Friday, April 3, 2009

Bush Tabernacle - Purcellville

In 1903 noted Loudoun County builder Arch Simpson and his crew designed and constructed the wooden building which is now the Purcellville Roller Rink. Originally, the building was called “The Tabernacle” and built as an auditorium for the Prohibition and Evangelical Association for Loudoun County's annual "Bush Meeting," held each summer from the Centennial year (1876) right up until 1931, when the Great Depression ended its run. The Bush Tabernacle remained the largest structure in Loudoun County until the construction of Dulles Airport in 1962. It could hold up to 3,000 people and cost $2,500 to build.

The Bush Meeting grounds were located on a tract known as Dillon's Woods, and thousands made the trek to Purcellville to attend the ten day session of temperance meetings, which soon expanded to include musical entertainment and spirited speeches, of both a religious and political nature. In most ways these annual gatherings mirrored the Chautauqua movement that began in New York State. An educational, social and cultural phenomenon, this movement brought to rural America the best speakers, teachers, musicians, entertainers and specialists of the day.

The most famous speaker to attend one of Purcellville's Bush Meetings was Democratic presidential nominee and then Secretary of State William Jennings Bryan, who repeated his famous “Cross of Gold” speech here in 1913.

The Bush Meeting acquired its name from the initial meeting place, held under a brush arbor (bush meeting) near Lincoln, Virginia. In 1877, the meeting moved to the Tabernacle's permanent location, then known as Dillon's Woods. Dorms, tents and concessions lined the grounds. By the 1890s the Bush Meeting lasted over a week and was held in an 80 by 120-foot oval tent, destroyed in 1903 by a freak tornado that struck during one of the meetings. The new permanent Tabernacle building was completed in time for the next summer's gathering. A map from 1908, the year Purcellville was incorporated as a town, shows the Tabernacle structure abutting a clutch of Bush Meeting cottages and a boarding house (town population at the time was 350).

Following the Depression, the tabernacle would become a skating rink (1939) that also served as a venue for wrestling matches and concerts by country singers, such as local favorite Patsy Cline. In 1955 this structure hosted Loudoun County’s first 4-H Fair. Because it is some distance from the town’s commercial area along Rt. 7, this building survived the two disastrous fires of 1914 (a week apart) that destroyed most of Purcellville’s early architectural heritage (there was no fire brigade until 1923).

The Bush Tabernacle serves today as the Purcellville Roller Rink.

1 comment:

Marion said...


I am a new Assistant Manager at the Bush Tabernacle in Purcellville. I am interested in finding old photographs which show the history of events held here. I noticed you have a very old photograph on your blog. Is there any way we could get a copy of that picture to frame and hang up in our facility. I think that would be so special for people to see and appreciate the history of this wonderful place.

Thank you,
Marion Esposito