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First Annual Tour of Historic Churches draws crowd

By Staff | Jan 4, 2019

Built in 1839, Christ Reformed United Church of Christ opened its doors for the tour, so visitors could view the church interior and holiday decorations. Toni Milbourne

SHEPHERDSTOWN — A unique tour organized by the Historic Shepherdstown Commission and Museum invited visitors to tour the town’s historic churches during the holiday season. On Wednesday, Dec. 26, more than 125 individuals took advantage of the opportunity to attend Shepherdstown’s First Annual Tour of Historic Churches and see the buildings decorated in holiday splendor.

Six churches were included in the tour: Christ Reformed Church, St. Peter’s Lutheran Church, New Street United Methodist Church, Trinity Episcopal Church, Shepherdstown Presybterian Church and St. Agnes Catholic Church. In addition, visitors were able to tour the Entler Hotel and War Memorial Building.

Each of the locations were staffed with volunteer docents, who shared historical facts about the locations and answered questions posed by visitors.

Learning the history and seeing the Christmas finery in one church had the many guests moving from to the next to see that other sights and awaited. For at least one local family, the church tour was a time for them to enjoy the churches’ Christmas decorations.

“I like to see all of the decorations,” said Leah Sites, as she and her sister, Elizabeth, walked with their mother through the tour.

“It’s nice to feel the Christmas spirit,” Elizabeth Sites said.

According to their mother, Mandy Sites, the tour not only gave the family the opportunity to enjoy the holidays, but “to enjoy the rich history of Shepherdstown.”

The War Memorial Building, owned by the Shepherdstown Community Club, served as a kick-off point, where brochures could be picked up for the self-guided tour around town. Refreshments were also available at that location, mostly provided by members of the participating churches.

According to Mike Austin, president of the Shepherdstown Community Club, the War Memorial Building was built in 1868 to house the Methodist Episcopal South Church, created when a break happened in the Methodist Church.

From the War Memorial Building, one could travel in any direction to reach another site on the tour. At most locations, written histories of the churches were available, although the large attendance had some churches scrambling to reproduce additional handouts.

“We had over 100 people by 4:30,” said Kathryn Henry and Patty Stealey, who were serving as hosts at St. Peter’s Lutheran Church.

Located at 110 N. King Street, the church holds services each Sunday at 11 a.m. The current church was erected in 1906, to replace the original Lutheran Church which was built in Mecklenburg (later renamed Shepherdstown) in 1795, with a remodel done in 1868. The bell from the original church building was relocated to the current site upon its construction. The cornerstones from the 1795 and 1868 structures were included in the construction of the new church building in 1906.

Also on the tour was the third church site for Shepherdstown’s Catholic community, St. Agnes Catholic Church, located at 200 South Duke Street. This location was completed in 2008, in the shape of a mandorla, the overlapping almond-shaped central space of two concentric circles. During the tour, it was described as “the liminal space, or the threshold, the place we arrive as we leave one space to enter another.”

Trinity Episcopal Church, located on German Street, was consecrated in 1859. During the Civil War, while all of the other churches in town were used as hospital facilities to house the wounded, Trinity Episcopal Church remained open as a house of worship. Services were provided that were acceptable to both the Union and the Confederate troops and their sympathizers throughout the war.

Shepherdstown Presbyterian Church, located at the corner of King and Washington streets, is home to the oldest continuous congregation in town. The current structure dates back to 1836. As the largest building in town at the time of the Battle of Antietam, it served as a primary hospital for the wounded.

New Street United Methodist Church, at 202 West New Street, was also on the tour. Built in 1854, the current church replaced a log church that was destroyed by fire earlier that year. After the break in the Methodist congregation, the New Street church continued to serve the northern faction, while the southern faction migrated to the War Memorial Building. The church factions reunited in the 1940s and chose to call the New Street location home.

Christ Reformed United Church of Christ, located at 304 East German Street, also opened its doors during the tour. The church was built in 1839. The belfry contains three bells imported from Germany a few years after the Revolution by Michael Yeasley, a Revolutionary soldier. The largest bell contains the engraved date 1732 and “Rouen,” suggesting French manufacture.