There’s an old hymn that evokes memories of a church held dear, a gentle song saying there is “no lovelier place in the dale.”
“No spot is so dear to my childhood, as the little brown church in the vale,” goes the hymn, Church in the Wildwood.
That canticle comes to mind when conversation turns to the historic Quantico United Methodist Church, once well attended and bustling, loved by generations who worshipped, attended baptisms, celebrated weddings in the single room that held about 100.
In a few weeks, the time-worn church, in disrepair, whose last few members are now with other congregations, will be razed.
“I am very sad that it’s going to be torn down. It has been part of my family forever. My parents, my mother’s family, went there. I don’t want to know the day it’s being torn down. I don’t want to be there. I just want to drive past and it’s gone,” said Dawn Cook, whose family had a long and enjoyable history there.
“When I was little, the church was full. A lot of people remember the Rev. Howard Gordy. That was his first church after seminary. It had a lot of people. I was married there. But because we couldn’t sustain ourselves financially, we didn’t always have ministers. We had lay ministers. Some of them went on to become ministers,” she recalled.
In recent years, the congregation dwindled to 12, maybe 15. More and more of the elderly died and Cook, who lives in Vienna, was the youngest among the survivors, faithfully attending every week in the nearby parsonage after the church was condemned.
When the ceiling started to crumble, John Davis of Davis, Bowen & Friedel architectural firm put up a support. Services continued in the old building until 2013. Cook’s mother died in 2015.
That’s when the gatherings ended.
“We didn’t have to keep trying to keep it open for their benefit any more but I’m glad I was able to worship there. My parents, Madalyn and Edward Parrott, grew up in that church. There were so many conversations. It was just a joy to go there and find out what happened in everybody’s week. At the end, there weren’t many of us, but we didn’t care,” Cook said.
“I find it odd it’s being torn down. I know all over the county there are places that look a lot worse than this,” she said.
Cook said loyal attendees tried to get help to repair the church, and even contacted the historical society, since the church has been there for years, and even has a slave gallery inside. They asked the Methodist conference for help, but were told there were no grants or money available.
“I am bitter now, but only because it’s being torn down now and now is when all the attention is coming. It didn’t get any attention when I first said I needed help, so it’s a bittersweet kind of a thing,” Cook said.
But Fred Duncan, district superintend for the Methodist Conference, said the church is an eyesore in the lovely little town of Quantico and it must be remembered a church is the people, not a building.
“It will be a sad day for the people who have an affinity for the church. I have mixed feelings. I am an historian, too. I love history and the rich history Methodism has on the Eastern Shore but I’m also a realist. With these buildings, as the congregation goes, go the buildings. Congregations die. Buildings die. Sometimes buildings die before the people. When it ceases to be a church then it’s time to move on,” Duncan said.
The Methodist Conference now has possession of Quantico United Methodist, which was the oldest church south of the Delaware border.
He’s not sure what will happen to the land once the rubble is cleared. Conference trustees might want to sell it or transfer it to a nonprofit organization. It’s certain that another church will not be built there.
“It opened in 1774 but this isn’t the original building. This one was built in the mid-1800s,” Duncan said.
He provided the History of the First Methodist Church, Quantico, typewritten by Ira Disharoon and preserved on stained and aged paper. Disharoon recorded that Methodism began in Somerset County, in the summer of 1778, and the first congregation south of Delaware was founded.
- A primitive meeting house was erected about a mile south of town. A little while later, the first Methodist chapel was opened.
- The Quantico Chapel was built 16 years before the one in Salisbury.
- The chapel burned and another one was built in 1820 and moved to its present location in 1847.The bell was cast in 1848 in Baltimore and has been tolled for every president who died in office since President Abraham Lincoln.
- The parsonage was built in 1855.
- In 1915, metal walls and leaded art glass windows were installed. In 1916 new pews replaced the old ones.
- In 1937, the choir loft and church school rooms were added and arranged to provide a large stage and dressing rooms for cantatas and pageants.
Before the church is demolished, officials are hoping stained glass, valuable lumber and pews can be salvaged. Families are being asked to take pews from the building that is sliding off its foundation and is unsafe to enter.
“There is a time capsule there that was done in 1976. It is not to be opened until 2076. If the property is sold it will have to be moved. It will most likely go to our historic depository in Fredericka,” Duncan said.
“It had been a vibrant congregation in the past. A lot of people were buried there, baptized there. It had just one room. There were no bathrooms in the church. That was one downfall because people expect modern facilities. People went to the parsonage to use the restroom,” he said.
“It’s one of those sentimental type churches,” he said.
“It should have been torn down a long time ago. The tough part is the sentimental value.”
Reach Susan Canfora at email@example.com.