On Christmas Eve of 1784, the Methodist Episcopal Church in America was formally established by action of the “Christmas Conference” at Lovely Lane Chapel in Baltimore. This Conference was convened by Thomas Cooke, who had been sent to America by John Wesley for this purpose. At that time, Francis Asbury was elected as “general superintendent” by the sixty preachers in attendance.
We do not know when Methodism first made its appearance in Princess Anne County, but evidence shows that it had taken root here by 1789. Organized into small groups, or “classes,” the members met in homes or barns, with the occasional assistance of traveling preachers known as circuit riders. By a deed dated March 30, 1791, for a consideration of five shillings, Anne Nimmo conveyed to the Society of Members of The Methodist Episcopal Church one acre of land in the fork of the roads leading from Sandbridge to the Eastern Shore. Work immediately began on the “Nimmo Meeting House.”
The building was of simple design, without steeple or balcony. A single entrance was at the west end, and the building was of white clapboard construction, with plastered walls. The pews were of Colonial design, high-backed, of stained pine and poplar, edged with walnut. The floor was of random-width pine and carpeted. A fireplace of bricks, which were made on the property, was built in the center of each side of the building. The original structure still stands as our sanctuary, although it has undergone many changes over the years. It is the oldest surviving Methodist Church in continuous use in Virginia.
At another Conference in Baltimore in 1828, a group of church members, known as the “Associated Methodist Churches,” began to move to form a separate denomination which would come to be known as the Methodist Protestant Church. This division was mirrored here as, on May 20, 1829, a group from Nimmo acquired a parcel of land across the road from the present church, and constructed Olive Branch Methodist Church. This group later reunited with Nimmo, and in 1894 the surviving Trustees conveyed that church and its property to the Trustees of Nimmo.
In 1872, the Trustees reported that the church was “badly in need of repairs.” By 1876, they reported, “the inside walls have received four coats of paint, the outside walls three, the seats re-varnished, a new pulpit, new carpets, new cushions, etc., the improvements are handsome.” A recessed chancel was added to the east end, a steeple and vestibule added to the west end, and the church ceiling was raised in 1893-94. Another renovation was begun in 1927, when a hardwood floor was laid over the old pine floor, theater-type seating installed, and our baptismal font was given by Miss Evelyn Nimmo.
In 1956, in order to provide facilities for the Sunday School, wings to either side of the church were built, connected to the sanctuary by arched breezeways. In 1962, the current colonial box pews were added, the original pine flooring was uncovered and refinished, the building was re-plastered and the balcony restored. During renovations in 1989 to replace the support beams under the sanctuary, the breezeways were enclosed and offices behind the sanctuary were added. The social hall was completed in 1991.
Standing as it has on its present site since George Washington was the President of the United States, Nimmo has witnessed the brightest and darkest times in the history of our country. About 1840, the balcony was added as a slave gallery. It survives today as the only remaining structure directly related to the period of slavery in Princess Anne County. Records show that in 1846 Nimmo had 170 white members and 42 “colored members.”
During the early part of the Civil War, this area came under the control of the Federal Forces. Nimmo was then used to house Federal troops and as a Federal hospital. During recent renovations, it was discovered that these troops left the initials and names of their sweethearts carved into the posts supporting the balcony. Covered again by molding, these markings remain to be rediscovered by future generations.
The cemetery, established early in this century, is itself a history of Princess Anne County. Many older graves were moved here when the cemetery was established and the names on the monuments provide a “Who’s Who” of this area. Residents of present day developments such as Ocean Lakes, Upton Forest, Red Mill Farms, Courthouse Forest, and others will find the previous owners of their land here.
For over two centuries, Nimmo has been a landmark to travelers and has served to meet the spiritual needs of the many who have worshiped here. This remains our mission. At our bicentennial celebration in 1991, Bishop Thomas Stockton proclaimed that “your best years are still to come.”