May 2020

More than 80 years ago, Northern Neck Electric Cooperative ran a power line from Oak Grove in Westmoreland County to the community of Warsaw, electrifying houses and farms in places like Foneswood for the very first time.

“When we got electricity in 1939, that changed everything,” Fenwick recalls. “We got our first refrigerator in 1940 — before that, we had an icebox — and the convenience of that and lights was a big deal.” 

Fast forward to 2020 and the advent of power has not done much to change the rural nature of Foneswood, an unincorporated community of about 755 in Richmond County.

“I was born and raised in Foneswood, but it was never a bustling place,” says Fenwick, who was a teenager when she flipped on a light switch at home for the first time.  

Still, there is a sense of community in Foneswood, much of it centered on Ephesus Christian Church, which will celebrate its 150th anniversary in July 2020.

“People in Foneswood are humble and kind,” says the Rev. Danny Maupin, pastor at the church for nearly five years. “The atmosphere is, ‘Hey, if you stop by, you’re welcome.’ People make you feel at home.”

LEGEND AND LORE

Located on the north side of the Rappahannock River, Foneswood once was home to a post office, several general stores, two schools,
a blacksmith shop, many farms and scattered homes. Benjamin R. Battaile was appointed postmaster in 1854 but the post office closed in 1857, a few years before Battaile was mustered into the Virginia 55th Infantry in the Civil War.

The post office reopened in 1871 with Robert A. Fones, the community’s namesake, as postmaster.

“The Northern Neck was isolated. A boat or ferry was the only way you got over the river before the [first] Downing Bridge in Tappahannock opened in 1927,” says Aubrey Mitchell, who grew up in the back of Peed’s Store, which his family ran. “People had big families and congregated in groups, which is how rural places like Foneswood evolved.”

Even today, you might miss Foneswood entirely unless you catch a marker just before a Y-fork on Route 624, across from the now-private home of Mitchell’s son Stan and daughter-in-law Robin. The restored Mitchell home predates 1850.

“It was a one-room store when it was originally built,” explains Mitchell, a retired dairy farm inspector. “My mama and daddy bought it in 1934. When we restored the building, we found logs under the house used for floor sills. The logs still had bark on them and
no termites.”

In time, the Foneswood post office found a new home in the store. Mitchell’s mother was sworn in as postmaster in 1946 after Mitchell’s father did a stint as acting postmaster. The post office closed in 1995, but Mitchell has vivid memories about growing up in his parents’ store.

“You had gas pumps with a handle that you pumped up into a globe, 5 gallons at a time. Bread was 9 cents a loaf and a candy bar cost 3 cents. We had to get up in the morning and feed the cows and chickens,” he says. “Daddy said you can participate in activities but you have to come home and milk the cows. Everyone worked hard.”

Son Stan Mitchell, a teacher at King George High School, fondly recalls weekends with his grandmother at the restored house where he lives.

“I knew I wanted to keep the home in the family,” he explains. “It’s relaxed and people are respectful of one another here. More people are moving into the area and building homes where there were once fields.” 

Joe Reamy lives with wife Minnie in Mechanicsville, Va., and grew up in Foneswood. His grandparents donated the land on Horners Mill Road where Ephesus Christian Church is located. “It was a good, quiet community to grow up in,” Reamy says.

COMMUNITY AND CHURCH

Life was not always idyllic in Foneswood: One resident says the area was nicknamed “Dodge City” because of some incidents that happened near the turn of the 20th century.

Despite those incidents, Foneswood remained a place where neighbors helped neighbors and formed strong community connections.

“Many of my ancestors were farmers,” says Ellen Martin, who was raised in Foneswood. “When I was growing up, Montross was seven minutes from our house and the place where everybody went to town on Saturday to shop.”

Ephesus Christian Church is at the heart of Foneswood. Long ago, all-day meetings with sumptuous meals were the order of the day. But Ephesus Christian had fallen on hard times when Maupin took over the ministry.

“The church was about to close. There were maybe 16 of us, and six of those were in my family. I was attracted to Ephesus because I always wanted to see God do a restoration work. This was my opportunity, and the Lord has not disappointed,” he says.

The Daylight Warriors program is a feature of the church and a true community activity with more than 50 members.
A monthly Daylight Warriors event also attracts people from surrounding areas. Meetings focusing on senior citizens feature a covered-dish meal, crafts, bingo games and a brief Bible meditation from Maupin.

At a recent meeting the topic was thankfulness. Aubrey Mitchell jokes, “I’m thankful I’ve lived this long without being shot by a jealous husband!” A woman declares, “I’m thankful for this group … it’s good to not eat alone. When you live by yourself, you have to eat by yourself.” 

Mike King grew up in Prince Georges County, Md. A retired union carpenter, friends from the Foneswood area introduced him to life on the Northern Neck.

“I bought property here in 1983 and commuted for work. Hunting and fishing attracted me to the area. I met a lot of people and stayed here,” he explains.

King notes he gained a “ready-made family” when he married wife Rose, who had four children. Church attendance was difficult with his grueling work schedule, but three years ago Aubrey Mitchell stopped by and invited him to church.

“With me, all you have to do is ask,” he says with a laugh.

On a recent fall day, King volunteered at the church’s “Hunter’s Lunch,” held four Saturdays a year during hunting season. Volunteers prepare cooked hot lunches for $6 as a fundraising effort; the lunches attract 35-40 hunters.

The upbeat Maupin says, “The folks at Ephesus Christian Church, they don’t want to give up. Through the seniors’ ministry, we have seen the church blossom.”