John Wesley Preservation Society is hosting a mostly-Motown dance at the Oxford Community Center on Saturday, June 8th from 7pm to 10pm. Tickets are available on the group’s website—johnwesleychurch.org—for $25 and include light refreshments. Beer and wine will be available at a cash bar. Be sure to get your tickets early as space is limited. Music will be provided by Jason Bailiff, who was the deejay at this year’s Oxford Day.
Proceeds benefit continued renovation on the John Wesley Methodist Episcopal Church building and Cook Shop. Plans are underway to open the site as a small museum. Site excavation for the required parking and walkways is being coordinated with an archaeologist who will identify any remaining unmarked graves. That work is expected to begin later this summer. One of the Society’s missions is to research the families interred in John Wesley Church’s cemetery along with the people listed in the earliest record of church members from 1851—ten years before the Civil War—which included 26 black and 31 white parishioners.
A lot of history happened on this little patch of land in Oxford Neck. The land was deeded in 1838 to build a Methodist Episcopal church. What happened to the first building is still a mystery but the cornerstone of the current building is dated 1875. The Cook Shop was built sometime during the 1930s or 40s at the behest of Nellie Leatherberry, a local business owner and parishioner, who didn’t think food should be sold out of the church itself.
The Oxford Neck congregation would walk out to the John Wesley Church in the morning where they would sing and worship and praise until the minister, called a circuit rider because of originally traveling to his various congregations by horseback, arrived in the early afternoon. Until the Cook Shop was built, women would sell food from the back of the church to hungry parishioners.
The Cook Shop is the location for the African American museum named after the building’s founder Nellie Brooks Leatherberry. Board members and volunteers act as docents on Saturdays from 10 am until noon, and until 3 pm on first Saturdays, from April through November. This one-room church with its stained-glass windows is an architectural and spiritual landmark at the corner of Oxford and Evergreen Roads.