Moses Pelham, Sr., was born in Culpeper, Virginia, and moved to Arlington around 1871. He bought one acre of land northeast of Hall’s Hill from Robert Phillips, and married Isabella Washington on August 5, 1874. Moses Pelham, Sr., bought the acre adjacent to his property in 1893, and upon his death it was subdivided for his six children. As his children built houses on their properties, the area was known informally as Pelham Town.
Reverend Cyrus Carter organized the Mount Salvation Baptist congregation and they began meeting at the house of Moses Pelham, Sr. On June 7, 1884, the trustees of the church (including Moses Pelham, Sr., Washington Jones, Bonaparte Moten, Harrison King, and Horace Shelton) purchased a one-acre site from Bazil and Francis Hall for $80, A written history created by church leadership states that the congregation erected a small, temporary church on the property shortly following this purchase.
Many known or church-affiliated historic African American cemeteries in the Southern United States date to the 1860s and 1870s when formerly enslaved people started establishing their own communities and churches and were legally allowed to purchase land. African American-owned funeral homes and mortuary businesses were an integral part of African American communities and provided important services that typically were not offered by businesses serving the Caucasian community prior to desegregation. Like these, Mount Salvation Baptist Church provided a fundamental intersection of faith, community, support, safety, and leadership from the very inception of Hall’s Hill for over a century.
There have been two permanent church buildings on the property. The first was a gable-end frame church constructed ca. 1892 and the second existing building was constructed in 1975 to replace the demolished 19th century church building. The earliest marked burial in the cemetery behind the church was Helen Thompson, buried July 4, 1916. However, it is likely that burials began soon after the plot was purchased and that the grave markers are no longer extant, or the graves were never marked.
In the 1940s, Reverend N.R. Richardson renovated the first permanent church property. The renovation included the addition of a stone façade to the existing frame building, lancet stained-glass windows, a lower auditorium, an electric organ, new pews, and automatic church bells. In the early-1950s the congregation, now numbering around 500, added a two-story tower to the church building.
During segregation, as demonstrated by the truncated nature of North Culpeper Street, Hall’s Hill, as well as other African American communities in the County, were designed by developers and County planners to be insular, connecting only to main roads and lacking road access into segregated white neighborhoods. African American neighborhoods were both self-contained and disconnected to other parts of the County. Under these conditions, Mount Salvation Baptist Church served as more than a religious community; for many it also was a destination for socializing and recreating. In a December 2003 interview with the Center for Local History, Idabel Jones described going to many social events at Mount Salvation Baptist Church prior to the desegregation efforts of the 1960s, including fairs in the summer and bobbing for apples at Halloween.
Between 1962 and 1967, the County not only paved North Culpeper Street for the first time, it also added sidewalks. It should be noted that the streets in the surrounding historically white neighborhoods were paved by 1953. The County connected North Culpeper Street to North Abingdon Street by 1969, increasing ease of access between the historically black neighborhood and the adjacent historically white neighborhood of Waycroft-Woodlawn.
In 1974, the church trustees applied to construct a new building on the existing parking area south of the original, renovated church. On May 13, 1974, builder E.L. Daniels applied for permits for the two-story masonry and steel framed church designed by Bryant and Bryant Architects based in Washington, D.C. The Northern Virginia Sun reported on the November 10, 1974, groundbreaking of the $20,000 modern church building. The congregation began using the new church in July 1975 and the original church was demolished that year. The mid-century church is a red brick building with a basement level for study and storage space and a main level for church services and administration. Aerial photography shows that the parking lot north of the present-day church building was paved by 1983, but that the area south of the church was not paved and used for parking until at least 1989.