Living was much different in the village of Falls Church in the late 1800’s and into the new century. Standing at the intersection of Broad and Washington Streets you would see unpaved roads, horse and carriages, a post office, market, Brown’s Hardware and other needed businesses and homes. There was an ordinance making it unlawful to ride a horse on any walkway in Falls Church. Many trees lined Broad Street. Census records in the early 1900s indicated that the population in Falls Church was just over 1,000 people.
Life was also different for the early Catholic Mission established in West Falls Church. From 1874 to 1892, the Mission at St. James was served by St. Mary’s Catholic Parish in Alexandria. The visiting priest from Saint Mary’s would journey 13 miles over rolling hills every Sunday to celebrate Holy Mass. Initially a few Catholics lived in this small village. But the West Falls Church mission began to grow and soon after other missions began to expand outward.
How did the priests travel in these early days? Mainly by horse. There was a railroad from the Alexandria station to the “West End” station in Falls Church (half mile from the Mission). A trolley later connected the Ballston/Clarendon area to Falls Church. Even when Father Van Ingelgem became the third pastor in 1910, the new churchyard on Spring Street “was full of hitching posts so that parishioners attending with carriages could tether their horses during Mass.” It is noted that Father Van and Father Govaert were excellent horsemen. On “Doc,” the horse he purchased from the first pastor Father Tearney, and later on “Louis,” Father Van covered missions that expanded from Fairfax Station to Purcellville to Leesburg and Herndon. Father Van particularly disliked the muddy track the horse had to maneuver to Annandale. The barn was located behind the present day rectory garage. It was Father Govaert’s job to feed and groom the horses. In those days assistant priests would also clean the church, mow the lawn, and start the furnace.