Some of the most atmospheric historical sites to visit with children are ruins of past churches, homes, or other historic buildings. Many times these outdoor sites are great places for children to run and play, all without the worry of being too loud or damaging a priceless artifact. A gorgeous location in central Virginia that is a great place to learn about history while enjoying nature is Historic Polegreen Church.
Founded in 1755, Historic Polegreen Church counted among its members a young Patrick Henry and his mother. In fact, Henry credited Polegreen’s minister, Rev. Samuel Davies, with “teaching me what an orator should be.”
Polegreen Church was at the center of the dissenter movement in Virginia, and Rev. Davies was the first non-Anglican minister licensed to preach in Virginia and also pioneered efforts to educate the enslaved. With Virginia leading the colonies in religious freedom, Polegreen is now known as a centerpiece in the struggle for civil and religious freedom in Colonial Virginia.
The church building was destroyed by troops in 1864 as part of the Overland campaign during the Civil War. Union sharpshooters occupied the church during the Battle of Totopotomoy Creek, and Confederate forces unleashed a barrage of artillery on the church, which resulted in it catching fire and burning to the ground. The Confederate who shot the gun that destroyed the church had a personal connection to it – his father had been baptized there.
Historic Polegreen Church is a beautiful place to visit in the spring, with lovely flowers and trees surrounding the site, and makes a great place for a picnic. It’s an easy trip from Richmond, only 12 miles from downtown, and near several other historical sites in Hanover County.
The visitor center is open on Tuesdays and Thursdays and is a place to pick up brochures and ask questions of the staff.
The site itself is open sunrise to sunset year-round, and with it being open air, it’s easy to spend as much or as little time there as you want. Be sure to pick up a cell phone tour brochure if you’re interested in learning more about its history. The walking tour using a cell phone provides much more information about the fight for religious freedom and Polegreen’s place in the struggle.
There are several historical markers at the site, including one explaining the religious freedoms promoted here.
There are also historical markers on the Road to Revolution trail, with the church’s link to famed Patriot, Patrick Henry. There is also a Civil War Trails marker here as well, detailing the shelling during the Battle of Totopotomoy Creek.
The actual site itself is awe-inspiring. The interpretation of the recreated church using just stark white beams is beautiful and a great site for family pictures!
If you visit on a weekend, you might actually see a wedding or picture session in progress. It’s one of the loveliest places in the area to host an event.
Your children will enjoy skipping along the pathway through the woods. Don’t miss the path with important dates from religious history as you enter the site.
One last place to see is the reading room, also recreated in the same way.
Even if you don’t live near Richmond, I’m sure there’s historical ruins or grounds near your home that can give you the same feeling. We’ve visited ruins of castles in England, churches in the low country of South Carolina, and forts in Ireland, and each time, my children have loved the freedom to see the site as they want. Sometimes the sites left to your imagination are more meaningful than an actual recreation of the building. Historic Polegreen Church is definitely one of those places and makes a perfect place for a springtime visit.
- Cost: Free
- Recommended: all ages
- Tour time: 30 minutes
- Small gift shop onsite during visitor center hours (Tuesdays and Thursdays, 9am – 3 pm)
- Transportation: The site is only accessible by car.
- Dining options: The church site has several picnic tables and would make a lovely place for an outdoors lunch! A wonderful historic restaurant, Hanover Tavern, is just a few miles away as well. There are several chain restaurants near the 295/301 interchange.
- Nearby hotels: Check out my Richmond guide for ideas!
- Nearby attractions include: Richmond National Battlefield Park – Totopotomoy Creek Battlefield and Shelton House (home where Patrick Henry was married), Pine Slash and Studley (both Patrick Henry sites), Civil War Trails Lee-Grant driving tour, Polegreen Park (playgrounds and a skate park!), and Three Lakes Park and Nature Center
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