Second of a three-part series.
Pitching hay and wrestling a plow through Nelson County’s red soil helped put muscles on William Archer Rutherfoord Goodwin’s lanky frame.
Reading the Bible and attending services at Christ Episcopal Church in Norwood strengthened his spiritual faith. Goodwin also acquired a thirst for knowledge that prompted him to leave the family farm in 1885 to attend Roanoke College.
Soon after graduating in 1889, Goodwin entered Virginia Theological Seminary, where in 1893 he received a divinity degree. His first assignment was seeing to the spiritual needs of Episcopalians living in Petersburg.
Then, just a few years into the 20th century, Goodwin became the pastor of historic Bruton Parish Church in Williamsburg. Founded in 1674, the church was well established when Williamsburg became the capital of Virginia in 1699.
When the capital was moved to Richmond in 1780, the little city began to slip into obscurity. The College of William and Mary remained vibrant and relevant, but many of the city’s old houses, as well as the church, were in decline.
Goodwin loved history and historical things, and he wasn’t about to let his church fall into ruin. He immediately started campaigning for funds to restore the church to its former glory.
Some of the parishioners were less than supportive. They soon would discover that W.A.R. Goodwin was a very persuasive man.
To appease his detractors, Goodwin gave a special service in 1905 as the restoration work was about to commence. Things didn’t go well.
First off, the old organ, which was held together with wire, bootlaces and hope, expired with a “horrible moan.” Then a thunderstorm blew through, causing a dog and cat to seek shelter beneath the church.
The two refugees from the storm quickly started to yowl, hiss and bark at each other. As the animals fussed and the thunder boomed, those who opposed the restoration pointed to the ruckus as a sign from God that he wasn’t pleased with the proposed project.
Nonetheless, Goodwin didn’t falter — and the project became a resounding success. The achievement caused him to think the same could be done for the historic homes and buildings that gave Williamsburg much of its character.
But soon after the work on the church was completed in 1907, Goodwin was transferred to a parish in Rochester, N.Y. Then, in 1923, he returned to Williamsburg to head up a new Bible study department at William and Mary and again become the rector of Bruton Parish Church.
What Goodwin saw as he once again walked along Duke of Gloucester Street made him heartsick. Nondescript, slapped-together buildings had replaced many of the historic structures.
One still could find things that made Williamsburg historically significant, but they were disappearing fast. Now, Goodwin stood on the threshold of his life’s work.