Although members of many religions organized churches in Carroll, and congregations of all varieties continue to meet, the county is remembered as the cradle of American Methodism.
Robert Strawbridge, anIrish-born farmer turned preacher, was the first man to preach Wesleyan Methodism in America.
Converted to the faith in his home community of Drumsna, in County Leitrim, he began his ministry in Ireland. But, in about 1760, he and his wife, Elizabeth, emigrated to the United States, where he settled on Sam's Creek, in Frederick County.
Shortly after his arrival, he began preaching to his neighbors in his home, which he later purchased along with 50 acres from John England for 50 pounds. The home was declared a shrine in 1940 by the General Conference of the Methodist Church. As soon as Strawbridge had established himself as a farmer-preacher, he began expanding his ministry to include Maryland, Pennsylvania and Virginia.
Strawbridge's ministry included many firsts. He organized the first Methodist meeting in America, in about 1763.The first Methodist meeting house in America, a log building, was built 1764 in a large field near the tributaries of Sam's Creek and Pipe Creek. The original building was eventually destroyed, and a replica of it was erected at the Strawbridge Shrine near New Windsor.
Strawbridge performed the first Methodist baptism, baptizing 5-year-oldHenry Maynard in 1762 or 1763.
He conducted the first Methodist communion and converted the first American-born Methodist preacher, Richard Owings.
Strawbridge died in 1781 while living on Capt. Charles Ridgely's "Hampton Estate," now Hampton House, in Baltimore County.
Four other Christian denominations were in Carroll before 1770, organized by missionaries from other areas or by the people themselves. Private homes were used as places of worship first. Later, either small log churches were constructed or community-supported "union church" buildings, used by all denominations.
The Farquhar family of Union Bridge held Society of Friends (Quaker) meetings in their home as early as 1735, and in 1770, William Farquhar donated land for the only Quaker Meeting House in Carroll County.
Ephraim Stoner and Martin Urner came to the area in 1758 to organize the Pipe Creek congregation of the Brethren (Dunkers or Dunkards) as an outgrowth of Coventry Church in Pennsylvania. In 1806, Pipe Creek Brethren Church near Uniontown and Linwood was constructed.
In 1760, the Lutheran and Reformed congregations of Manchester built their first church on a tract of land called "Old German Churche." The two denominations worshiped together for several years, but built separate churches after the Civil War. The second oldest Lutheran and Reformed church in the county was St. Benjamin's, or Krider's Church, built in 1763, on land donated by a Mr. Krider.
Although large congregations built their ownlog churches, the Union Church was quite common in the 18th and early 19th centuries. A small community with many denominations would support one building to which itinerant preachers would offer their services, providing an alternative to a congregation until they could afford to build. Unused union churches were often converted to community-supported schools.
The Anglicans, the Presbyterians, the Roman Catholics and the United Brethren appeared in Carroll County after 1770.
In 1771, the last Anglican church constructed in Maryland was built in Eldersburg while, in the same year, the first Presbyterian Church -- Piney Creek Church -- was built between Taneytown and Harney.
Catholic priests established a mission in Taneytown in 1790, saying masses in private homes. Christ Church, the forerunner of St. John's Catholic Church, was built in Westminster in 1805.
The United Brethren, an American religious creation with Reformed and Mennonite background, had its first formal conference in Baltimore in 1789. The congregation in the Middleburg district of Carroll County worshiped inKeysville Union Church, which had been built on land donated by Francis Scott Key.
Here's a self-directed driving tour of "Robert Strawbridge Country":
* The Strawbridge House & Farm, with the John Evans House and the replica of the Log Meeting House. Location: Wakefield Valley Road. Directions: West on Route 31 from Route 140 to Wakefield Valley Road. Turn left. Or East on Route 31 from Route 26 to Wakefield Valley Road. Turn right.
* Strawbridge Church, organized in 1868. Location: Wakefield Valley Road. Directions: Continue west on Wakefield Valley Road from Strawbridge House.
* New Windsor ServiceCenter, operated by the Church of the Brethren. Location: New Windsor. Directions: West on Route 31 from Route 140.
* Log Meeting House Site, marking the location of the original. Location: Marston Road (Route 407) about one mile from Route 31. Directions: Continue west on Route 31. Turn left on Route 407 to Maryland State Historical marker.