See beauty and history in South County Churches Historic Open House
BOONSBORO — Sixteen churches throughout South County will open their doors Sunday afternoon for a free tour.
The event runs from 1 to 5 p.m., and is sponsored by Boonsboro Historical Society. Most churches will feature music, refreshments or other special items to those who visit.
At St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, Lappans, at 18313 Lappans Road, unofficial church historian and member Emilie Amt will offer tours and historical information to visitors.
St. Mark’s, Amt said, is rich in 19th-century history.
“The historic church is very similar to what it looked like in 1849, it’s still the original structure. And a lot of the research I have done has to do with the African Americans who were connected with the church when it was founded, because the church was founded by slave owning Episcopalians who brought their enslaved people to church with them,” Amt said.
Like many churches in the south in pre-Civil War America, St. Mark’s had a segregated area for the slaves. At St. Mark’s, slaves worshipped from the church’s balcony.
“In other churches sometimes (slaves) would sit on other sides or in different spaces on the ground floor, but the balcony was very common throughout the South and throughout Maryland,” she said. “And we have the original balcony. and in recent years, St. Mark’s has done a lot to learn about that history that was kind of lost at our church, and to write about it and to commemorate it in our church.”
One of the new features is the addition of a stained-glass window.
“That commemorates some of the African Americans who were enslaved by people at our church. Those people attended our church and have a very interesting story and are buried in our churchyard,” Amt said.
Amt will be available to give tours of the cemetery, as well as the sanctuary at St. Mark’s.
“There are graves in the cemetery that date back almost to the founding of the church, including 19th-century graves that are of people who are formerly enslaved,” she said.
St. Mark’s was originally built as a mission church in connection with nearby St. James School, which, at the time, was a preparatory school and college. Today, St. James School is an Episcopal boarding school for students in grades 8 through 12.
The church was also used as a hospital during the Civil War following the battles of Gettysburg and Antietam.
“We have a historic marker that talks about that, and we have a second floor laid down over the original floor, and I think that may be because of damage to our floor when it was a hospital,” Amt said.
Amt said that there are many reasons to recognize and honor the history surrounding St. Mark’s.
“We worship at our church, we use it multiple times a week. It’s really central to our lives, but we have this beautiful space and it connects us with the people of the past. And we love our space, but it was built and paid for with the suffering of people in the past, and so I think we really need to remember that,” she said.
There are other lessons that can be learned, as well.
“Learning about this painful slave history has really helped us as a congregation, and certainly for me, has really helped me connect with and understand, and I think can help other people understand, the present day complexity and some of the problems we have as a society that we have not yet worked out, having to do with racism and justice,” Amt said. We really have to grapple with (those issues), and they are very much rooted in our history. So this is a part of history that is very relevant to where we are as a society.”
Beyond the historic aspects of the church, it’s worth checking out, too, for its aesthetic value.
“It’s a little stone church out on the countryside, and it was built by local landowners. It’s very picturesque, and a small church, although it’s expanded over the years with other buildings on the campus,” Amt said.
Amt, who teaches ancient, medieval and American history and research methods at Hood College in Frederick, Md., said it’s easy to get lost in both the pleasantness and the history of the church.
“It’s a beautiful little church, and it has a lot of atmosphere, and I think when you step into St. Mark’s, or walk around the grounds, you really can still get a sense of what it looked like and felt like in the 19th century. So, it’s a way to really step back into the past.”
Top photo: St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, Lappans, is included on the South County Historic Churches Open Houses on Sunday, Dec. 16. (Submitted photo)
If you go ...WHAT: South County Churches Historic Open House WHEN: 1 to 5 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 16WHERE: A total of 16 churches are participating. In Boonsboro:
- Mt. Nebo United Methodist Church 134 S. Main St.;
- Trinity Lutheran Church, 64 S. Main St.;
- Trinity Reformed United Church of Christ 33 Potomac St.;
- First Christian Church 14 Saint Paul St.;
- St. James Catholic Church 121 N. Main St.;
- St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, 18313 Lappans Road.
- Salem United Methodist Church 25 S. Main St.;
- St. Peter’s Lutheran Church 53 N. Main St.;
- Mt. Vernon Reformed United Church of Christ 64 S. Main St.
- Dunker Church, Antietam National Battlefield;
- Saint Paul’s Episcopal Church 209 W. Main St.;
- Sharpsburg Church of the Brethren 123 E. Main St.;
- Holy Trinity Memorial Evangelical Lutheran Church 201 E. Main St.;
- Christ Reformed United Church of Christ 117 W. Main St.;
- Tolson’s Chapel, 111 E. High St.