From Patrick McGrady*
Special to The Dagger
I have written a lot about government recently, and so I thought for a couple of weeks I would write about Aberdeen. There’s an awful lot of history in Aberdeen, and I hope to share some of the little I know with you.
Driving down W. Bel Air Avenue and crossing over the train tracks, I’m sure you have thought like me– the Aberdeen downtown is rather odd. There appears to be a hodgepodge of architecture and just over the train tracks at 302 W. Bel Air Avenue is that neat old church seems to be falling apart
There’s a lot of history in that old church, and that’s why my family has taken on the project to revive it. Surely it has seen better days, but so has the City of Aberdeen. In order to create a thriving downtown, it is going to take people and businesses that believe in what Aberdeen can be to take ownership and invest in projects.
The Methodist Church (the organization, not the building) has a long history in and around Aberdeen.
The first Methodist Church in Aberdeen was founded by Robert Strawbridge in 1769 when his congregation built the log-cabin Bush Forest Chapel on Stepney Road. By 1925 (and from the third building on that site) the congregation had moved to Aberdeen. After the congregation left, Mr. A.H. Wilson disassembled the church and put it back together on Bel Air Avenue– where it currently is used as the Wilson-Oliver Insurance Agency building.
Above Photos from: http://www.falmanac.com/2007/04/bush-forest-chapel.html
In 1852, the plan for the Town of Aberdeen was laid out by Edmund Law Rogers (neat history here– more to follow on him in the coming weeks). He established a plot for the Methodist Church on Broadway (today’s Route 40) near where the old Aberdeen High School (then Aberdeen Elementary School, currently a County-owned government building) is currently located. The cemetery for this church was today’s Festival Park.
In 1865, the American Civil War ended but there were still many clashes among brothers, sisters, and church communities. These differences had led to an earlier split in the Methodist Church on the national level in 1842 and in 1866, a small church called Soule’s Chapel was built at at 302 W. Bel Air Avenue. Later, this church was renamed as the Aberdeen Methodist Episcopal Church, South.
Courtesy: Aberdeen Room
Aberdeen was growing, and in 1892, Aberdeen incorporated as a Town. With the fast-growing B&O line and the Aberdeen canneries developing their businesses, the congregation of the Grace ME Church, South grew too large for their building. In 1899, they built a huge addition and a parsonage, seen here:
Courtesy: Aberdeen Room
Larger photo: https://picasaweb.google.com/lh/photo/djIOspO_kLPc1vqTaB6VF1wR9WAgyLWb9AfcUc3dJiw?feat=directlink
The new church included many stained glass windows with vibrant, bright color and life. Some examples can be seen here:
Photos from Ruth Peters:
Later on, a humongous organ made by Johnson and Son Company out of Massachusetts was installed. The model number on the organ indicates that it was built in 1874 but not installed in this Church until 1825. We are still trying to figure out where it was installed the first time. The organ is 25 feet high and has multiple ladders inside to work on it. Here’s a shot from the outside of the organ and another shot of the pipes inside.
The Methodist Church worked out their issues nationally in 1939 and locally in 1942. The Aberdeen Church worshipped together at the Aberdeen M.E. Church (at Parke Street and W. Bel Air) and in 1968 after another merger nationally, the name became Grace United Methodist Church.
When the ME Church, South left the building in 1942, the next congregation to meet there was St. Paul’s Lutheran Church (currently located on Mount Royal Avenue and Route 22). They worshipped at 302 W. Bel Air from 1943 until 1965.
After St. Paul’s, Evangel Assembly of God moved in in 1967 and worshipped there until 1991 when they moved into their newly constructed Church on Paradise Road north of I-95.
Many, many Aberdeen families have been baptised, married, taken communion, and otherwise worshipped in this historic Aberdeen Church for almost 150 years.
My family closed the deal on purchasing the property in May of this year, and we have been working to renovate the church to the best of our ability. Lots of people have stopped in to see the repairs we are making, and every person has been surprised at the beauty of the windows.
The building was in disrepair for a long time, although it is structurally sound. The church roof leaked which caused rusting in the ornate tin ceiling in the 1899 sanctuary. The humongous leaded-glass windows have started to separate from their frames. The basement (like every basement in lower Aberdeen) floods. The organ air pump works, but there are leaks that we need to flesh out.
But my family is devoted to bringing this building back to life so that hymns will again be heard within its walls and to help kickstart investment in downtown Aberdeen. With smart planning and hard work, Aberdeen can develop a downtown where folks want to visit, shop, and invest.
I wanted to share with the public some of the details of this project and I hope you will keep an eye on churchaberdeen.com for updates. We work there often, and we love to show the project to people, so stop by on your next trip through Aberdeen.
The Church today:
Credit: Most of this information came from Ruth Peters. Ruth has been valuable as an information resource for this project. She has given me permission to use this information. Send me an email or call if you would like to get in touch with her. PLM5002@gmail.com or 410.357.1234.
*Disclosure: Patrick McGrady has recently announced his intentions of running for mayor of Aberdeen in the city’s upcoming municipal election.