Old Sterling Advocates Rally to Salvage History Before Second Historic Church Demolished

Old Sterling Advocates Rally to Salvage History Before Second Historic Church Demolished

When you dine at Mona’s Lebanese Restaurant in Sterling, you are ensconced in so many antiques that it feels like you have a few extra friends joining you.

Mona’s is owned and operated by Jackie Anderson and Bill Ewing in a restored home built in the 1860s by returning Civil War soldier John Sexton. Fairfax County residents, the couple’s love of antiques and preserving history drew them to the former Guilford Station area of Old Sterling and inspired them to make Mona’s the anchor point for a half-dozen concerned citizens who call themselves Save Old Sterling.

It was Anderson, in fact, who sounded the SOS when she learned a few days before Christmas that the church across the street, which was constructed in 1882 as Guilford Baptist Church, was poised for demolition in the next few days.

“It was quite by accident that we realized something was going to happen,” Anderson said. “This came about when we saw the silt fence go up for grading and the chalk marks on the road for power lines. We thought, ‘Oh no, something is about to happen.”

Chef Mona Aboul-Hosn, left, with owners Bill Ewing and Jackie Anderson.

She made contact with Eueal Berta of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church, who confirmed that demolition was scheduled to begin the day after Christmas.

Faced with the loss of a second 19th-century church building on that stretch of Church Road in just over two years, Anderson, Ewing and local historian and SOS member Mark Gunderman jumped into action. Ewing had worked with a contractor to remove and store windows and flooring from the 1899 Sterling Methodist Church, which was leveled in 2017 to make way for a commercial storage business.

That contractor could not respond in time, but a chance encounter led them to Barry Holden of Capital Home Improvements. Working Christmas Eve and part of Christmas Day, Holden salvaged the stained-glass windows, some siding and other historic fixtures. When construction didn’t start as planned Dec. 26, he took the belfry from the top of the building and the roof and some stones off a well house in front of the church.

Save Old Sterling advocates were able to salvage windows and the belfry from the church and the roof and some stones from its wellhouse before they both demolished.

“It was really heroic what they did,” Anderson said. “They were even able to get a few large stones from the well house, which we’ll use to make a foundation for the belfry in Mona’s front yard.”

GUILFORD STATION

Church Road used to amble through the Guilford Station/Old Sterling neighborhood until it was cut off from the main traffic flow when Church Road was widened and straightened. That road is now Ruritan Circle, which becomes a dead end right after crossing the railroad right-of-way, which is now the W&OD hiking and biking trail.

According to a history of the neighborhood written by Gunderman, the Alexandria, Loudoun and Hampshire Railroad originally called the first rail stop in Loudoun “Guilford Station” when the railroad depot was built and the post office was created in 1860. The spelling was a corruption of “Guildford” (meaning a trading place by a ford), a city in Surrey, England. Of course, the nearby ford was Broad Run.

In 1872, the postmaster renamed the rail stop Loudoun Station as it was the first stop over the Fairfax/Loudoun county line. The Railroad had the station name changed one last time from Loudoun to Sterling in 1887.

Sterling United Methodist Church was demolished in 2017 to make way for a self-storage facility.

Part of the church building was preserved and incorporated into this “pocket park” behind the self-storage building on Church Road.

Less than two years ago, just on the other side of Church Road, the historically significant Sterling Methodist Church was leveled in 2017 to make way for a commercial storage business. A group of concerned citizens voiced their opposition to the destruction of that church, and newly elected Sterling District Supervisor Koran T. Saines intervened on behalf of the group.

“We had a meeting with Koran and he went and talked to the developer,” Anderson said. “He came back and said we had two options. One was to take the church apart piece by piece and the other was the cut the church in half and move it to the back of the lot. That’s not preservation. That’s the opposite of preservation.”

The project went ahead and CubeSmart, the storage company, preserved part of the church’s architect in a “pocket park” behind the building.

Anderson said opposition wasn’t as strong for the demolition of the former Locust Grove church.

“This wasn’t the same good vs. evil thing,” she said. “For one thing, it is still going to be a church. We knew the church needed to expand. It was just the sad feeling that the 1800s building was going to disappear without a trace, just as with the other church, unless we could salvage something.”

Sterling Station on the old W&OD Railroad.

SAVE OLD STERLING

The group of concerned citizens has three goals in trying to preserve the history of Guildford Station and Old Sterling.

First, they want to preserve the buildings that can be used and/or restored. With the Lebanon Grove church building gone, that pretty much leaves Mona’s and the 1880 two-room schoolhouse next door, which was the first school built by the county school district in Sterling.

That schoolhouse is what attracted Anderson and Ewing to the neighborhood when it was Sterling Schoolhouse Antiques, managed by Grandma Betty Geoffroy until 2007. Anderson was just retiring after 47 years playing violin with the National Symphony Orchestra when the Sexton Home came up for sale. They knew Mona Aboul-Hosn and her Lebanese cooking from a restaurant they enjoyed near their home in McLean.

“Mona had been telling us that she was looking for a place where she could run her catering business instead of her home,” Anderson said. “It was kind of a light-bulb moment.”

When buildings in the neighborhood are replaced, Save Old Sterling would like the owner to remember the spirit of the old train-stop town in their architecture. Ideally, they would like to see a “grandfather village” featuring antique stores and artisans.

Finally, they would like to preserve a park or other green space along the W&OD trail, to make an attractive wayside for bikers and hikers.

Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church is trying to maintain some of the architectural design from the old building to its new, expanded church.

Koran said he supports the efforts of Save Old Sterling and plans to enlist the county’s support when it is feasible.

“I agree that we would love to see the Ruritan Circle and the old Sterling Station area revitalized but that cannot happen until:  1) the current owners want to do so or, 2) they sell their property to a buyer who wants to do a revitalization program consistent with Save Old Sterling’s input,” Saines said. “I am glad to see beautification coming to this area and will always keep an eye out for additional opportunities for more beautification in the future.”

For more information about Save Old Sterling, email gunderman2001@aol.com.

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