Saving the last piece of Wootentown’s history

Published 4:08 pm Friday, November 18, 2022

Nancy Burroughs is on a mission to restore First Loving Union Free Will Baptist Church.  

It’s been a nearly 23 year journey for Burroughs. She began in January of 2000 after receiving a vision from God to restore the church to its former glory.  The church is located on Whootentown Road and is the last remaining non-residential structure of the former Wootentown community. 

Burroughs is working toward restoring the church with the goal of having it listed on the National Register of Historic Places. She would also like to open the church to ministers each preaching one Sunday a month and she would like for the church to be open for tours. Eventually, she would like to sell the church to the City of Washington to maintain.

“Being on that list is all I care about” Burroughs said because “nobody can tear it down and put a lock on the door and let it go down to nothing.”  

One of Burroughs’ reasons for restoring the church is her personal connection to it. She was born in Washington, but moved to New York at the age of 11. Before moving north, she and her family attended First Loving Union. Her sense of belonging to the church and honoring past congregations as well as former Wootentown community members drew her back to Washington from New York.

If Burroughs is able to restore the church, she hopes charter members from 122 years ago would be proud that she “has held the church up.” 

It was one of the few non-residential structures in the Wootentown community, Burroughs said. “We shouldn’t let it go,” she added. 

“I don’t think we should let it fall down and die,” Burroughs said. “I just want to be happy that it’s going to stand.” 

Burroughs anticipates it will take a year to a year-and-a-half to complete the restoration. She is relying on donations and volunteer work. At this time, she knows the ceiling will need repair and stained glass windows will need to be replaced. Painting of the exterior will also need to be done. 

First Loving Union Free Will Baptist began in 1900 when Harklass Wooten donated his country store to the Wootentown community. At that time, it was called Holy Temple, then Loving Union Free Will Baptist Church. The current church structure was built in 1922 and is the structure that can be seen today, according to an article published by the Daily News in 1999. 

Throughout the decades, the church grew, reaching a pinnacle in the 1980’s when they moved to a newly built church, Loving Union Free Will Baptist Church on River Road in Washington. Disagreements about how the church should be managed and the passing of many elderly congregants caused the membership at the historic church to dissipate. By 1998, there were few members left, per the Daily News article. The church doors were closed until Burroughs began ministering there in 2000. She renamed the Wootentown location to First Loving Union Free Will Baptist for clarity between it and the River Road location. She retired from preaching in 2019.