Archibald Alexander Travelogue
Site 1: Timber Ridge Presbyterian Church
Directions: The church is located north of Lexington, Virginia. Take exit 195 off Interstates 64 and 81 just north of Lexington. At the bottom of the ramp, turn left onto U.S. Highway 11 North. Go 0.4 mile and turn right onto Route 716, passing through the wayside park marking the birthplace of Sam Houston. Follow the lane up the hill 0.2 mile to the stone building on the right, Timber Ridge Presbyterian Church on the right. The telephone at the church office is 540-463-6939.
Dr. Archibald Alexander (1772-1851), president of Hampden Sydney College (1797-1806) and first professor of Princeton Theological Seminary (1812-1851), was the namesake of his grandfather. The older Archibald Alexander was born in County Donegal, Ireland, on February 4, 1708, the grandson of an emigrant to Ireland from Scotland, and came to Pennsylvania about 1736, settling about fifty miles west of Philadelphia, in Chester County. There he resided during the Great Awakening, when he and his wife were brought to a serious concern about religion through the preaching of George Whitefield at White Clay Creek, Pennsylvania. They were members of the New Providence congregation, where John Rowland was pastor; Rowland's preaching during the revival there is described in Dr. Alexander's The Log College, pp. 210-221. Dr. Alexander's grandfather came to what is now Rockbridge County, Virginia in 1747, and from Benjamin Borden's Grant obtained 980 acres along the west side of South River, opposite the mouth of Irish Creek. The Creek took its name from the many Scotch-Irish settlers along its banks. Though there were earlier Presbyterian churches in the tidewater of Virginia, the Presbyterian congregations in the Shenandoah Valley were distinctively Scotch-Irish, and were the result of the migration into the valley around 1730 to 1750. Alexander was the first sheriff of the county, and was an elder at Timber Ridge Presbyterian Church, which was organized in 1746. Timber Ridge Church belonged to the New Side group, favorable to the Great Awakening.
Timber Ridge Church erected its present building in 1756. The communion table in the church was built and given to the church the same year, and is the oldest known piece of Rockbridge County furniture. Timber Ridge would be the church where Dr. Archibald Alexander would have been baptized in 1772. There is an interesting historical display in the vestibule of the church. Near the church is a marker for the birthplace of Sam Houston (1793-1863), governor of Tennessee and of Texas. Robert Houston, grandfather of the governor, belonged to Timber Ridge Church and gave the land for the present building. The older Archibald Alexander died about 1780 and is apparently buried two miles north, at Muse Cemetery, the older burying ground for Timber Ridge Church, though his grave stone is now gone.
In 1776, Liberty Hall Academy (the school which developed into Washington and Lee University) was moved to a site near Timber Ridge Presbyterian Church. The academy began elsewhere as Augusta Academy in 1749; it was founded by the older Archibald Alexander's brother, Robert. Control of the school passed to the Presbytery of Hanover in 1774. William Graham (1746-1799) was called in 1776 to be pastor of Timber Ridge Church, and of Hall's Meeting Place (later New Monmouth Church), which was located west of Lexington. Graham was also given responsibility for the academy. Graham was a recent graduate of the College of New Jersey at Princeton, New Jersey. Liberty Hall was given its new name in 1776, at the outbreak of the Revolution, about the same time that the new town of Lexington took its name from the Massachusetts village which was the scene of the first armed conflict in the war. Graham moved to a farm on Mulberry Hill near Lexington in 1779, and Liberty Hall was reopened at the new site in 1782. Meanwhile, about 1779, young Archibald Alexander was sent at the age of seven to board with a relative while attending a school on Timber Ridge. He had previously memorized the Westminster Shorter Catechism's 107 questions, and now began learning the Larger Catechism.
To reach the Muse Cemetery where the older Archibald Alexander was buried, leave Timber Ridge Church and turn right onto U.S. Highway 11 North. Go 2.3 miles. Where Route 714 turns to the right, turn left at a turn-around on the divided highway to return south on Highway 11. Go 0.1 mile, and at the first mail box on the right (no. 4319), park on the gravel shoulder of the road. The cemetery is visible on the right, down the hill. At the corner of the pasture fence use the foot posts to cross the fence.
Site 2: Archibald Alexander's birthplace on South River
Directions: The birthplace is a fifteen-minute drive from Timber Ridge Church, with fine views of the mountains. To reach the Alexanders' farm, from the entrance of the church, bear right on Route 716, ascending a hill through the woods. Go 1.3 miles and turn left to remain on Timber Ridge Road (Route 716). Go 3.4 miles to the second stop sign, at the end of the bridge over South River. The land along the west side of the river where the road makes its final descent off the mountain was part of the Alexander property. At the end of the bridge, turn left onto South River Road (Route 608). Go 1.0 mile and park in the gravel area at the intersection with Irish Creek Road (Route 603).
Dr. Alexander's father, William Alexander, was born in Chester County, Pennsylvania, on March 22, 1738, and came to Rockbridge County, Virginia with his father. William's son Archibald was born on his grandfather's land on South River, nearly opposite the mouth of Irish Creek. Just north of Irish Creek, a private bridge on the left crosses to the west side of the South River. Dr. Archibald Alexander was born in a log house on the west side of the river, on April 17, 1772. An historical plaque to mark the area where Dr. Alexander was born was set up about 1958, but has been repeatedly washed out by local flooding, and until recently was stored in the basement of the Rockbridge Historical Society's Campbell House at 101 East Washington Street in Lexington. We have received a report that the plaque has now been mounted on a rock by Dr. Horace Douty at the intersection of Irish Creek and South River Road, not far from its previous location.
Site 3: Location of Archibald Alexander's boyhood home in Lexington
Directions: From Timber Ridge Presbyterian Church, take U.S. Highway 11 South 5.1 miles and cross the Maury River into Lexington. Immediately after crossing the river, take the first street on the right, at a brown sign for Jordan's Point Park. The first stream one crosses is Wood's Creek, and the second is the mill race.
In 1775, William Alexander moved to the North River (now known as Maury River), and settled just north of Lexington, on what is now called Jordan's Point. Here Alexander lived and operated a store. There was a ford across the river here, on the Great Wagon Road which ran from Pennsylvania through the Shenandoah Valley and was the route taken by many Scotch-Irish settlers who founded Presbyterian congregations along the Shenandoah Valley. The farmers brought their products along the river in bateaux constructed by laying a raft over two canoes. After Alexander left Jordan's Point about 1793, additional commerce and industry developed here, including mills and forges. It was apparently near the mill race that the Alexander home and store were located. Archibald Alexander spent much of his boyhood here, and from here he was sent to the school on Timber Ridge.
In later years, William's son, Major John Alexander (1776-1853), a veteran of the War of 1812, built a home less than a mile down the river, and on the opposite shore. The thirteen-room manor house, known as Clifton, is reached by crossing back over the Maury River on U.S. Highway 11 North, and then turning right onto county route 631. John Alexander was a trustee of what is now Washington and Lee University, in Lexington (1812-1853), and an elder for 47 years at Lexington Presbyterian Church.
Site 4: Ruins of Liberty Hall on Mulberry Hill
Directions: After crossing the Maury River bridge on U.S. Highway 11 South, go 0.3 mile and bear right onto U.S. Highway 11 Business, into downtown Lexington. Go 1.1 miles (passing through the campus of Virginia Military Institute) and at the second traffic light turn right onto U.S. Highway 60 West (Nelson Street). Go 0.6 mile and just past Liberty Hall Road turn right onto West Denny Circle. Bear to the right and enter the parking lot on the right. The high walls of the ruins will be visible across the road.
In 1779, William Graham, who also became pastor of the Presbyterians meeting in Lexington, had moved to a farm on Mulberry Hill on the west side of Lexington. Liberty Hall Academy was reopened there in 1782 on a site of 120 acres, with part of the land given by Graham, and part by Dr. Alexander's father, William Alexander, who was a trustee of the college (1782-1797). The first academy buildings on Mulberry Hill were erected in 1783. Dr. Archibald Alexander studied here with Graham until 1788; Dr. Alexander's son commented that "To no man did Dr. Alexander own himself more indebted, in regard to the direction of his studies and the moulding of his character." The biography of Dr. Alexander, pages 17-20 and 37, contains an account of Graham. Alexander studied the classics and natural and moral philosophy at Liberty Hall Academy, with Graham giving the course taught by John Witherspoon at Princeton, New Jersey. In 1788, Dr. Alexander's father sent him away to act as a tutor in a household near Fredericksburg, Virginia. He returned to Lexington in 1789 and the following year began to receive further theological instruction from Graham, in preparation for entering the ministry. Alexander's description of this course of study is found on pages 82-84 and 104-110 of his biography.
The largest of several structures on the Mulberry Hill campus was a three-story, limestone building, used for classes and dormitory rooms; it was built in 1793 and burned in January 1803. Its ruins, locally known as Liberty Hall, have been excavated by Washington and Lee University. An unusual feature of the Liberty Hall building are the four corner chimneys; they are also found in the Alexander-Witherow house which William Alexander built in Lexington about 1793. Graham resigned as rector of Liberty Hall Academy in 1796. During a time of financial instability, George Washington gave the academy one hundred shares in a canal company, and the gift drew attention to the needs of the institution, which the trustees in 1798 renamed the Washington Academy.
Site 5: Ruins of New Monmouth Presbyterian Church
Directions: Return to U.S. Highway 60, and turn right to continue west 1.6 miles. Immediately after crossing the small Whistle Creek bridge (with its yellow hazard markers), make a sharp turn to the right onto West Whistle Creek Road (Route 669). Bear immediately to the left and go up the hill 0.1 mile to the Bible Church at Rockbridge. Park there and walk down to the gate into the field which contains the ruins of New Monmouth Church, which have a marker attached to them.
William Graham was a preacher in the revival around Lexington in 1789 and 1790. One of the places where the preaching occurred was New Monmouth Presbyterian Church. In 1789 the congregation was divided into two parts, one part worshipping in Lexington and the other at New Monmouth, with Graham as pastor. The stone building at New Monmouth building was erected in 1789 at Graham's urging. Archibald Alexander came back to Lexington before the revival began in 1789, and when Graham heard about the scenes of revival elsewhere in Virginia, he took young Alexander with him to witness what was happening. They returned to tell the people of Lexington about the serious concerns respecting religion which were being felt in other congregations, and Alexander's memories of the meeting at New Monmouth Church when Graham related his observations are found on pages 66-67 of Alexander's biography. Some of Alexander's trial discourses in preparation for the ministry were given at New Monmouth Church.
From the site of New Monmouth Church, there is a good view of House Mountain, which dominates the area around Lexington. Alexander's reflections on House Mountain and the rugged scenery of Rockbridge County are found on pages 24-31 of his biography. Alexander's first public exhortation took place at a log home on Kerr's Creek, where Graham had two of his students deliver some words. Alexander's experience on this occasion is related on pp. 85-86 of his biography. Kerr's Creek is a community a few miles further west on Highway 60.
Site 6: William Alexander house on Main Street in Lexington
Directions: From New Monmouth Church, turn left to return to Lexington on U.S. Highway 60 East. Go 2.2 miles. Immediately after the railroad overpass, turn left onto Washington Street. Continue 0.4 mile, and park on Washington Street opposite the Lexington Visitor's Center and in front of the Rockbridge Historical Society. Walk back one block west along Washington Street past the Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson house to the intersection of Washington Street and Main Street. The best view of the Alexander-Witherow house is from the southwest corner of the intersection.
About 1793, William Alexander, father of Dr. Archibald Alexander, built a fine brick home on a lot he had purchased in the town of Lexington, whose streets had recently been laid out. It was both his home and his store, and he was also the town's first postmaster. The house is now an inn, known as the Alexander-Withrow house. Call 540-463-2044, and ask for a room in the Alexander-Withrow House; rooms in several buildings are handled by the same management. Because most of the buildings in the town were destroyed by a fire in 1796, the Alexander-Withrow house is said to be the oldest building remaining in Lexington. The town fire gutted the interior of the house, whereupon William moved out and his eldest son Andrew rebuilt the interior. In 1851, the level of Main Street was lowered considerably to allow for a less steep grade; until the street was lowered, the ground-level entrance to the house was on what is now the second floor. After the street was lowered, the basement was exposed, and the lowest level of some houses, such as the Alexander-Witherow house, was then given a facing of stone slabs. The interior of the house was further renovated about this time, and the Italianate roof line was added around 1856.
Site 7: Location of William Alexander houses at Washington and Lee University
Directions: From the Lexington Visitor's Center on Washington Street, proceed south and turn onto the first street on the left, Tucker Street. Go one block and turn left onto Henry Street. Go three blocks and cross Jefferson Street into the visitor parking for Washington and Lee University. Walk up the hill and to the left. The house to the far left, on Washington Street, is the president's house, known as the Lee House, situated just west of the Robert E. Lee Episcopal Church. The house to the right of it is the Lee-Jackson House.
When William Alexander, father of Dr. Archibald Alexander, left the burned house in 1796, he went to an already-existing log house situated on property he owned on the west side of Lexington. The land is now the front campus of Washington and Lee University. William's log house was apparently located just behind where the University president's house now stands. When William Alexander died on May 2, 1797, he was constructing a frame house on the site now occupied by the president's house; Alexander had already moved into the uncompleted house. After the 1803 fire which destroyed Liberty Hall Academy's limestone building on Mulberry Hill, the school moved to its present campus. On March 4, 1803, William Alexander's widow Nancy sold the college the house and thirty acres where she resided, and this became the main campus of Washington and Lee University. At the same time, William and Nancy's son Andrew gained possession of the Mulberry Hill property in an exchange for land that is part of the present campus. Andrew Alexander (1768-1844) was a member of the Virginia legislature, a trustee of the college (1796-1844), and gave Lexington its first water system.
William Alexander's daughter Sarah had married Samuel Legrand Campbell in 1794; Campbell was both an executor of his father-in-law's will and the second president of Liberty Hall Academy. William Alexander's frame house became the residence of the presidents of Washington and Lee, from 1803 until 1844. After 1844, the presidents resided in the neighboring brick house, known as the Lee-Jackson House. While Presbyterian minister George Junkin was president, the appendage on the right side of the Lee-Jackson house was from 1853 the residence of Junkin's daughter and her husband, Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson. After Jackson's wife died the next year, Jackson remained in the house for another three years. Junkin was a prominent Old School leader in the division of the Presbyterian Church in 1837. Robert E. Lee, president of the college from 1865 to 1870, resided in the brick house until 1869, when a new president's house, designed by Lee, was erected on the spot where William Alexander's frame house had stood. Lee died in the new house in 1870. Today it continues to serve as the president's house. Before Alexander's frame house was removed, it served as a college boarding house from 1865 to 1868 for Confederate veterans who had served under Lee and who had enrolled in the college after the Civil War. Lee's solicitude for the welfare of his students caused him to visit with them at this house which stood next to his own residence. Lee is buried near the president's house, at Lee Chapel; one of the speakers at Lee's funeral was Rev. Henry C. Alexander, who was a grandson of Dr. Archibald Alexander and a son of James W. Alexander.
Near these residences are two university buildings housing artifacts associated with Liberty Hall Academy. William Graham went to Philadelphia in 1776 to buy books for Liberty Hall Academy, and some 130 of the 300 books which he secured on that occasion are on view in the Special Collections at the James G. Leyburn Library, situated behind Washington Hall (which faces Lee Chapel). Among the books are Hervey's Works, Owen on Psalm 130, Durham on Isaiah 53, Durham's Unsearchable Riches, and Turretin's Institutio. On display at the Lee Chapel Museum are a silhouette of Graham and the seal of Liberty Hall Academy, as well as the portrait of Robert E. Lee's father, Henry "Lighthorse Harry" Lee, who was a classmate of Graham at the College of New Jersey, at Princeton. Graham is buried on the lawn on the far side of Lee Chapel. William Graham's brother Edward, who was a trustee of the college (1807-1840), and taught there (1813-1829), married Dr. Archibald Alexander's sister Margaret (1770-1852), who came to serious concerns about religion at the time of the 1789 Lexington revival.
Both William Alexander's log house and his frame house were moved from the college campus in 1868, and were placed side by side at 207 and 209 North Randolph Street, on Shields Hill in Lexington, where they remain today. At the time the houses were moved, the log house was weather-boarded. The frame house, after its move to Shields Hill, became in 1893 the residence of William Leslie Price, the butler for G. W. C. Lee, son of Robert E. Lee and his father's successor as president of the college. Price turned the frame house around ninety degrees and remodeled it somewhat; originally the house was two stories high and had the general appearance of the weather-boarded log house next door.
Site 8: Stonewall Jackson Cemetery
Directions: From the visitor parking for Washington and Lee University, turn right onto Jefferson Street. Go five blocks to the end of Jefferson Street. The Victorian house in white brick directly ahead, at 6 White Street, is the Presbyterian manse built in 1848. Turn left onto White Street. Turn left onto Main Street (U.S. Highway 11 North). In the first block, park on the street in front of the cemetery. There is also parking in the driveway on the right at the far end of the cemetery.
William Graham was pastor of the Lexington Presbyterian Church until he left the area in 1796, and William Alexander was an elder in the congregation. The congregation's original building, which was erected in 1799, was of brick, fifty feet square, and stood in a beautiful grove of trees, at what is now the front entry gate of the cemetery. It had an inside gallery extending around three sides, entered by two outside stairways. The pulpit was a box with a massive sounding board, on the north end of the building. When a new church was constructed closer to the center of Lexington, the bricks of the original church were used in the construction of the Presbyterian manse on White Street. On the main path into the cemetery, the first fenced enclosure on the left is the Junkin family plot. George Junkin (1790-1868) was president of Washington College, and was a leader among the Old School Presbyterians in the division of the Presbyterian Church in 1837. His daughter Elinor (1825-1864), the first wife of Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson, is also buried in the Junkin plot. Further along the path, and on the right, is the tall obelisk for John Letcher (1813-1884), the governor of Virginia during the Civil War. General Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson's grave is maked by the statute at the center of the cemetery. The present church building, erected in 1845, is a few blocks away, and is reached by proceeding north to 120 South Main Street, at the intersection with Nelson Street. The building suffered serious damage from a fire in 2000, but has been restored. This is the congregation in which Jackson was a deacon. Jackson became a Presbyterian while living in Lexington.
One block south of the Stonewall Jackson Cemetery is a very pleasant bed and breakfast, Magnolia House Inn, at 501 South Main Street, telephone 540-463-2567. For lunch and dinner, the Southern Inn is nearby, at 37 South Main Street, telephone 540-463-3612.
James W. Alexander, The Life of Archibald Alexander.
William Henry Foote, Sketches of Virginia.
Iain H. Murray, Revival and Revivalism: The Making and Marring of American Evangelicalism 1750-1858.