Established in 1732
The Virginia Colonial General Assembly established Truro Parish in 1732. The first new church to be built in the parish was a simple wood building erected on the site of the current church. It was completed in 1734 by Richard Blackburn. Local landowner John Trammell later gave the vestry a deed for the land in exchange for fifty shillings. Until that time, this area was served by clergymen who lived near present-day Quantico, Virginia, and the nearest church was Occoquan Church near Lorton, Virginia.
The name, “The Falls Church,” came from its geographic location. Among the very few, widely separated churches in Truro Parish, this church was identified as the one “near the falls” of the Potomac River. (One of the roads that passed near the church led to the ferry below the Little Falls.) “The Falls Church” was the name commonly used after 1742. The name was also adopted by the community that developed around the church, and subsequently by the city when it was incorporated in 1948.
In 1762 the wood building was judged to be “greatly in decay.” The parish vestry (the church governing body), meeting at The Falls Church, ordered a new brick building constructed on the same site. In 1763, George Washington and George William Fairfax were appointed church wardens with responsibility to contract for a new building. This was Washington’s last official act on behalf of the church because the parish was divided in 1765 before work began. However, he was not successful in finding a contractor. After 1765, The Falls Church became the seat of the new Fairfax Parish
Work on the new church was begun in 1767 under the direction of Colonel James Wren, a vestry member, who had designed the building. His plans were also used for Christ Church in Alexandria and Pohick Church near Lorton. The three Wren churches are similar in their symmetrical Georgian style. All three churches originally had box pews so that families could sit together and bring their own small fireboxes to provide heat in the winter since there was no other heat in the buildings. The new building was completed late in the fall of 1769. It is the oldest remaining church building north of Quantico in Virginia.
During the Revolutionary War, the church building was a recruiting station for the Fairfax militia. Tradition holds that the Declaration of Independence was read to local citizens from the steps of the south doors.
The Anglican Church was disestablished in Virginia in 1784; by the turn of the next century the building was virtually abandoned. In the early 1800’s, local community leaders including Francis Scott Key, an active Episcopalian who delivered occasional exhortations to the people gathered here, and Henry Fairfax, who used his own funds to restore the building, helped to re-open the doors of the church for Episcopal worship.
The churches at the Falls and Alexandria to be 28 feet from the foundation...the Quoins and arches to be rubbed brick in the Tuscan order...the isles to be laid with tyle or flags...windows to contain eighteen lights each of 9 x 11, and the upper windows 12 each, besides the compass head...a principal roof to be framed in the best manner ...shingles...of the best juniper cypress ...floors to be laid with inch and a quarter pine plank...altar piece, pulpit and canopy...completed in Ionic order...the whole...neatly painted and finished in the best manner — the isles to be six feet.
~Specifications from the Vestry record,
January 1, 1767
Several of the early students and faculty members of the Virginia Theological Seminary in Alexandria, established in 1823, traveled to The Falls Church to conduct services.
Services were again disrupted during the Civil War when the church was used by Union troops as a hospital and later as a stable. Use of the site for active congregational worship did not begin again until 1873.
The interior was renovated or repaired four times since 1800. It was repaired by Henry Fairfax in 1838–39, again after the Civil War, and was significantly remodeled in 1908. The most extensive renovations were completed in 1959. At that time, the galleries — which had been anticipated in Wren’s design, but were omitted from the original construction — were finally installed, and a new chancel was added. The structure of the church, except for repairs of war damage and the chancel addition, is the original 1769 construction.
The United States Army repaired and paid for damages caused by Union forces during the Civil War. Some of these repairs are evident in the brickwork below the windows and in the lower part of the brick doorway at the west end of the church. (You’ll notice the brick in these locations looks slightly different from the rest of the building.)