrs. Kate Clair, a daughter-in-law, relates that the slaves were guided on their journey by forked sticks placed at the forks in the road to indicate which way their owners had taken.
Generations of church members have worshipped in these two historic churches. Both buildings were deeded to the Historical Society after membership declined.
Justine Nall, of Union, got the project started. Her father, Russell Newsome played the organ for services when Ames Clair Hall was the Ames Memorial Methodist Church. Marilyn Adamson provided information about the First Baptist Church where she, her great-grandmother, grandmother, and parents worshipped.
Photos show the interpretive signs installed. The signs will help expand the knowledge of the buildings and the importance of the church community on the wider community for the people of Monroe County and surrounding areas. This project received financial assistance from the West Virginia Humanities Council, a state affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities. Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations do not necessarily represent those of the West Virginia Humanities Council or the National Endowment for the Humanities.
Vernessa served as a Preserve WV AmeriCorps member with the Monroe County Historical Society in Union during the 2020-2021 service year.
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