Our Historic Church
Dedicated in 1890, Mt. Olive Methodist Episcopal Church was a symbol of progress and pride to a group of African-Americans who had gone from a lifetime of yearning to the reality of building their own church on their own land. Constructed by freed people from nearby Oatlands Plantation, the building served as a religious facility, a meeting place for mutual aid societies, and the center of community life for a small town.
The area where the building now stands was known in the late 19th century as Gleedsville, named after Jack Gleed, one of the first of the freed to purchase land in the vicinity. In the 25 years between the end of the Civil War and the dedication of the church, a small group of newly freed African-Americans found work, legally married, voted, bought land, built homes, accumulated property, educated their children and established a town. But during the next twenty-five years, which brought the adoption of Jim Crow laws, Gleedsville fell on hard times. Finally many of the original families left the area searching for better opportunities. By the mid-20th century, Gleedsville disappeared as a town, leaving this structure as a symbol of the dreams and ambitions of people who had served in bondage at the nearby plantation.
In1998 UUCL purchased the structure and adjacent lot. Another lot was acquired in 2004. Shortly thereafter, a UUCL member documented the building’s historical significance and nominated it for inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places, which it earned in 2005.
Since then UUCL has been involved in documenting the history of the church and the people who migrated to the small area around the church after the Civil War. We have become a partner with Oatlands Plantation in the project “Reclaiming Your History.” This is an ongoing effort to identify the descendants of the enslaved population on Oatlands and document family histories. We also support the Friends of the Balch Library Black History Committee and are a stop on their Semi-Annual Loudoun County Black History Tour.
In April 2015, Oatlands and UUCL each dedicated a marker on the Virginia Civil War Trail, both of which highlighted the contribution of the enslaved population. The marker at UUCL honors one of the founders of the Mt Olive Methodist Episcopal Church, Martin VanBuren Buchanan, who left Oatlands to serve in the 2nd Regiment U.S. Colored Infantry in Washington, D.C. Many descendants attended and shared their story.
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