Brief History of Concord Church
Living in this sparsely settled “no-name” area during the first half of the 19th century were just a few families because much of the land was owned by just a few individuals and was either uninhabited by the owners or occupied by large farms. Naming the early families who inhabited the area would depend upon how large an area is to be considered and the time frame involved. If one assumes that the settlement included the area that now lies within three or four miles of what is now Athens, then there is reason to believe that when Mercer County was formed, families bearing the names of Fanning, French, Martin and probably Gore and Scott lived in this area. The family of John Martin is usually credited by local historians as being the first to arrive to the vicinity of Athens when in 1829 he settled about two miles from Athens on Laurel Creek. Martin’s son-in-law, Benjamin Fanning, would relocate his family to what is now the oldest house in Athens in 1843. In 1845, the Vermillion family arrived from Pulaski County, Virginia to settle and establish his farm on a 1,575-acre land grand inherited in 1833 from Gordon Cloyd of Montgomery (now Pulaski) County, Virginia, and by 1850, the population of Mercer County was almost twice that in 1840.
During the next decade, the Barberies, Barbors, Birds, Bowlings, Garretsons, Holroyds, Killeys, Oxleys, Pritchards and probably others arrived in this area as more land was made available for settlement.
The 1850’s brought new people and new hopes and aspirations to this area. During this decade, the people in this “no-name” community, by united effort and regardless of their denominational affiliation, succeeded in building a house of worship in 1858 on a lot conveyed by Deed dated July 25, 1858 by William H. French to trustees Adam Martin, James Vermillion, William H. French, William E. Martin, David Martin, John Garretson, George Martin and Benjamin Fanning, upon which a house of worship shall be built for members of the Methodist Episcopal Church South, and in further trust that when said building shall not be occupied by the Methodist Church for preaching, that the liberty of preaching be granted to all other professing Christians in the house of worship. Sarah Caulkin Holroyd, wife of the first minister Reverend William Holroyd, is given credit for naming the new church, when she said if effect: “This church is where all denominations shall worship together in harmony, sweet fellowship and concord. The Church was thus called Concord Church. The immediate vicinity would now become associated with the name of its only landmark ---- Concord Church.
To give the reader an idea of the sparseness of the settlement at that time, the two houses closest to the church building were likely those of Benjamin Fanning and Dr. James R. Vermillion.
By 1860, the population of Mercer County was more than three times what it was in 1840. The new decade brought the issue of secession, the Civil War, the creation of the newest pro-Union State of West Virginia, and the period of Reconstruction that followed the Civil War. Some of the residents fled to seek refuge in neighboring border counties in Virginia, and others sympathetic to the Southern cause were likewise induced to leave the State to avoid the hardships imposed by the state and county governments and by Reconstruction. Because of the turmoil and circumstances, little building took place until after the Civil War.
On July 20, 1866, a Post Office was established in the community, and Benjamin Fanning, one of the original settlers, was appointed as the first Postmaster. His Post Office was his home which still stands and is located off West Broadway Street behind the present-day Mt. Jackson Church.
When Mr. Fanning received his appointment, he had to complete a form giving information requested by the Post Office Department. He was asked that if the new office was located in a village, to give the number of inhabitants; if not, to state the number of families residing within two miles. According to his response, Mr. Fanning apparently did not believe this to be a village, and he stated that twenty families lived within two miles of the proposed Post Office. Mr. Fanning was also asked to give a name for this new office. He was instructed not to use his own name, and that it was preferable to have some local or permanent name which was not to be that of any other office in the State. Since there was no recognized geographic feature or permanent name associated with the “no-name” settlement other than the Concord Church which had been erected in 1858, Mr. Fanning gave the name Concord Church as the name for the Post Office.
One may wonder what factors played a part in the appointment being made at this time, about ten years after similar appointments were made at other locations in the County, including offices at Bethel, Camp Creek, Deep Lick, East River, Flat Top, Frenchville ( now Oakvale ), Jumping Branch, Mercer Salt Works, Pipestem, Spanishburg and The Rock. While possible reasons for the delay may have been related to a prior lack of sentiment or to the issues previously cited that emerged in the early 1860’s, it may be reasonable to conclude that a possible impetus for the establishment of a Post Office at Concord Church was the agitation that began in 1865 for the relocation of the County Seat from Princeton to Concord Church.
Upon examination of the proximity in time of events, it may be reasonable to conclude that a coordination of efforts may have existed that linked the Mercer County Board of Supervisor’s election held on July 6, 1866 on the question of the removal of the site of the Court House from Princeton to Concord Church, the appointment of a Postmaster in Concord Church on July 20, 1866, and the certification on July 30, 1866 of the Board’s election results in favor of Concord Church.
By the end of July, 1866, the locality known as Concord Church, informally identified by its landmark house of worship, having a Post Office with the official address Concord Church, West Virginia, described by its Postmaster as not a village but having about twenty families within a two-mile radius, and without any form of local government, had become the County Seat of Mercer County. As more land would become available to settlers, the community continued to add to its growing population of residents with new hopes and aspirations and with the spirit and willingness to work together for the benefit of all residents.
The following decade brought significant milestone events that altered the course of further growth and development for the community of Concord Church. In 1870, it lost its status as the site of the County Seat of Mercer County, but by the mid-1870’s had gained the location of a Branch Normal School which would in later years become Concord College.
For the balance of the 19th century, the community would continue to grow as the Normal School grew. Among the changes that occurred would also be the name associated with the community, from Concord Church to simply Concord, and in 1896, the names of the both the town and the Post Office would be changed to Athens, West Virginia.
Following the turn of the century, the Town of Athens would become incorporated, and for the first time establish its own local government and corporate boundaries. Residing within the initial incorporated area of 215 acres were 440 townspeople comprising 111 families.