The Story of an Old, Sad Church {Stanardsville, Va. Photography}

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UPDATE 2017:

At least once every year this blog post gets found and shared and I absolutely LOVE that because I learn so much more about the area. I’m not a native to Greene, though have lived here about 12 years and feel a really deep loyalty to this area. I’ve been back up there and someone is living nearby that has family connection to the location and the land. I haven’t been up there in about 2 years, though, but I believe I will be going up there again just to see if anything has changed. I have an idea for a research project/book (you know because I’m not actually busy enough) so ANYONE who has ANY information about ANY of the old churches in our county PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE email me at I’d love to gather all the first-hand information that I possibly can.

ANYONE in Greene County that has old buildings on their property and would be willing to allow me to photograph them, I have a personal project I’m working on before everything falls into complete disarray. Please share with anyone you know personally who might be willing to allow me access. I carry liability insurance and will gladly sign releases for the property owners so if I am injured they are not responsible. I want to preserve this history in photographs and written stories just as much as I can before all the information is lost to time. This is a very special, important project for me and I’d appreciate anything anyone has to offer.

If you don’t know about the Blue Ridge Heritage Project you NEED to check it out. It is honoring those who lost their homes when Shenandoah National Park came through. Interestingly enough several who have gone away to school have been told the story could not be true because “our government” would never have done that. I think us all know differently. Do not let this history get lost from the world. I wrote this story on a lovely woman from Greene County for the Greene County Record who remembers being forced off her land. ❤


As I was driving around the back roads of Greene County I ran across this old church on High Top Mountain. I’d never seen a church that was in such disarray and it made me quite sad.  It piqued my interest so I contacted the Greene Historical Society.  Amazingly, Jackie, president of the society had been recently talking with someone who had attended the High Top Free Pentecostal Church who said he’d be willing to talk to me. I was thrilled! I am a total history nut!!


I searched online to see if I could find any information about the church first. I thought perhaps some of the nearby Pentecostal churches would have come from this old one and have some information on it. I found almost no information about it at all. High Top Mountain is 3,587 feet at its peak, which would be along Skyline Drive. If I were to guess, I’d say this is more than halfway up the mountain. I figured most of the people who attended this difficult-to-get-to church lived on that mountain. For those who are unaware, when Shenandoah National Park was created it was land taken from “mountain folks” who were pushed down the mountain. I wondered if this was why this church when into disuse.


The church’s cemetery stands to the side of the church, and appears in good shape. I can tell people visit it still to pay respect to their loved ones. To find out more about who is buried there, visit this link. For those unfamiliar with Greene County…Shifflet, Roach, Morris and Collier are well-known names of the founding families in Greene, specifically in the mountains.


So I did contact Mr. G. I don’t want to give his name, in case he would not want everyone to seek him out. He told me while he didn’t live up there int he mountains–he is actually from Albemarle County–he did attend revivals in 1955-56 when he was about 12 years old. I attached photos of the church in its current state, in case he hasn’t seen it since then. He gave me some very interesting information about the church, specifically about the presiding family.

“A Rev. Talmadge Roach was the minister at this time. I believe that he is the one who build the church, but I’m not 100% sure. I have Talmade Roach’s obit and it states that he was a minister for over 50 years. Rev. Roach was born on Aug. 8, 1900 in Rockingham County and died Nov. 12, 1982 in Greene County. He is buried in this church cemetery. Rev. Talmadge Roach was married to Mary Ann Roach. She was born Aug. 12, 1900 in Greene County and died May 7, 1982 in Greene County. (Am I the only who notices the insanely close birthday and death for these two??) She is also buried in the church cemetery.

“I don’t think there has been any services held in this church since Rev. Talmadge died. I have contacted some people who attended this church years ago to try to find out more info, but so far I haven’t found anything new. Talmadge and Mary Ann had one child, a daughter named Mary Dorcas Roach Smith, but I have been told that she is also deceased.” (Any Greene County peeps know??)


Wow. I was floored to learn such neat information, but I also wanted to know something about the people who went to church there so I contacted him again.

“My family and I didn’t attend this church regularly, mostly just when they were having a revival. I believe most of the regular church members did live on or very near the mountain. I’m not sure if you are familiar with the Pentecostal religion, but many of their churches, as well as the one on High Top Mountain believed in shouting and speaking in tongues. The Minister, Talmadge Roach and his wife, Mary Ann were very strict in their beliefs. They didn’t think that a person should wear makeup, jewelry, or that a woman should cut her hair.

As I stated before, I was very young when I attended this church, so I don’t remember a lot about the services. I do remember that some of the folks would play music instruments and I loved the singing.”



I’m still interested in learning more about this church…who went there? What was it like? What was it like living up on this mountain? How did you do it? It’s quite high and I can’t imagine getting down the mountain for school every day or to shop. How did this work? I’m terribly fascinated with this. I found a three-year-old article about how Linda Berry, who had attended this church, was trying to renovate it. Is this why there is plastic on the pews and it looks as well as it does on the inside?


Here is some additional interesting finds along High Top Mountain, including: this foundation of an old house that has since crashed into itself. It may have been the home of a family that was pushed off the mountain to make room for Shenandoah National Park.




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58 thoughts on “The Story of an Old, Sad Church {Stanardsville, Va. Photography}

  1. I remember the Roach’s well and am very well acquainted with the some of the people who attended here. Many of the people are long dead, and family members have scattered attending some of the other mountain Pentecostal churches ( though they refer to themselves as Holiness people). They are still strict- no television, no make up, cut hair, no going to the movies, fairs, or other worldly places. Most of the Roash’s, Shifflietts, Fraziers, and Colliers go to the churches down from High Top. Eheart Pentecostal on Rt 33 is still there. Rev. Dennis Collier who was the pastor, just passed away. Owensville Pentecostal on Owensville road out side of Charlottesville and Pentecostal Assembly in Ruckersville are all old line holiness churches and have a few older members. Most of the churches are all made up of family, so you should be able to find a wealth of history. Many of the churches still have outhouses and a few have graveyards as well. Hope this helps.


  2. Rev. Talmadge Roach And Mary Ann Roach were my grandparents on my mothers side . My mothers name is Mary Dorcas Roach Smith and yes she is deceased. I am the only survivor on her side. I still live up on the beauitful High Top mountain. I know quite a bit about the life on the mountain as I lived there as a child. I still own land there


    • Hi Josh Knew Your Mother Well I’ve Spent Some wonderful times at her house I Loved aunt mary and uncle talmadge a lot I missed them both aunt Mary’s sister was my grandmother Larry Pratt


  3. There were many churches just outside the borders of the Shenandoah National Park, whose members mostly lived within Park borders. When they were forced off their land and went to live elsewhere; membership at the churches dwindled down too low to continue to support the church. There are many such churches right outside of Shenandoah’s borders. Beech Spring Regular Baptist on 211 is one example; but is being tended. Another example is Piedmont Baptist on 608 in Rappahannock Co.; it fell into disrepair but then was beautifully renovated into a home.


  4. I attended this church as a small child. My mother grew up on High Top mountain and also attend this church when she was young. There have been meetings in this church since Talmadge Roach died. As a matter of fact my father, was put in as a deacon of the church when a business meeting was called after the death of Talmadge and Mary Roach. The last pastor of the church was Johnny Roach.

    Would love to talk to you about this church.


  5. Dose anyone no where a church is for rent at in the New Market , Stanley Luray , Area looking to move our church in to it please leat me no


  6. My Grandmother (Lois Snyder, wife of Ben Snyder) who is going on 97 and still living, told me stories of them attending a service there on occasion with my Uncle Ennis Dean and Aunt Ada Dean. It has been so long since she last told me stories about the church that I have since forgotten them. I could ask her again to get some information about it.


  7. My grandfather was Tally Roach, the brother of Mary Ann. I remember going there as a child. Had all day meeting there and some of the best food you could eat. Good preaching and music that ring thought the hollow. There are a lot of people around Greene know a little and some a lot about High top church. It is a sad thing to look at but time pass on by. Good look.


  8. My grandfather (LIVELY Roach, His wife ANGIE) were kin to Talmadge and Mary Ann. My neice (KIM MORRIS) and JUNIOR CONLEYs little angel was buried in the cemetery. I remember going to the Homecomings at this church lasting all day long and the best food .


  9. I remember going to meeting at this church when I was very young with my mother father and grandmother Lonie Conley, We lived in PA but visited Virginia almost every weekend. We are related to the Roaches Shifflet’s Morris, and Conleys this is where my parents grew up.


  10. My sister shared this blog with me and my siblings this morning. We knew the Roaches, and I attended Mary Roaches funeral. A story from just that event alone, no Hollywood movie could ever write! My brother owns land on the mountain and he may contact you with his info, he and my parents visited the Roaches often, plus they hunted in and around their property along with his own. What I can tell you, both Rev. & Mrs. Roach loved Jesus and they lived what they preached! Just as a little kid, I was in total awe of this woman that I felt sure could reach out and touch the hand of God. Our society could learn so much from wonderful people like the Roaches who recognized their need for Jesus, and nothing else much mattered to them. Not a sermon, just a thought. 🙂


    • Does anyone have any information of pictures of the old Hightop School that once sat a little further up the mountain near the Park boundary?


      • I don’t know if there foundation is still there; I have seen it on an old map and know of its location but there doesn’t seem to be anything left of it. It was not next to the church but farther up the mountain. i bet some of those old timers who attended the church, also attended the school


  11. Thank you thank you thank you for all the comments & Facebook comments! I am blown away & love it. I’d love to talk to anyone about this area. I live in Greene & learning this history is amazing to me. If anyone was living there when park came through I’d love to learn what that was like. To me that’s a story that needs further telling!!


  12. there is a picture of Talmadge on the Shiflett family Genealogy site……. there is a list of churches and family members burried there his name is there and a picture.


  13. I have family buried in the cemetery. My Grandmother is buried there as well as two of her brothers and a sister. I also have a second cousin that is buried there as well. It is a shame that the Church is in ruins. I would like to see the road in better shape, it makes it difficult to get to the cemetery to visit the graves of our loved ones. The last time I was up there was three years ago and it was almost impossible to get up the mountain.


  14. My Grandmother, Ruby Pearl Roach, lived on High Top Mountain. She also went to this church. I would use the term “mountain folks” lightly. Yes, they lived on the mountain. They were the most hard working people and good people I know. No, they did not have cell phones, computers, or some not even cars. We are so spoiled today. If some had to work as hard as they did then, the ones today would not survive. My Grandmother told me how she walked off that mountain many times to get her groceries. Also, the religion was not forced on anyone. I have many wonderful memories from the church. Picnics, you did not know one, till you went to one of theirs. We also called it a Homecoming Service. This church was kept up for many wonderful years!


    • I love that! Thank you for reaching out to me! Do you have photos of anything at that church from that time? I’m blown away by all the responses and I am so interested in learning anything more! I’d so love to tell the full story of that lovely building!! I’m so interested in what it was like living on the mountains back in the day, what it was like when the park came through (I appreciate that the park is there but the story of those who were forced off the mountain was never told to anyone outside this area until recently). I’d love to know more, share it with others. In all honesty it wasn’t all that long ago and it was so different. I didn’t grow up here in Greene, I’m from Northern Virginia, but I’m raising my children here and I do love it. I’d still love to learn more about what their lives were like. It’s so hard to image with all the forest up there but I’m sure it was wonderful!


    • I remember Sis . Ruby Roach. I used to see her sometimes at Eheart Pentecostal where Bro. Dennis Collier used to pastor, and at Owensville Pentecostal. She was a godly and sweet woman. I have an old reel to reel tape of High Top Pentecostal church from the late 60’s. I’ll try to have it converted.


      • The tape is an audio. I am working on getting it converted. Some of it has degraded, but hopefully someone will recognize who is talking and recall some of the singing.


      • My name is Alfred Smith son of Mary D Roach Smith. I inherited the High top church as my mothers sole heir. I am very interested in seeing or hearing the tape that you have. Talmadge and Mary Ann Roach had recorded sing on a eight track tape it was orange but that came up missing.Talmadge and Mary ANN were my grandparents .If you could brng it or make a copy for me I would appericate it very much thank you Alfred J Smith. I live in the church now YOU my contact me at 434 305 0872


    • Well said Patricia Arrowood. There are a lot of us that are now older who use we could go back there to the times of Home Comings meetings and “all day meeting and dinner on the ground.” People from everywhere in Greene Co and beyond visited this church often. The last time I was there I think it was 1981. May have been the last “Home Coming Service” that Bro. Talmadge and Sister Mary was at. My grandmother got saved and Holy Ghost filled in this church in the 1930’s. She lived in Lydia, Va. Probably a 6 mile walk across Goosepond Hollow to High Top. She and others walked it often until they built their own church on my grandmothers land in Lydia. That church is still in use over 70 years later. One story my grandmother “Mama” Anna Conley often told me about her experience at High Top during those days. She said after she found salvation she was hungry for a deeper walk with God. To be filled with the Spirit. As the Bible calls it the “Baptism of the Holy Ghost.” She said she remember the night she received the “blessing.” They had prayed and worship way past midnight as was normal in those days. She said they begin the long walk from High Top sometime at night late and as they came off the mountain at Goosepond Hollow overlooking her home in Lydia she said “the roosters were crowing and the sky was turning red in the east.” No matter what you believe or your disagreements when the “church” and the world lost that generation, they lost some of the greatest Prayer Warriors on the face of this earth. They had “church” everyday. And they didn’t go to church to meet God, they brought Him with them. The building far as I’m concerned is a historic place in Greene Co and should have been treated that way. But I knew most of the saints of God and they would tell you it wasn’t the building that brought people there. It was what was in the building. People worshipping Jesus until His glory filled the building and His presence made the saint shout and the sinner want to pray. That was High Top, the Old-time Religion way.


  15. Thank you so much for sharing these photos–and memories! My brother owns property on High Top and knew and admired Rev. & Mrs. Roach quite well. Another person he knew from High Top is a Mr. C. and if he is still living would be a good resource for more information. One story my brother shared with me just shows the tenacity and resourcefulness of mountain people. Mr. C’s dad told my brother “back in the olden days” they grew corn among the rocks on that mountain and my brother asked how in the world did you do that. Mr. C. Sr. said that he would carry two 5 gallon buckets during planting time– one with top soil and one with seed corn. He would drop 3-4 kernels of seed corn between the rocks and then drop a big hand full of dirt on top. Nothing was required until time to pick corn. Of course, the corn has many uses for the mountain folk – 1) personal consumption 2) cash crop and 3) ingredient used to make moonshine (moonshine was either for personal use or cash crop). My brother learned that due to the cold streams coming out of the mountain and their maintaining a constant cold temperature, those conditions made for the best moonshine. 🙂 Not ever having the opportunity to sample this moonshine, my brother cannot confirm that it was “the best.” 🙂

    I do think a lot of lazy people nowadays looking for a check from the government while they sit home and smoke dope and drink, should be made to spend a year on the mountain and someone teach them how to make a living when you have self-respect and are not afraid of hard work!

    (Terry, if you would like Mr. C’s name, I’ll be happy to send in an email. My brother isn’t sure if both father and son are still living but it might be worth checking out.)

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  16. I was born in Indiana but spent summer vacations in Minnesota where my father owned a great deal of property. In the late 60’s when the National Park system was pushed to expansion The park service came and burnt down and dismantled the docks and cabin my father and uncles built– a fine building that would have lasted hundreds of years more. I feel for the people pushed off this mountain. Creating a park is a wonderful thing, yet pushing people off land to do so is shameful. It should have been accomplished in a much different manner, respecting the in-holders of property. All I have is memories, there is no legacy for me there, where I had the most meaningful experiences of my life. You are doing such a wonderful job here. It does matter where we came from and how people lived– we can respect the areas much more; the water and food sources and learn how to survive stopping catastrophic practices like fracking and figure out how to get off oil. Chemical compounds from the BP Oil Spill were found in clouds as they moved north. It didn’t just contaminate the water column in the Gulf. 14 million people have been affected but nobody talks about it, and the list of symptoms is long. No one wants to admit what happened. WE are responsible for how we live and who and what we hurt. It gives me joy to think of the mountain folk of the past and that they did not see the future.


  17. I had seizures as a child so my memory does not pick up till about age 10. They are memories I cherish. My Grandmother, Ruby Pearl Roach, went to a lot of churches. She took me along as well. I went to church with her till I was around 19 years of age. I can only say what I did and the memories she told me. We would spend a whole week when I was younger with Sister Mary Roach in the house that use to be between the church and the graveyard. We would work all week to keep everything beautiful. I was so young that I mostly played while they worked. Vandals I believe did a lot of damage to the church and house in the recent years. The house I think was set on fire. This is why people hesitate to fix it up. My nickname, tbug, came from Sister Mary Roach. I say that because people on this post might not recognize me by my married name.


  18. Pingback: The Story of an Old, Sad Church {Stanardsville, Va. Photography} | patriciaarrowood

  19. The house on Flatop looks like the one my Grandmother Frankie Morris lived in, alot of Morris family reunions were held there. Her children Leddie Knight (my mother), My mother’s siblings’s Eleanor Breeden, Charles Morris, Wilbert Morris, and Irene Shiifllet were raised there along with some of the grandchildren. We all have great memories from there!


    • Ms. Joyce Morris – I am the grand daughter of Annie Crawford, She was the daughter of Florence Ella and Houston Morris. Her siblings were Aunt Cora, Aunt Julie and Herman and Jerry Morris and I remember seeing Leddie Knight and Eleanor Breeden a few times at a funeral at Evergreen or maybe when they visited my grandmother… We went to my Uncle Herman Morris’s funeral two weeks ago. Herman and Lorraine attended Eheart Church for a long time. It is amazing what we can find on the ancestry postings..


  20. I am Bro. Joe Sosa, and I also have many memories of Bro. & Sis. Talmadge Roach. I first became personally acquainted with them in 1978. I preached a 2 week revival at the school house, where Bro. & Sis. Roach stayed till they went on to be with the Lord. Several times we were privileged to be at the annual homecoming services a the Hightop Free Pentecostal Church, where God allowed us to preach several times. My wife and I, and our children spent a couple nights in the house beside the church on Hightop, which was actually the home of Bro. Talmadge and Sis. Mary Roach, and we went hunting. At that time, there were more black bear than deer.


  21. My grandparents went to that church for years and my grandfather remodeled it many moons ago. My great-grandparents are buried there along with an Aunt. Talmage if memory serves me was kin to my grandma. I’ve been up there a time or two but the church wasn’t active. I’d love to see it fixed up and used for reunions or even church again! It’s such a beautiful place!


  22. My father-in-law Rev. Cletus Palmer preached and held many meetings here in the late 50’s and early 60’s. My wife and her family also stayed with families on the mountain during their Dad’s revivals. They remember a lot about the church. I was there one Saturday night in late 60’s. Never got inside the church. It was packed out and large crowd were surrounding the church. You could hear the powerful service going on inside. Would like to hear if anyone remembers Rev. Palmer. What a great heritage from that era.


  23. my mother mary d smith passed away 2008 and her guardian ad litem sent me paperwork stating its my property now im being sewed 25000 from the so called trustees of the church. if they need god that bad then go right ahead. take everything my mother left to me. just remember u cant take it with u when u go. never seen a U-Haul behind a hurse.


  24. My grandmother is a Collier, Rebecca Collier. She was born in Virginia. In Scottsville, Allendale farm in Virginia, actually. I found the article very interesting. Her ancestors are buried on the mountain.


  25. Just came across this blog. Very interesting. My mother grew up on High Top. Her name was Nelmer Nay Morris. Her father was Hugh Lea Morris, often called “Lil.” Her mother was Mary Ann Crawford, often called “Betty Lou.” (Don’t ask me why.) I grew up hearing about Talmadge and Mary Ann Roach. Do I recall correctly that the Roaches also founded the Pentecostal Church in Nortonsville? It used to be a Free Pentecostal Church, but I believe it is now part of the Pentecostal Holiness denomination. Any information about these churches or individuals would be wonderful. Thanks.


  26. I scanned thru this quickly but did you mention any other graves around the church? We were currently involved in a project in Louisa County which might be interesting to you. It is possible that this info might be related to our project!! If you are interested in sharing info, feel free to contact me thru fb. Very interesting info. Thank you!!


    • I’m sorry I don’t know if I can find your facebook, but I’d love to hear more about the project. Yes, there are graves there and there were people tending to them when I was there. This was actually found close to 5 years ago and every now and then it gets refound and I learn even more information and I LOVE that! Feel free to email me at


  27. I have family that attended this church and they are buried in the graveyard next to it. It has always been a special place to me and I have always felt a deep connection to it. It breaks my heart to see it in its current condition. Does anybody have contact info for the person currently residing beside the church?


  28. Omg I’ve been to that church alot as a young grandmom was Ethel roachBeasley which is aunt Mary’s sister.high top moutain.Dorcas passed away.which was her only aunt Geneva Beasley williams is all pretty well left that’s her aunt my great aunt.shes 77 now.last of all information you need .Lives in barbousville va.22923 my grandaddy helped build this mom married Hubert shifflet she’s passed .had one son by him leroy shifflet also passed young.his grandmom name was brydie shifflet I use to call her grandmom to.And yes they spoke in tongues


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