First Historic Site in D.C. one of six added in Conference

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First Historic Site in D.C. one of six added in Conference

Excerpted by permission

Over the next year, the Baltimore-Washington Conference Commission on Archives and History hopes to dedicate markers at six new United Methodist Historic Sites. They join four other Historic Sites and five Heritage Landmarks already on the Register, maintained by the United Methodist General Commission on Archives and History.

The newly registered sites are:
490: Perry Hall Mansion (Baltimore County)
491: Robert Strawbridge Cluster (Carroll County)
492: Georgetown Cluster (District of Columbia)
493: Morgan College and Christian Center (Baltimore City)
494: Sharp Street Memorial Church (Baltimore City)
495: Asbury Church (Washington D.C.)

The designation is the means by which an Annual Conference may lift up to the church as a whole what the Book of Discipline calls “buildings, locations or structures that are specifically related to a significant event, development or personality in [that conference’s] history.”

If the significance is found to be “for the denomination as a whole,” the General Conference may lift up the site as a Heritage Landmark. Of the nearly 500 United Methodist historic sites, fewer than 50 have been designated as Heritage Landmarks; of those, five are in the bounds of the Baltimore-Washington Conference.

Conference Commissions on Archives and History may also keep Registers of Historic Places which may be lifted up to the whole conference. The BWC Commission on Archives and History has a list of 56 such Historic Places.

Four of the six new sites are to be recognized in this sesquicentennial year of the Washington Conference.

1. Sharp Street Memorial Church (no. 494) was built in 1898 by the congregation with a history dating to 1795 when Bishop Francis Asbury mentioned its inception in his Journal. At its Sharp Street site, the congregation hosted the first Washington Annual Conference in 1864; opened the Centenary Biblical Institute in 1866; and laid plans for such important conference institutions as the N. M. Carroll Home for the Aged and Mt. Auburn Cemetery. At its present site, it continued its leadership role, especially in the modern Civil Rights Movement, and hosted the office of the conference’s presiding bishop after 1940.

2. Asbury Church, Washington, D.C. (no. 495) has occupied the same location in downtown Washington since 1836. Here it hosted the second Washington Annual Conference in 1866 in its second building which opened that year. The present building was built in 1915 during the pastorate of the Rev. Matthew Wesley Clair, who would be elected bishop five years later. Asbury Church and the Georgetown Cluster are the first Historic Sites designated by The United Methodist Church in the District of Columbia.

3. Georgetown Cluster (no. 492) traces its roots to 1772 when, as William Watters recalled in 1806, “Mr. [Robert] Williams preached to a large room full of inhabitants who gave some attention to the things that were said and behaved with decency.” On Christmas Eve that year, Robert Strawbridge arrived, accompanied by Richard Owings. Georgetown soon became part of the Frederick Circuit and, in 1795, Bishop Asbury came to dedicate a church on Montgomery Street with members both black and white, enslaved and free. In 1801, Georgetown became a station.

  • The Old Methodist Burying Grounds were purchased in 1809. Forty years later, Oak Hill Cemetery was opened west of the grounds.

  • Lorenzo Dow’s grave was among those moved to Oak Hill; he was one of the most famed evangelists of his day; he died in 1834.

  • Dumbarton Church opened in 1849, replacing the church on Montgomery Street. It was commandeered as a military hospital during the Civil War, and President Abraham Lincoln came to hear his friend, Bishop Matthew. Simpson, preach at its re-consecration in 1863.

  • Old Congress Street Church (now Fifth Church of Christ Scientist) was built by defectors from the Montgomery Street Church. Its separate existence ended with the Methodist reunion of 1939.

  • Mt. Zion Church began after the War of 1812, the first African-American church of any kind in the District. In 1868, the church hosted the fourth Washington Annual Conference, the first to elect delegates to General Conference.

4. Morgan College and Christian Center (no. 493) is the successor to the Centenary Biblical Institute, chartered in 1866 and opened in the Sharp Street Church the next year. The college for the former Washington Conference, Morgan helped to open a Delaware Conference institution at Princess Anne on Maryland’s eastern shore, in 1886. Morgan moved to this present site in 1917. Two years later, the state took over the institution at Princess Anne. Ultimately, it would become the University of Maryland Eastern Shore.

The two remaining sites to be marked recognize history from the earliest days of Methodism: Perry Hall Mansion and the Robert Strawbridge Cluster.

5. Perry Hall Mansion (no. 490) is mentioned in Bishop Thomas Coke’s writings as being “the most elegant in the state.” Priscilla Ridgely Gough joined the Methodist Society in 1775. Her husband, Harry Gough, became a Methodist a year later. The estate was a plantation based upon slavery and many of those enslaved became Methodists. There was a chapel attached to the home where Mrs. Gough held daily services led by visiting preachers. Constructed as a five-part Georgian structure, three-fifths of it was lost to fire in 1839.

6. Robert Strawbridge Cluster (no. 491) consists of the Log Meeting House, Bethel Church (New Hope UMC), Sam’s Creek, the Stone Chapel at Pipe Creek, the Andrew Poulson House, the Henry Willis House, and the John Evans House.

This article excerpted by permission from “Third Century Methodism.” United Methodist Historical Society of the BWC;; e-mail: .

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