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Tour and photo contest focus on Hagerstown's historic houses of worship

Tour and photo contest focus on Hagerstown's historic houses of worship

“Stunningly beautiful.”

These are the words Diane Crawford of Hagerstown used to describe some of the city’s historic houses of worship.

Photographs she took last year during the Historic Houses of Worship Tour captured some of that beauty and earned her not only first, but also second-place prizes in the Washington Council for the Arts Holiday Tour photo contest.

Crawford said her husband, Ed Crawford, had attended the event in past years but she had not. Last year, she decided to join him. The tour, which is free and open to the public, includes more than 15 different historic sites, each of which hosts an open house.

“Last year was the first year I tagged along,” she said. “It was actually a lot of fun. There are some really beautiful churches in Hagerstown. I love the architecture of them. A couple are absolutely magnificent.”

Founded in 2010, the Historic Houses of Worship Tour is an annual self-guided walking tour that presents churches as well as other historical sites and places of worship in the downtown area. It is a project of the Hagerstown Area Religious Council and is traditionally held on Dec. 26 with a rain date of Dec. 27.

This year’s Historic Houses of Worship Tour will take place on Thursday, Dec. 26, from 3 to 7 p.m. Through the support of the Hagerstown-Washington County Convention & Visitor’s Bureau, the Washington County Historical Society, the City of Hagerstown, and St. Mark’s Lutheran Church, tour participants explore the architecture and history of some of the area’s oldest buildings.

The tour can be started and ended at any of the participating houses of worship. Parking is available at each site in lots or along the street. Maps will be available at each stop. Docents and guides will provide information about architecture and ecumenical heritage. Music, refreshments and local art will be featured at some locations.

Stops along the tour include Christ’s Reformed Church, Congregation B’Nai Abraham, First Baptist Church, John Wesley United Methodist Church and many others.

Crawford said she was not able to fit in all 15 stops along the tour last year.

“I think we just started with one then used the little map they give to see where we felt like going next,” she said. “I thought, you know, it’s a little bit difficult to get to all of them, so if I go again, I’ll probably try to go to the churches I missed last year.”

Crawford struggled to match the church names with the photographs she took. It was the stunning architecture that stuck with her the most.

“What I remember is the one that just had the most beautiful wood carving inside of it,” she said. “It was just amazing.”

Though she attend the tour with the intention of taking photos, Crawford did not necessarily plan on entering WCAC’s contest.

“Honestly, I was just a newbie to photography,” she said. “I had taken on the hobby. My husband and I would go out taking photographs almost every week, usually outdoors. We’d hike a little bit.”

She thought the Houses of Worship Tour would be something fun to do as a couple. Crawford, who grew up in Wheaton, Md., and lived in Frederick, Md., before moving to Hagerstown about four years ago, was impressed by the sights before her.

“A couple of churches had really beautiful pipe organs and just the details of the pipes. The shapes, the organs were beautiful,” she said.

She noted the vibrant colors of paintings and stained glass, which she captured in her second-prize winning photo.

“It was a close-up of a stained-glass window,” Crawford said. “It attracted me because it said, ‘Heaven.’ It had a candle in front of it.”

Previous photographers of the tour had captured mainly panoramic views of the interiors of the buildings, she said. She wanted to convey something unique, which she accomplished with her “heaven”-centered piece. Perhaps her favorite aesthetic component, though, was one that she ended up capturing in her first-place photo.

“My picture that won was one of the doors. I’m obsessed with doors. I loved the way the doors of the churches looked,” she said.

Crawford said along with the visual appeal of the architecture in town, “the really cool thing about Hagerstown is the history.”

Of interest to some visitors is learning that several of Hagerstown’s churches, including St. John’s Episcopal Church and Presbyterian Church of Hagerstown, are constructed of Stonehenge limestone.

Others want to learn more about the American Civil War era and are fascinated to learn that the bell tower of Zion Reformed United Church of Christ was used as a lookout by Union troops under the command of General George Custer. History records that Custer entered the tower looking out for the troops of General Robert E. Lee. While he was in the belfry, bullets of sharpshooters aimed at Custer rattled against the bells of the church.

“I’m not a super history buff, but the historical aspect definitely adds to the interest, knowing that there is a story behind it,” Crawford said.

The tour was well-organized and well-run, she said, and she is pleased that the Washington County Arts Council works alongside organizers with the photography contest.

“If we think about it, the paintings, the woodworking, the stained glass — that is all art, including the architecture. It all falls under the same heading. The Arts Council is the perfect pairing for that,” she said.

Crawford said looking at the beautifully maintained houses of worship in the city, and the recently renovated Maryland Theatre in downtown Hagerstown, she hopes investors will follow suit and restore other structures in the city.

“We could really get that looking beautiful and attract more visitors. I think that could be the beginning of a real revitalization,” she said.

Top photo: Diane Crawford of Hagerstown won first place in Washington County Arts Council’s 2018 Holiday Tour Photo Contest with her photo “Welcome Worshippers” of historic church doors adorned with wreaths. (Submitted photo)

If you go ...

WHAT: Houses of Worship Tour
WHEN: Thursday, Dec. 26, from 3 to 7 p.m.
WHERE: Various sites in downtown Hagerstown. Maps available at each stop.
COST: Free admission 
CONTACT: For more information, call Hagerstown Area Religious Council at 301-842-4272; Washington County Historical Society at 301-797-8782; visit online; or visit 2019 Historic Houses of Worship Tour on Facebook.
WHAT: 5th annual Holiday Tour photo contest 
WHEN: Houses of Worship Tour will be Thursday, Dec. 26, from 3 to 7 p.m. Deadline for photo submissions is Wednesday, Jan. 11, 2020
WHERE: Photos must feature buildings on 2019 Houses of Worship Tour in Hagerstown
COST: Admission to Houses of Worship Tour and to the photo contest is free. $200 prize for best original photograph.
CONTACT: For more information, visit the Washington County Arts Council website at or call 301-791-3132.

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