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Hanover's Hand in "Most Important Lot"

If few people know of the importance Richmond played in the pursuit of religious freedom ("The Most Important Parking Lot," Cover Story, Nov. 15), then even fewer people realize that that hallowed patch of asphalt had its roots in activities occurring in Hanover County during the 1740s and 1750s.

Decades before Jefferson was to write the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, Presbyterian preacher Samuel Davies was challenging the state-supported Church of England by providing an alternative, "dissenting" worship experience.

At the time, denominations other than the Church of England had to apply to the colonial government for a license in order to practice their faith. The government, fearing social upheaval, was loathe to hand them out liberally. That Davies was able to acquire not one but six(!) for each of his congregations was testament not only to his spiritual sincerity but to his political acumen as well.

Historic Polegreen Church Foundation (www.historicpolegreen.org), established in 1990, works to preserve the church site and a 110-acre buffer near downtown Mechanicsville. This site served Davies' primary congregation. Long lost to the ravages of the Civil War, the archaeological site on Rural Point Road near I-295 and Polegreen Road is now marked by a striking monument designed by award-winning architect Carlton Abbott that frames the outline of the original meeting house.

Like our colleagues at the Council for America's First Freedom, Polegreen Foundation is a secular, nonprofit organization that aspires to more than simply bricks and mortar; Polegreen uses on-site and off-site programs and events to educate the public on Virginia's religious antecedents, explaining to students and the general public just how revolutionary the concept of freedom of conscience was at the time. The Polegreen message is more important than ever. With a world wrought with violence from religious intolerance, it is my hope that more people will gain an appreciation of our American tradition of religious freedom.

We encourage you to learn more about metro Richmond's abundant religious history sites: Hanover County and the story of Samuel Davies to the north; Chesterfield County and its story of Baptist persecution to the south; and, in the middle, the site where the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom was debated and passed into law in 1786.

There are many more. Perhaps these stories will never supplant Richmond's rich Civil War legacy in the public's imagination, but it is a heritage that Richmonders should know. Historic Polegreen Church Foundation is pleased to be doing its part and we welcome you for a visit.

Bob Bluford, Jr., President
Christopher K. Peace, Executive Director
Historic Polegreen Church Foundation

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