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Culpeper buildings, including historic churches, incur damage from earthquake.

 Workers shovel up bricks that fell from a chimney of the old Culpeper Baptist Church, circa 1894, into an adjacent alleyway.
DONNIE JOHNSTON/THE FREE LANCE-STAR
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Date published: 8/24/2011

BY DONNIE JOHNSTON

At least four historic Culpeper buildings, including a church where Gen. Robert E. Lee once worshipped, were seriously damaged in yesterday's magnitude-5.8 earthquake.

More than a dozen other structures withstood differing degrees of damage--some structural, some cosmetic--in Virginia's worst earthquake since 1897.

The Sheriff's Office reported that one person was injured and taken to Culpeper Regional Hospital. Later, the Sheriff's Office said the local office of the state health department confirmed two minor injuries.

Now, with a number of unstable structures, Culpeper officials are concerned that winds and rain from impending Hurricane Irene, projected to come close to the area by Saturday, may cause more problems.

"My concern is what happens if that hurricane hits," said County Administrator Frank Bossio. "Even 20-knot winds could bring walls down, and rain weighs a lot."

Bossio said that state resources were at Culpeper's disposal, but as of last night no one was absolutely sure just what the locality's needs actually were. He added that almost all of Culpeper's historic downtown business district will be closed today as officials make a building-by-building inspection.

Courts will also be closed today, and only essential county and town personnel will be asked to work.

Culpeper County public schools, scheduled to open today, will remain closed at least until tomorrow.

The earthquake, which struck at 1:51 in the afternoon, prompted Culpeper County officials to declare a state of emergency and send nonessential workers home early.

Other officials worked well into last night assessing damage to structures and keeping sightseers away from buildings in case of aftershocks.

Perhaps hardest hit was St. Stephen's Episcopal Church on East Street. Town officials said that the walls of the old sanctuary, constructed in 1821, had buckled and were unstable. It was in this church that Lee and Gen. J.E.B. Stuart worshipped in June of 1863 before the Army of Northern Virginia's march toward Gettysburg.

Heavy stone ornaments atop a pillar at the church's gate were shaken to the ground during the violent 30-second quake.

Across the East Street, a chimney from the old Culpeper Baptist Church, built in 1894, came tumbling down into a small alleyway.

Two adjacent structures, Hall of Fame pitcher Eppa Rixey's birthplace and Culpeper first telephone company building (now a church), were also damaged.


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SEISMIC EVENT RATTLES CULPEPER, INJURING TWO AND BUCKLING HISTORIC CHURCH

As of 7:45 last night, the following streets were closed in downtown Culpeper, according to the Sheriff's Office:

Main Street between Chandler and Evans streets

The 100 block of West Davis Street and the 100 and 200 blocks of East Davis Street

East Street from East Culpeper Street to East Spencer Street

Commerce Street