Second Annual Shepherdstown Historic Church Tour highlights Christmas decorations, history
SHEPHERDSTOWN — The Second Annual Shepherdstown Historic Church Tour was once again met with great attendance, with more than 150 guests taking the walking tour on Dec. 26.
The tour was presented by the Historic Shepherdstown Commission and Museum.
The number of locations increased for this year’s tour, and included the War Memorial Building, St. Peter’s Lutheran Church, Trinity Episcopal Church, St. Agnes Catholic Church, New Street United Methodist Church, St. Agnes Chapel, Shepherdstown Presbyterian Church and the Old Episcopal Churchyard.
Each of the locations were staffed with volunteer docents, who shared historical facts about the locations and answered questions posed by visitors.
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, member 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.
Becky Lidgerding, a member of New Street who was greeting visitors there, shared information on the Methodist Church where she has been a member all her life.
“I’ve literally been a member here since birth,” she laughed. “My grandfather was a member,” she added.
Lidgerding shared history on the split of the Methodists during the Civil war.
“They split over slavery,” she said. “The Southern Methodists began meeting in what is now the War Memorial Building and the Northern Methodists stayed here.”
Lidgerding also mentioned that stain glass windows from that era were missing from the War Memorial Building from that era.
“It’s a mystery of Shepherdstown what happened to them,” she said.
From the War Memorial Building, one could travel in any direction to reach another site on the tour. The total distance for the walking tour was approximately 1.7 miles and guests could choose to visit any or all of the buildings open.
Each of the churches was decorated for the holiday season, which is one of the reasons the event is scheduled on the day after Christmas. Poinsettias were prominent as were pine boughs and trees.
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.
Guests to this church were treated to a lively manger scene with all types of animals including not only traditional stable inhabitants but others as well. The children of the church create the scene by hosting an animal parade prior to Christmas and a recessional afterwards.
“I never realized there were this many churches so close together,” said Michelle Goldman as she entered New Street Methodist Church. “This is a great way to learn not only about the churches, but the history of town.”
The addition of St. Agnes Chapel to this year’s tour allowed visitors to see the inside of what was once the town’s Catholic church. The new St. Agnes location on Duke Street was completed in 2008 and was once again on the tour this year.
Serving as chapel docent was Judy Lilga, who said the chapel was named for Agnes Gibson, a layperson who was a Sunday School teacher, the church’s choir director and a fund raiser for the church construction.
“She is buried at Elmwood,” Lilga said.
Many of the docents also highlighted the churches’ experiences during the Civil War, since nearly all of the churches served as hospitals following the Battle of Antietam. However, one of the churches in town remained an active church throughout the encampment.
Trinity Episcopal Church was consecrated in 1859. During the Civil War, while all 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.