The following articles were previously published in The Bell Tower
Follow this link to the history of St. Michael’s Chapel at Hannah More.
The Shadyside Lantern, Shadyside Presbyterian Church, Pittsburgh, contains an article on the architectural connections between All Saints’ and Shadyside.
Much of the history of the Reisterstown Parish continues to resurface month by month. Fascinating material, some of it shrouded in mystery, lies just beneath the tangle of vines and weeks only a few blocks away from the church.
Since the re-formation of the All Saints’ Cemetery Committee in 1996, much work has been performed to improve the church’s cemetery property on Bond Avenue. Part of this work involves the cleanup of the former chapel lot on the west side of the cemetery. From 1883 until 1918, the second home of the Reisterstown Parish existed here. But after the chapel was dismantled, the property was used solely for a caretaker’s house and various ancillary buildings. Over time the woods reclaimed the lot, slowly enclosing whatever remained. Now, as these woods are pruned back, we are discovering the site which meant so much to former parishioners.
So far, at least five sites, one of them a complete mystery, have come to light. Most prominent is what appears to be the cellar of the old chapel. Today it exists as a dump, yielding various household and work-a-day objects from the 1920s. Unfortunately, no foundation walls have been unearthed; however, close by lie a number of concrete slabs which may have served as pillars for the chapel’s frame base. The lack of any known photograph of this 19th century church, designed by prominent Baltimore architect Charles Cassell, hampers our investigation.
Due west of the chapel site through the trees one can still see the old water well with its iron pump. One elderly member of St. Luke’s Church, immediately adjoining the chapel lot, distinctly remembers playing by this pump during her childhood
Several years ago, the Cemetery Committee discovered an iron gate within the outline of a former shed just a few feet away from the chapel. Its size suggests it may once have hung from the stone pillars at the entrance to the cemetery. It has since been removed and can be seen today behind the King’s Stable awaiting a renewed life and permanent location. A companion gate, much smaller but of similar design, was recently discovered deeper in the woods. It is embedded in the trunk of an ancient tree. Did someone discard it there years ago, or was it a rear gateway to the chapel lot?
On May 4, 2001, an investigative team from the University of Maryland visited the chapel site and performed an elementary probe of the area. Although no evidence of a foundation wall was found, a suspicious solid object was contacted beneath the surface some 50 feet behind the chapel. The following week a dig was made in this area, exposing a shallow stone trench and brickwork. What was it? Is there more? What will the woods yield next? Curious parties willing to continue the search for our history are asked to contact the Parish Archivist.
– Neil Haynie, Parish Archivist
St. Michael’s Chapel, deconsecrated in 1978, truly deserves more than the neglect it has received in recent years, for it figures significantly into the annals of American architecture. Designed by New York architect John W. Priest, it was constructed in 1853 to serve the students and faculty of the Hannah More Academy. Architecturally, it followed the dictates of a sixteen year span known as the Gothic Revival in America. It has been called one of the earliest and best examples of “Carpenter Gothic” in the United States.
In 1836 a group in England which called itself the Cambridge Camden Society reasoned that replicas of Gothic would recall the virtues of an earlier and better time, and that worship was best achieved in such surroundings. This system of thought was called “ecclesiology.” A Gothic church is an exposition of the distinctive doctrines of Christianity, clothed upon with a material form (George Ayliffe Poole). Robert Cary Long, Jr., known for many prominent Baltimore designs, summed up the heart of ecclesiology by stating that Gothic was the only style which expressed a home, a holy place, a response to the inner voice, an utterance of all that is good, and lovely, and reverent. The formation of the Ecclesiological Society — and later the New York Ecclesiological Society — dictated what was and was not correct form in church construction.
By the 1840s mature Gothic revivalism appeared in American church architecture. Coincidentally, Maryland’s Bishop Whittingham had become head of a diocese in dire need of new churches. He pursued an interest in ecclesiastical architecture and, in fact, founded an architectural society in Maryland. By 1850 every Protestant Episcopal church under construction in Maryland was in the Gothic, parish church style.
In 1852 the Ecclesiological Society named a handful of American architects whom it approved as capable of executing truly authentic English Gothic church designs. Only one among the group was American born, John W. Priest. It was he and Richard Upjohn, another name prominent in Baltimore architecture, who soon helped found the American Institute of Architects.
John Priest’s life was cut short at the age of 34 (in 1858) when he contracted tuberculosis. But during his brief career he designed both large and small Gothic churches of significance. Records show that he was responsible for St. Stephen’s (Milburn, NJ), St. John’s (Cornwall, NY), St. Stephen’s (Goldsboro, NC), St. Luke’s – Carey Street (Baltimore, MD) and St. Michael’s (Reisterstown, MD).
St. Michael’s Chapel is typical of modest parish churches built of wood from 1846 to 1856. Priest’s other works are far grander and more substantial, but the simple unassuming aspect of St. Michael’s fits perfectly into the country setting of nineteenth century Reisterstown. Today, although protected by its designation on the National Register of Historic Places, it sits abandoned and uncared for amidst the hustle and bustle of an ever growing urban area. The future of Reisterstown first Episcopal parish church is today uncertain.
– Neal Haynie, Parish Archivist
(Assistance with this article: Jon Williams, St. Stephen’s Church, Goldsboro, N C and Phoebe B. Stanton’s book The Gothic Revival & American Church Architecture: An Episode in Taste 1840-1856.)
Forty years ago this summer a project long awaited and urgently needed came into being. For many years social activity and youth education had existed in the old parish house, but by the late ’50s and early ’60s it became apparent that the size of the parish had outstripped its existing facilities. A committee was formed to provide for a new parish house.
In early 1963, with the building already underway, the cornerstone was laid during a morning church service. Bishop Harry Lee Doll and the Reverend Scott Broadbent, eleventh rector of All Saints’ Church, officiated. The new parish house was officially named Groff Hall, in honor of Mr. and Mrs. William D. Groff whose financial assistance helped make the building a reality. Mr. Groff was the owner of a feed and fuel service in Owings Mills which exists to this day. A congregational challenge also helped raise funds for the new hall. The estimated cost was $96,000.
The building, as originally planned, contained ten classrooms, a kitchen, and a meeting hall. Because the rector worked out of the rectory, offices were not included. Over time, as the parish expanded, classrooms were converted to office space and other special-use rooms. Today the parish house has again become inadequate to the needs of the congregation, and All Saint’s once more faces important decisions regarding facilities.
Four brass plaques are attached to the walls near the entrance of Groff Hall paying recognition to those who had a hand in creating this space. Most people pass by them without ever seeing them. See if you can locate them next time you enter the building.
- This tablet is placed here in gratitude and thankfulness for the munificence of Mr. and Mrs. William Denmead Groff, Sr., who by their generous financial gifts made possible the first steps in the fulfilling of the hopes and plan of the congregations for the erection of this parish house and educational building. By resolution of the rector, wardens, and vestry this area is to be known as Groff Hall. A.D. 1963.
- This tablet is placed here by the congregation in gratitude for and in recognition of the magnanimous, generous, and able work done in the planning and erection of this building by its architect, William Joseph Dixon. A.D. 1963.
- The cross on the facade of this building is given to the glory of God and in memory of loved ones by Mrs. Katharine S. Frazier. A.D. 1963.
- The cornerstone of this building is to the glory of God and in loving memory of Louis Susemihl and Vara C. Susemihl, parents of Louis E. and his wife Anita D. Susemihl, and given by them. A.D. 1963.
Among the articles placed in the cornerstone are the Holy Bible, The book of common Prayer, currency, snapshots the early stages of the building, a cop of the “Community News”, records of the church, the vestry, and the architect’s name.
– Neal Haynie, Parish Archivist
Visitors to All Saints’ Church are quick to recognize one of this church’s most unique features, a bell tower completely separate from the church itself. While most churches incorporate a belfry above the main roof or within a tower attached to the side of the building, very few American churches are known to separate the two.
For many years descriptions of All Saints’ Church have repeated the story that the bell tower was modeled after the private chapel of the Duke of Devonshire on his estate “Chatsworth” in England. Two years of research have failed, however, to confirm this report.
All Saints’ bell tower was erected in 1893 above a well, two years after construction of the church itself. It was built of the exact same Westminster (MD) stone as the main church, and was, presumably, designed by the same Boston firm – Longfellow, Alden and Harlow. According to William Keyser, who paid for both structures, the tower was built especially for a bell which had been donated by a deceased member of the parish. The church would have been “disfigured” by mounting the bell atop the church. Unfortunately, we have no record of the donor, but when one views the inscribed bell close up, its massiveness bears our Mr. Keyser’s contentions.
As to the claim that “Chatsworth” served as a pattern for this tower, no one that we contacted in England was able to prove a relationship. The closest similarity at Chatsworth House in Devonshire is the c.1582 four-part Hunting Tower, a building used by ladies to watch the hounds working in the park below. Another suggestion, that Chatsworth Avenue might –by name– be a connection also proves to be a dead end. The street in front of All Saints’ was named after the Andrew Banks house (1830) which still stands at the end of West Chatsworth Avenue; it, in turn, was named for the Baltimore home of Mr. Banks’ grandfather.
Further information from contacts in England bears out how unique and exclusive a company the All Saints’ bell tower keeps. In 1973, The Round Tower Churches Society was formed for the purpose of researching and preserving the approximately 185 towers, found mostly in southeast England – many of them over 1000 years old. The newest was built in 1861 in Suffolk. Germany claims twenty such towers while a few others are scattered about Europe and South Africa; their existence in America is very rare.
How did these old church towers come into being? The RTCS claims that they were built in poor country parishes where conventional building stone was difficult to come by. Unable to construct stone block towers where sharp corners were required, builders resorted to the readily available flint which came in small and knobby stones. This rubble-like material was set in massive quantities of mortar, formed into round walls, and thus avoided corners altogether. Sometimes, as parishes found the financial means, old round towers were replaced by square towers.
While we may never know the inspiration for All Saints’ bell towered and its unusual belfry cap, we may still be proud of its special place in American architectural history.
Shortly after the May issue was printed, our bell repairman was able to obtain for us a copy of the inscription on the church bell – words long forgotten and never recorded:
God I praise; the Living I call; the Dead I lament
The remainder of the inscription tells us that the bell was given in 1885 in memory of Susan Fitzhugh Norris, 1789-1879. (She was the mother of Col. William Norris and is buried at All Saints’ Cemetery). It was crafted by the Baltimore Bell Foundry in 1885 and was dedicated on the Feast of the Annunciation in the same year.
It is doubtful that the bell was ever placed in use before being hung in our present bell tower seven years later. Perhaps it was intended for the replacement for All Saints’ Chapel which was to be built on Bond Avenue. As we know, however, this location was abandoned in favor of a new church on Chatsworth Avenue.
– Neal Haynie, Parish Archivist
One of the unusual aspects of the windows of All Saints’ Church is that most of them are not made of stained glass but of clear glass, designed to admit the sunlight and to provide a view of the surrounding trees, They were crafted when the church was built in the late 19th century by Sarah Wyman Whitman, cousin to William Keyser. Of the twenty-four windows in the church proper, fifteen are dedicated memorials. The following is a catalog of who’s who.
The north wall, behind the choir, contains two windows. The one visible on the left is dedicated to Agnes Campbell Lyon, fourth headmistress of Hannah More Academy from 1844 to 1857. It was during her tenure that St. Michael’s Chapel was erected by the Reverend Rich. The window to the right of the fireplace was hidden from view many years ago by the wall housing the organ pipes. It is a memorial to Anne Van Bibber Neilson (1786-1834). It was Mrs. Neilson who established Locust Grove Seminary (1828) and whose will made possible the creation of its successor, Hannah More Academy.
The rear or west wall of the church contains three dedications. First, on the left, is the Reverend William Robinson Nairn window. Rev. Nairn served as chaplain and teacher at Hannah More from 1875 until 1878. He moved on briefly to New Jersey and New York City. The middle window commemorates Dr. Joseph Fletcher who led All Saints’ (and Hannah More) from 1893-1912. He became canon of the Washington Cathedral after serving the Reisterstown Parish and died in 1936. The third window memorializes another chaplain of Hannah More, 1869-1937, the Reverend David Samuel Davidson Hall. He worked also in the Severn Parish and at Church of the Advent, Baltimore, Rev. Hall died at the age of 48 and is buried at Davidsonville, Maryland.
Ten memorial windows line the couth wall facing Chatsworth Avenue. The lower row (from the left) begins with the John Crawford Logsden window. Mr. Logsden served the parish as vestryman for many years in the first half of the twentieth century. The next set of three belong to Katherine A. Starr (for whom we presently have no information), William Edward Wyatt (1959-1937). and Richard Norris, Jr. (1818-1879). Mr. Wyatt was a Senior Warden, son of the Rev. Thomas James Wyatt, and son-in-law to Dr. Arthur John Rich. Richard Norris, Jr., was a brother of Col. William Norris.
The fifth window on the lower level is dedicated to both Richard Norris (1783-1859) and his son William Norris, colonel CSA. Richard was a Baltimore merchant who bought property on what is today Cockeysmill Road; his intentions which never came to fruition, were to build a mill and manufacture materials to sell to Egypt. William, who headed the Confederate Signal Corps, was a communicant at All Saints’ until his death in 1896.
The last pair of windows on the lower couth side are in memory of Susan Fitzhugh Norris, wife of Richard Norris, and Mary Della Torre, their daughter. Richard and Susan were both buried at the Norris’s Reisterstown home, Griffith’s Mount, and later re-interred at All Saints’ Cemetery. Many other members of the family also rest in our cemetery.
The upper tier windows in the south wall are the most recent to be dedicated. The center one was given by parish communicant Mary Belle Wiederhold for her husband Edward H. Wiederhold. The flanking windows, the newest, were given by Henry Lewis, John Childs, and Wylie Ritchey, Jr. in honor of their mother Isabel Tase Ritchey (1906-1957) and of their grandmother Maud Watts Tase (1883-1965).
Not all of the memorial windows were dedicated immediately after the construction of All Saints’ Church as their dates testify. In fact, early photos of the south side of the church seem to indicate that the upper three windows may have been blank for a period of time. All the windows, however, add to the history and the charm of this beautiful house of worship.
– Neal Haynie, Parish Archivist
The year was 1889. All Saints’ Chapel was in its sixth year of service to the Reisterstown Parish and was already overcrowded — so much so that the Vestry had sent out an appeal for funds to enlarge the tiny house of worship. fortuitously, summer resident and communicant William Keyser along with this wife Mollie had just returned from an autumn visit to Massachusetts. There, he had been much impressed by a church at Manchester-by-the-Sea and remarked how he wished a similar one could be located near his country house in Reisterstown. The appeal and the desire worked together creating the inspiration for a new All Saints’ Church.
Emmanuel Chapel, Manchester, was consecrated in 1882, just one year before All Saints’ Chapel on Bond Avenue. A private church, serving the needs of wealthy vacationers, it was founded by Major Russell Sturgis, who, together with his second wife, was interested in philanthropy, education, and service to the Episcopal Church. The chapel was designed by Sturgis’s brother and built in just three months time in honor of Mrs. Russell Sturgis.
Emmanuel was constructed of cement and timber in the Gothic Revival style, then currently in vogue. It has been noted as the first America church to use plaster containing a special gypsum. With an original capacity of 200 people, it has always been open for just the summer season.
On looking at the chapel it is obvious that it served only as an inspiration for All Saints’, not as a model. But the same warmth and intimacy exist in both. Mr. Keyser hired his own architectural firm — Longfellow, Alden and Harlow of Boston — to draw up plans for the new All Saints’ which he lovingly dedicated to his mother in October, 1891. Today Emmanuel and its “cousin” All Saints’ continue to serve as handsome bastions of the Episcopal faith.
– Neal Haynie, Parish Archivist