The Oldest Continuously Used Brethren Meetinghouse in Virginia
The Cooks Creek Church of the Brethren congregation, whose first church building location was Garber’s Church, is the “mother church” of Bridgewater Church of the Brethren. The date of the earliest services by the Brethren in the Dayton-Bridgewater area are not known, but they evidently go back to about the time when Rev. Daniel Garber, son of Elder John Garber of Flat Rock congregation, moved into the Dayton area in 1790. His brother-in-law, John Wampler, also came about that time. They lived not far apart with their lands being drained into the North Fork of Cooks Creek which flowed southward through Dayton, continuing a mile distant and northeast of Bridgewater and Mt. Crawford and on into the North River. Over the years many Brethren farmers lived on the rich farmlands drained by this stream.
Working together, the Garber, Wampler, Miller, Bowman and other families they built up a prosperous body of worshipping Brethren called the Cooks Creek congregation. Mostly, they worshipped in the homes of their members from Sunday to Sunday, choosing locations centered in the vicinities around Dayton, Bridgewater, Beaver Creek. In this way travel distances were minimized. By 1822 the congregation had grown to such an extent that Garber’s church was built near Dayton, the oldest continuously used meetinghouse of the Brethren in Virginia.
In 1880, Cooks Creek had 300 members, mostly adults. Child baptism was uncommon and often persons waited until marriage before joining). There were five regular meeting places with seven ministers, Bishop Solomon Garber, John Flory, John A. Miller, S. F. Sanger, Peter S. Miller (all of the above with Bridgewater addresses), and Jacob Hedrick and Joseph M. Kagey, both with Dayton addresses. The known branches of the mother church in 1900 were: Garbers, Dayton, Bridgewater, Pleasant Run, Hinton Grove, Cedar Grove (Brandywine, WV), Smith Creek (W. Va.) and North Fork (W. Va.). (written by Emmert F. Bittinger)