By James Croggon, The Evening Star, March 25, 1906 [pt. 2, p. 12]
(Article contains picture of some of the early churches)
"There is a peculiarity about churches," said an old Washington pastor, "all pointing by a spire or peaked roof upward to the same heaven, though each has its separate path."
Washington, it may be remarked, is well provided with accommodations for religious worship, judging from the number of churches and every phase of religious faith is represented in a society somewhere. Since the days before the civil war there has been a religious growth proportionate with the progress made by the community in other directions - indeed in some respects surpassing that in any other direction. The columns of religious notices nowadays, in comparison with the few such notices fifty years ago, affords ample evidence of the fact stated. It may be said that every denomination has in the past sixty years increased the number of churches and members, although there have been some changes - a few churches having united with others; some removed to other localities; but in one instance a congregation 100 year old, whose organization is still maintained, sold its building some years ago.
The churches in the early days were few in numbers, small and plain in character of building. There are few persons living who have seen the older edifices in their original forms, for those which antedated 1850 have been removed, rebuilt, or enlarged. The old log church which preceded the little brick church where now stands the fine edifice of St. Patrick's parish only exists in the tradition of some old families, and the brick church once known as "Father Matthew's" is remembered but by few. St. Mary's, better known as "Barry's Chapel," in the neighborhood of South Capitol and O streets southwest, was in use down to the twenties, and went into decay after St. Peter's was erected.
In 1840 St. Matthew's had at 15th and H streets a much smaller structure than that of later years. Within the next decade St. Mary's (German) Church was erected. It was a small chapel-like building at 5th and Washington streets. St. Matthew's is now on Rhode Island avenue, its original property having been sold. St. Mary's has a new house.
St. John's P.E. Church at 16th and H streets, erected about the year 1816, has the same exterior appearance that it had in the fifties. The Columbia law building, opposite Judiciary Square, is on the site of Trinity Episcopal Church, the congregation being now located in a modern structure at 3rd street and Indiana avenue. Epiphany was organized at the old Apollo Hall on E street, west of 13th street. Its house of worship in the fifties was a modest structure located on G street, west of 13th street, but having little architectural beauty. The Church of the Ascension, now an imposing structure on Massachusetts avenue and 12th street, was located on H street, between 9th and 10th streets, in quite a large brick structure.
First of Baptist Churches
The Baptist congregation referred to erected a stately edifice on 10th street, between E and F streets, which was long known as "Parson Brown's." This was sold and became Ford's Opera House, the society uniting with that of Rev. Dr. Tensdale on the site of the Builders' Exchange. This congregation is now in a fine edifice on 16th street.
The Second Church congregation occupied a small brick edifice at 4th street and Virginia avenue southeast, which was known as the Navy Yard Baptist Church. The site is now occupied by a new structure.
The E Street Baptist (now the Temple Baptist) Church at 11th and N streets was in a comparatively new edifice. Its first one was on the south side of E street, and it was subsequently enlarged and modernized. It was disposed of a few years since to the Knights of Columbus.
A couple of dozen churches represent now the white and colored Baptists.
Presbyterian Meeting House
The original building of the First Church, now located on John Marshall Place, north of C street, was on South Capitol street, a neat brick structure. Its walls were painted white, which suggested the name of "The Little White Church." The site of this was long since obliterated by the extension of the Capitol grounds. As early as 1850 it had long been occupied by a colored congregation, known as the African Israel M.E. Church, now at 1st and B streets southwest. The First Church erected the edifice on John Marshall place. This was a barn-like brick building much smaller than the present one, and was erected in twenties, but few can recall it when it was known as "Parson Post's."
The second, now known as the New York Avenue Church, early in the twenties erected a small brick edifice, well arranged with galleries, and it was a landmark for years - its name, "Parson Baker's" superseding that of "The Seven Oaks," applied to the neighborhood. The Old School Church on F street, Dr. Laurie's, became the Third Presbyterian.
The Fourth Presbyterian Church, formed in a school house in 1823, had for its first home a frame building on the east side of 9th street, north of G street, which afterward was given a brick front and converted into two dwellings. In 1841 a commodious edifice of brick was erected on the opposite side of 9th street and used as the place of worship until a few years since, when a new building was erected in what had been "the country."
The Assembly's or Fifth Church, at 5th and I streets northwest; the Sixth at 6th and D streets southwest; the Seventh, or Island, on 7th street near E street southwest; and the Western, on H street between 19th and 20th streets, all erected houses of worship prior to 1860. A Presbyterian church was erected on 8th street between H and I northwest by the forties, but it was afterward sold to the M.E. Church South and held by it until the civil war came on. The Hebrew Temple now occupies the site.
About 1838 the West End Presbyterians met in the abandoned "old glass house" near the foot of 22nd street and held services, but prior to 1850 they erected a frame building about 22nd and E streets which was commonly called the "Mud Pond Chapel." The Western Presbyterian Church doubtless numbers some of the descendents of that little company of worshippers.
Wesley was the third of the denomination in Washington. Facing F street at 5th street, a plain chapel was erected, and later a Sunday school room was placed in the rear. Late in the thirties, this gave way for the present structure.
In the forties, McKendree, on Massachusetts avenue between 9th and 10th streets northwest; Ryland, corner of 10th and D streets southwest; and Union, on 20th street south of Pennsylvania avenue, were erected and, before the war, Waugh, at the corner of A and 3rd streets northeast; Gorsuch, and 4 ½ and L streets southwest; Fletcher, at new York avenue and 4th street northwest, and Providence, at 2nd and I streets northeast, had come into being and had erected church buildings. Waugh and Gorsuch have large and influential congregations, and handsome edifices take the place of the modest buildings they first erected. Fletcher long has had an independent existence, but is now connected with McKendree. Providence disbanded and its members were absorbed by Waugh and North Capitol charges.
The Methodist Protestants
Soon afterwards, a second church was formed, known as the Tabernacle, on the west side of 12th street south of H street. From here in 1825 the congregation moved to a new building erected on the east side of 9th street, between E and F streets. Macabee Temple, on the old site, was rearranged from the original church edifice. Next the church build the handsome little structure on 12th street above N street, which, after a trial of a few years, was given up and the congregation removed to Rhode Island avenue and 1st street northwest, erecting a fine building.
Since the war the denomination has erected a building on North Carolina avenue near 8th street southeast with a large congregation.
Lutherans and Others
A small brick edifice on 4 ½ street near D street southwest was, and is yet, the place of worship for the German Lutherans in that section. While the original walls remain, the little edifice has been much improved. The same may be said of the church at the northeast corner of 4th and E streets northwest. It is one of the best appointed houses of worship to be found.
The Quaker church, of Friends' Meeting House, on I street between 19th and 20th streets, erected in the early years of the century, was well attended by the Friends. It was originally a plain structure, but has since been remodeled.
The Unitarians, now represented by the Church of Our Father, at the corner of 14th and L streets, had their place of worship at the northeast corner of 6th and D streets, the site of the Police Court building, regarded as one of the finest buildings of its day. It dated from the twenties and numbered in its communion some of the leading men in national and municipal affairs.
The Universalists had not, in the fifties, a church building of their own, but a small band met in the council chamber of the city hall and the old Trinity (Episcopal) building, which had before housed the Baptist congregation by which the E street Baptist Church was erected. As before stated, the site is now included in that of the Columbia law building.
The colored Baptist Church, at the corner of 19th and I streets, was the prosperous representative of the colored Baptists. The colored Presbyterian Church had then an unpretentious building on its present location - 15th street above I street. Asbury M.E., then served by a white minister at its present location, 11th and K streets northwest, was under the jurisdiction of the Foundry Church, from whose membership the class leaders were appointed.
Little Ebenezer bore the same relation to the Methodist Church on 4th street southeast and was located near it.
Other colored churches were the Union, now the Metropolitan, on M street west of 15th street; John Wesley on Connecticut avenue above L street; and Zion Wesley on D street near 3rd street southwest, all of the Methodist persuasion.
The race has shown great improvement in the number and character of their church buildings and have kept pace with the dominant race in providing places of worship for their color.
There were in the old days some periods when it was a question if the doors of some churches should be opened. They had many trials, and it is a matter of history that churches which are now the leading ones in the capital were in ante-bellum days closed for months. A disrupted cabinet led almost to the death of one such church, but it was resuscitated and is now one of the most influential agencies in the cause of religion.
The churches of the olden days were not numerous and were so widely separated that announcement of service was made by the ringing of the bells. Each of the Catholic churches, as at present, was provided with a bell, as were also St. John's Episcopal, the First Baptist on 10th street, the Fourth Presbyterian on 9th street, the Unitarian on 6th and D streets, and one or two others.
Quite often a number of calls to service were heard simultaneously from the bells, and, church-goer or otherwise, the old Washington people were pleased with the custom.