Historic Baltimore County church faces perdition unless it finds a savior

July 07, 1991|By Robert A. Erlandson | Robert A. Erlandson,Baltimore County Bureau of The Sun

If you can move his church, you can have it, says the Rev. John Carter of Isaiah Baptist Church in Monkton.

Unless someone claims it for restoration, the one-story red-brick building, built in 1873 as a two-room schoolhouse, will be razed in a year or so to make way for a new church.

"It is perhaps the only two-room school left in the county that hasn't been expanded into a residence or something," said Baltimore County Historian John W. McGrain.

The sanctuary has been redone several times during its ecclesiastical career, most recently about five years ago. But the 45-foot-by-26-foot exterior -- with its standing-seam tin roof and heavy barn-red shutters -- remains true to its origins in the 1860 Board of Education school design manual, Mr. McGrain said.

"The interior has lost all of its Victorian flavor; now it's mid- to late-20th century, but it's a pretty nice place and worth saving," he said.

Mr. McGrain said the building could be moved without dismantling it "if they wrap it up well. It's been done, and compared to moving the George Ellicott House, this is tiny."

The 200-year-old Ellicott house, which has a basement and three floors, was moved to higher ground in 1987 because of recurring flood damage. The early Federal-style granite house, built by a son of one of Ellicott City's founders, has been restored as offices.

The Monkton School/Isaiah Church is a prime candidate "for adaptive reuse," as a commercial building or even as a home, said Ruth Mascari, vice chairman of the Baltimore County Landmarks Preservation Commission and a professional preservationist.

Even though the building lies within the 10,000-acre Monkton historic district, it is not protected by historic designation, she said. "It's a shame we have to lose it."

The congregation declined to request landmark status for the building "and we cannot protect a building from its owner," Mrs. Mascari said.

Mr. Carter, 61, Isaiah's pastor for seven years, said he would like to see the building preserved, but his 52-member congregation simply cannot afford it. "Preservation of the building is important, but we have no choice. It will be cheaper to build the new church," he said.

The new church, also in brick and perhaps incorporating the vestibule of the present church, will cost between $250,000 and $300,000, said the minister, a retired federal employee.

Estimates have shown that it would cost a great deal more to restore the structural integrity of the present building and either add a large extension or dig a basement beneath it, even if the structure could tolerate it, Mr. Carter said.

The walls are in common-bond masonry, and some of the mellow bricks are crumbling. "It's buckling in places," the pastor said.

The building was abandoned as a public school when the consolidated Sparks School opened. In 1936, the Board of School Commissioners sold it for $500 to the Monkton United Methodist Church, built in 1870 on the hilltop across Monkton Road.

Samuel Miller, Monkton's leading businessman at the time, was the contractor for both the school and the church, as well as other buildings still existing in the historic district.

Townspeople paid half the cost of the lot for the school, which was designated School 10, District 10, according to the 1874 school commissioners report.

The Methodists used it as a Sunday school and hall until they expanded their church in the early 1960s, when they sold the old building to the Baptists.

Since its founding in 1901, the small black congregation had met in the small white clapboard building on the lot adjoining the school. It serves now as Mr. Carter's office and the church hall.

Many in the congregation are aging, but their children are starting to come back to the church, said Esther Carter, the minister's wife, so the congregation "is getting younger" and demanding better facilities.

For example, Mr. Carter said, the office building has no water and sewer, so anyone needing a lavatory must walk across to the church. "We have to maintain two buildings and it's too much," he said.

Once final plans and zoning requirements are approved, the new church will be built 10 feet east of the present building, whose site will be used eventually for parking, Mr. Carter said.

Razing the old church will not be scheduled for 12 to 18 months, he said. "If someone really wanted it, we could delay the demolition until it is settled. Otherwise, we'll salvage what we can when we tear it down."

Mrs. Mascari said the church's offer to give the building to anyone who will move it and restore it will be reported in historic preservation journals, and the Baltimore County Historical Trust will actively seek takers.

The church property is the scene of a mysterious local legend, Mrs. Mascari said. A tiny section, about 10 feet by 30 feet, at the rear "does not appear in the Baltimore County land records," she said. It lies between the church and the Methodist parsonage, a much-amended early 19th-century building.

Legend suggests the plot may have been a tiny family burial ground and possibly the resting place of Thomas Brerewood, who inherited My Lady's Manor from his wife in the late 18th century, she said.

"The fact that it's not in the land records makes it suspect," she said, even though no gravestones have been found and only the legend supports the idea.

Mr. Brerewood's home still exists, about three-fourths of a mil away on Shepperd Road, Mrs. Mascari said. While little is known of him, it was recorded that he "was buried on a hill near his home," she said.

Anyone interested in moving and restoring the old building may call Mr. Carter at 679-6939 or Mrs. Mascari at 343-1495.

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